In The Economist‘s December 5, 2015, print edition, hidden deep inside on page 65, there appeared a brief, seemingly minor article that should be of great concern to beauty and makeup lovers worldwide. The article, titled “A shake-up in make-up,” discussed Kiko, a cosmetics company from Milan, and it’s adoption of “fast fashion” principles as its business model. The article calls Kiko’s business model a form of innovation. I hope this kind of innovation, which is really a disturbing and disappointing trend, has no longevity in the cosmetics industry. “Fast fashion,” as explained in the article, means “constantly changing the line-up of products in … stores to encourage customers to visit frequently; responding rapidly to the latest consumer trends; and keeping prices low.” Fast fashion “mimics current luxury fashion trends.” While keeping up with the latest trends and buying copious amounts of cheap beauty products sounds harmless, stop and ask yourself; how is this made possible? Fortunately, the cosmetics industry doesn’t have to dig too deeply to find an answer because the fashion industry has already answered that question for us.
The Dangers and Consequences of Fast Fashion are Well Known
Stores such as Zara, H&M, Kapray and Primark have grown in popularity, and profitability, due to their ability to quickly deliver on-trend clothing at generally affordable prices. While those retailers are praised for what they deliver, they are equally criticized for the methods used to make those deliveries. Building collapse, an epidemic of building fires, workers putting in long hours to earn wages that keep them in poverty, high pollution levels, and planned obsolesce of the end product all describe the conditions that make fast fashion possible. Those factors equally support the criticism that fast fashion is not sustainable.
The environmental costs of fast fashion are undeniable, with fast fashion being the second largest industry in terms of pollution. The human costs of fast fashion are grave. The employees who manufacture clothes for many popular brands often risk life and limb to provide $15 jeans to consumers. When a major incident happens, like the Rana Plaza building collapse or the Tazreen garment factory fire, brands are quick to claim ignorance or distance themselves from the manufacturer. In turn, the manufacturers blame the brands, stating that the brands want low prices, and given the prices these multi-million dollar international brands are willing to pay, it is impossible to run a factory that is compliant with safety regulations. Meanwhile, injured workers are left without limbs and without compensation. Families of garment workers who have died as a result of these unsafe conditions find themselves without compensation, and more importantly, without their loved ones.
Fast Fashion Principles May Pose Greater, More Widespread Risks in the Cosmetics Industry
Knowing that this is where the desire for low cost, of the moment goods leads us, how can we knowingly go down that road in the cosmetics industry? When multi-million dollar cosmetics companies start outsourcing production of their products to overseas factories in countries with lax enforcement and low production costs, it is simply a matter of time before the true cost of fast cosmetics begins to emerge. The one difference I foresee, that might be a saving grace for consumers, is that cutting corners in the manufacture of cosmetics is more likely to directly affect consumers. In those instances when our concern for others is not enough to inspire action, concern for our own self-preservation usually is.
Applying Fast Fashion Principles in the Cosmetics Industry is Like Playing Russian Roulette with Your Beauty and Skin Care Products
Already, the ingredients in many of our cosmetics are not stellar. Think of parabens, lead, cones, sulfates, fillers and the like. What happens when a manufacturer, trying to make a profit on a tight budget, replaces one of those ingredients with a cheaper, more toxic substitute? Or, due to fatigue, a manufacturer’s overworked employees make a production mistake? One of the things garment factory employees have said is that they make mistakes due to being overworked, abused and tired. In the cosmetics industry, one of those mistakes may cause an adverse chemical reaction and, ultimately, end up burning a hole in a consumer’s face, or making employees and consumers ill. Then, maybe we will stand up, take action, and oppose this race to the bottom. Until that time, I have no intention of playing Russian roulette with my face and body. While I am looking for ways to start making more ethical wardrobe choices I do not want to start making poorer cosmetics choices. I’d much rather think the ingredients for my cosmetics are moody teenagers living a better life than me, as they grow into maturity somewhere on a sunny farm in Vermont, or a fair trade coconut plantation in Sri Lanka.