Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world, employing 3,384 million people worldwide, and that often comes with a cost. The glamour and allure of the fashion industry are a result of the hard work of many people working behind the scenes. Whilst designers are the first ones that come to mind, there are many other professionals like; garment workers (who are severely underpaid and underserved), as well as marketing and PR professionals who work relentlessly to create this magical world. Today, we take a look at how some industry insiders experience stress in the fashion world and how this affects their mental health.
Let’s start with the first link in the supply chain: garment workers. With the rise of globalization, and because of the cheaper labor costs, production in the fashion industry heavily shifted to third-world countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. The wages of workers in these countries are usually so low that workers cannot pay for their living and life necessities. Low wages and late payments are not the only stress factor for garment workers: the working conditions in these countries are very tough as well. Long working hours and forced overtime are almost the standards of this job. Working hours often last 14 hours, even 18 when companies try to finish big orders. Those who are asking for better conditions are either fired or threatened to be fired. The threat of being fired puts garment workers under huge stress and strengthens company owners’ manipulative power over them.
Research conducted in Bangladesh has revealed that workers, who are mostly women, experience back and joint pain because of constantly sitting in one position, a continuous headache from the noises of the machines, eye pain from the inadequate lighting, and difficulty in breathing due to fabric dust they are in contact with. Although most of them face a health condition, most of the time it remains undiagnosed. The reason? No resources to see doctors and get medical help.
On top of all these, garment workers do not – justifiably, feel safe in their work environments. The most horrible incident that has ever happened in the industry was the Rana Plaza Disaster. For those who are not familiar with the incident, a building that hosted 5 garment factories, Rana Plaza, collapsed in 2013 due to bad infrastructure caused by the substandard materials used. The owners were warned by an engineer who inspected the building just a day before the collapse. Can we really call this an accident? I don’t think so.
The pressure continues past the production stage. As fashion becomes more and more about popularity and less about art, Marketing and PR professionals are under an increased pressure to make their clients the ‘IT’ brand, like Alessandro Michele’s Gucci or Virgil Abloh’s Off–White. Digital marketing is the means to access popularity, build branding and get traction. As brands rely heavily on digital marketing professionals, the pressure is tremendous, and the return of investment (ROI) is generally not very high because social media users are overwhelmed with content and ads every day. That puts those employees under more stress and environmental pressure to stand out and beat the competition.
One of the most important strategies is influencer marketing. Social media feeds are quite oversaturated, being filled with tons of normal users, but also influencers promoting their lifestyles and #gifted products. The difficulty here is to understand what is genuine and what is scened. While influencers are thought to be showcasing what they like and actually use it, many of them praise a product or a brand just because they are collaborating with them (aka being paid). This causes influencers to lose their credibility with their followers and get lower returns for the brands. Moreover, many aim to secure better deals with brands by purchasing fake followers or fake likes.
From another perspective, influencers are dealing with incredible competition too. Brands often impose very strict guidelines on how they want to be promoted which in turn leads the influencers to lose their trustworthiness and authenticity. Influencers are the new movie stars; they need to be presentable at all times or may get judged. However, if they are ‘too perfect’, they get judged too.
The trickiest thing about social media is, it doesn’t sleep. Both brands and influencers need to be active and responsive at all times. Working in social media means there are no working hours, because every hour is a working hour.
PR professionals might spend days on the phone, chasing samples that were supposed to arrive days ago, or even worse, managing last-minute requests. Shipping companies are in all PR managers’ speed dial and delivery drivers are their best friends. One of the Munich’s based agents describes the challenging nature of the PR world as; ‘You have to adapt very quickly to the new situations, things change, last-minute requests come in, no matter what it is, you have to fix it, find a solution and don’t forget to be friendly‘. Considering the stressful atmosphere in the PR offices, positivity and friendliness is difficult attitude to maintain at all times.
The magical world of fashion is not only made of fancy clothes and big parties, but is a product of hard work. From designers to PR managers, there are many people that are putting their mental health at risk to cope with the ever-increasing expectations of this industry. Fashion is a balance between art and business. Too much environmental pressure can endanger workers health and mental health status – is the profit worth it?