Thursday, June 20, 2024

SNL Skewers Fast Fashion Giants Shein and Temu As NY Fashion Act Looms

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SNL wrapped its 49th season with a parody that exposed issues with fast fashion giants like Shein and Temu. The skit came as New York could soon pass the Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act.

The 49th season of Saturday Night Live ended with one of its strongest episodes of the season starring Jake Gyllenhaal and musical guest Sabrina Carpenter. One of the night’s most memorable skits is the fictitious fast-fashion platform “Xiemu” (“She-moo”) — a clear mashup of fast-fashion giants Shein and Temu. It comes as New York, where the show is filmed, moves closer to passing legislation forcing big fashion manufacturers to be transparent about their supply chains.

The skit shows Gyllenhaal and SNL cast members modeling apparel from Xiemu as the narrator exposes the truth behind the inexpensive items including forced labor, cheap materials, and high levels of toxic chemicals. “New styles daily! Fresh fits! No prisoners! Normal number of working hours each week!” The upbeat narrator’s emphasis on these points provokes more questions than answers from the models, some of whom develop rashes and nosebleeds from the items.

The humor didn’t solely stem from the suggestion that the company was engaging in questionable practices or that its clothing was notorious for falling apart and causing wearers discomfort. Rather, the punchline was that the low prices — dresses for $10 and shoes for $5, for example — keep consumers coming back regardless.

The problems with fast fashion

Fast fashion is fraught with numerous issues, many of which revolve around labor exploitation and environmental degradation. Companies like Shein, Temu, and Boohoo, among other industry giants, have faced significant criticism for their practices.

One major concern is labor conditions. Factories producing fast fashion often operate under poor working conditions, with employees working long hours for minimal pay. Reports have documented instances of unsafe environments and violations of basic labor rights.

Additionally, the environmental impact of fast fashion is staggering. The industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, contributing to more than ten percent of global emissions as well as a leading producer of wastewater. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported that the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second.

A garment factory for H&M.
A garment factory for H&M. Photo courtesy International Labour Organization | Flickr

Shein, a dominant player in the fast fashion market, has been at the center of numerous controversies. The company has been accused of plagiarism, copying designs from independent artists without permission. Furthermore, investigations have revealed troubling labor practices in Shein’s supply chain, including allegations of forced labor.

Temu, another fast fashion giant, has also faced scrutiny. Reports have indicated that its rapid production cycle leads to significant environmental waste, and its labor practices have come under fire for similar reasons as Shein’s. Despite these issues, the low prices and constant influx of new styles keep consumers flocking to these brands.

New York Fashion Act

Advocates in New York are urging the state legislature to focus on the New York Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (“the Fashion Act”), a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Anna Kelles (D) from the 125th District and designed to mitigate the environmental harm caused by fashion waste. This proposed legislation would require companies to detail their supply chains and pledge to minimize their ecological impact over time.

The bill, which has received backing from celebrities including Jane Fonda and Leonardo DiCaprio, emphasizes that the act aims to address the negative consequences of fast fashion. “If they don’t, this state has the ability to fine them up to two percent of their gross income. This is all companies that have over $100 million gross income,” Kelles said. “This is a reasonable, rational, good, common-sense, good government piece of legislation that we must get done this year.”

Shein's clothing on a rack.
Shein’s fast fashion clothing is an environmental issue | Courtesy

Kelles highlights the financial burden the growing fast fashion industry places on New Yorkers. “In 2020 alone, $95 billion was spent by the United States in response to the climate disasters that this country experienced, that is unacceptable,” she stated. “Those $95 billion could have gone into housing, affordable housing, could have gone into transportation infrastructure, could have gone into great jobs, could have gone into incentivizing manufacturers to come back to the United States. There are so many things that we could be doing, if we were just responsible in the moment.”

Vanessa Fajans-Turner, executive director of Environmental Advocates NY, noted that the U.S. ranks second behind China in fashion waste, producing 17 million tons annually. Since New York is a global fashion hub, Fajans-Turner believes the bill could create a fairer market. “It rewards entities that are doing the right thing by giving them more access to markets, by freeing them from penalties. This bill is meant to incentivize and normalize what many small businesses in New York are already doing,” she said.

The bill is not without controversy, though, and some say the effort could hurt smaller producers. New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office has not yet commented on the bill. The legislative session is set to conclude on June 6.

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