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Behind the Seams: The Personal Cost of Fast Fashion

I am familiar with the concept of fast fashion not only because my mother, who worked as a clothing production technologist, was involved in it, but also because she often brought me to her workplace. I learned a lot about clothing production even before I started school. I used to play with press machines and ride clothing racks along with my brother, becoming acquainted with all the different departments and the equipment they utilized. Quite an interesting experience, isn't it?

When I turned 12, I began working as a thread cutter at the same company where my mother worked. As a child, I needed some pocket money. Since the industry didn't pay my mother much, I had to find a way to earn my own. Granted, it was illegal, but to me, it seemed like a logical solution. If you need money, you work for it, right?

Eva ZolnarYeap, that's 12 year old me posing with a garment. I didn't yet know how to sew yet.  

At that time, the company my mother worked for manufactured clothing for various German brands,  Wallis. They had a subcontractor got orders from brands and distributed it to small companies. Latvia was a hub for fast fashion back then. However, the main company would visit the factory and inspect the production processes. Quality was important to them, they were aware of where and how their clothes were being produced. Decent pay, on the other hand, wasn't as significant. The subcontractor would pay 1-1.2 Lats (equivalent to 1.2-2.0 EUR) for each garment to factory that produce it. The minimum hourly wage at that time was 40 santims, approximately 60 cents. Brands probably paid more to their subcontractor, considering they handled the less desirable aspects of managing the production. The dresses we made were sold for around 80 EUR. I know this because it was my responsibility to attach tags and cut threads.

By the age of 14, I had saved enough money to buy myself a phone, which took approximately 100 hours of work. I continued working as I had bills to pay. Balancing school and work became a part of my life. I would often complete my tasks while sitting on the cutting table. One day, as I attempted to hop onto the table as usual, I fell. I fell with my back on a clothing rack, which had a metal bar positioned 15 cm above the floor level. After this accident, my knees began to ache, and I complained to the doctor at the time. However, nothing was done, and it was determined that my knees were fine. This is the reality of poor countries: neither the working conditions nor the healthcare system are of a high standard.

Pain is something one can become accustomed to. When occupied with work and studies, one tends to overlook it. I didn't even realize how much my knee and back pain had escalated until I reached a point where standing for more than an hour became difficult. At the age of 28, it was discovered that my L5 vertebra, which connects to the tailbone, had a broken spinous process. This destabilized my spine and resulted in slippage, causing excruciating pain. The destabilization also led to nerve damage that affects my knees. I had to undergo a 2-level spinal fusion surgery, and currently, my back is supported by two plates and six screws.

L4-S1 spinal fusion
My knees still hurt every fucking day, but at least I haven't lost my ability to walk. However, the constant pain takes a toll on me emotionally. It drains me and makes it difficult to maintain a cheerful state. I am often told that I appear angry, unapproachable, or even arrogant. People have advised me to smile more, but they fail to understand the cascade of challenges this injury brings, affecting various aspects of my life.

This is the harsh reality behind fast fashion. My knee pain will never go away; it is a permanent condition. Those who work in its production pay for it with their health. They have no other options; they need that money. Fast fashion producers exploit this as much as they can. That's why, in my company, I am committed to providing good working conditions and ensuring that people have enough time for their lives. It is personal for me and it always will be just like my knee pain.

5 comments

  • I really appreciate your story and message. Sharing some similarities to your story, I really resonated with starting work at a young age and pulling your own weight. It’s really touching that you’ve worked hard, discovered a passion and found ways to make the industry better with your company. Browsing on Etsy searching for the best sweater, I came across your brand and it’s second to none. I order a sweater and pants and will order a jacket soon. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Much respect from San Francisco.

    - Cameron
  • Wow. Respect. Thank you for telling us!

    - Hendrik
  • I had to work in fast fashion as well, not as a child tho. This work alone drained the life out of me

    - Elen
  • I always loved what you were doing, your designs and a punky spirit. I could never imagine how hard it must have been. I’m proud to wear your clothing, it makes me feel even stronger now!

    - EgdyK
  • I was wondering where this spirit came from. You’re incredible!

    - Marius

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