Teacher Resource: Re-thinking Fast Fashion Lesson Plan

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photo: Adnan Islam/ BY-NC-SA
photo: Adnan Islam/ BY-NC-SA


Fall is here, which means colder weather and, for some teens, a reason to buy new clothes. But purchasing a new wardrobe can be problematic if you’re looking to balance style, affordability, and ethics. Major trendy clothing retailers such as H&M and Forever 21 are popular with young people for their improbably low prices, but have also been associated with unfair labor practices.

According to the US General Accounting Office, a sweatshop is defined as a business that “regularly violates wage or child labor laws and safety or health laws.” Clothing made by sweatshops can be cheap and trendy, but comes at the expense of workers. Last April, for example, an eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed five garment factories collapsed, killing more than a thousand workers and calling international attention to the hidden costs of “fast fashion.”

The incident hit home for Youth Radio reporter and teen fashionista Bianca Brooks, who had recently traveled to Bangladesh and taken a tour of a clothing factory. There, she saw clothing being made by young workers, who were paid low wages to work long hours.

“Before I’d seen the factory, I was so flattered when my new Bangladeshi friends had complimented my casually elegant name-brand button down,” Brooks said. “But after, all I wanted to do was wrap my traditional Bangladeshi shawl around me to cover the shame I felt.”

Do Now

How should teens balance affordability, style and ethics when it comes to buying clothing? Do you think it’s okay to buy inexpensive “fast fashion” clothing that was made in sweatshops? How can teens help promote fair labor practices?

To respond to the Do Now, you can tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowFashion


Youth Radio audio segment Rethinking Fast Fashion After Bangladesh
Bangladesh Trip 2012

Youth Radio teen reporter Bianca Brooks takes a tour of a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh and describes her experience and its impact on her fashion choices. “The sound of whooshing looms and the chemical smell of dye filled the air,” Brooks said of the factory. “But it was watching a young girl, who was maybe 10, sewing a pair of jeans that made me feel really sick. My host sister later told me that many of these workers, mostly women and children, were living on less than 2 dollars a day.”

More Resources

University of Chicago Summer Teaching Institute resource Mapping Your Clothes: An Approach To Understanding The Global Market
This lesson aims to create an awareness that many of the clothes we buy in the U.S. are made and designed in other countries. Students get to map their outfits by looking at the tags on their articles of clothing. Students will think critically about why clothes are made far away, and translate their class data onto a graph.

Youth Radio podcast Consumer Appropriation
It’s not uncommon to see t-shirts and mugs with iconic figures on them, like Che Guevera or Malcolm X. When the massive clothing company Forever 21 put a Frida Kahlo t-shirt on the shelves, Youth Radio reporter Isabella Ordaz wondered if using her image just to look “cool” would be something Kahlo would stand for. Ordaz invites us to consider what we wear, who it represents, and why.

KQED Lowdown post Who Made Your T-Shirt? The Hidden Cost of Cheap Fashion
You know the saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Same thing goes with your $5 t-shirt – it comes with some steep hidden costs. There’s no possible way retailers like H&M could be making billions in profits selling clothing at such low prices without there being some catch.

The Wall Street Journal blog post How Green Is My Sneaker?
In 2010, well-known clothing brands and retailers created an Eco Index — basically a rating system for determining how environmentally friendly an item of clothing is. Check out the infographic to see the Climate impact of creating one pair of Levi’s jeans.


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