By the early years of the 21st century, western clothing styles had, to some extent, become international styles. This process began hundreds of years earlier, during the periods of European colonialism. The process of cultural dissemination has perpetuated over the centuries as Western media corporations have penetrated markets throughout the world, spreading Western culture and styles. Fast fashion clothing has also become a global phenomenon. These garments are less expensive, mass-produced Western clothing. Donated used clothing from Western countries are also delivered to people in poor countries by charity organizations.
The world of clothing is always changing, as new cultural influences meet technological innovations. Researchers in scientific labs have been developing prototypes for fabrics that can serve functional purposes well beyond their traditional roles, for example, clothes that can automatically adjust their temperature, repel bullets, project images, and generate electricity. Some practical advances already available to consumers are bullet-resistant garments made with kevlar and stain-resistant fabrics that are coated with chemical mixtures that reduce the absorption of liquids.
Though mechanization transformed most aspects of human industry by the mid-20th century, garment workers have continued to labor under challenging conditions that demand repetitive manual labor. Mass-produced clothing is often made in what are considered by some to be sweatshops, typified by long work hours, lack of benefits, and lack of worker representation. While most examples of such conditions are found in developing countries, clothes made in industrialized nations may also be manufactured similarly.
Coalitions of NGOs, designers (including Katharine Hamnett, American Apparel, Veja, Quiksilver, eVocal, and Edun) and campaign groups like the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights as well as textile and clothing trade unions have sought to improve these conditions as much as possible by sponsoring awareness-raising events, which draw the attention of both the media and the general public to the workers.
The use of animal fur in clothing dates to prehistoric times. It is currently associated in developed countries with expensive, designer clothing, although fur is still used by indigenous people in arctic zones and higher elevations for its warmth and protection. Once uncontroversial, it has recently been the focus of campaigns on the grounds that campaigners consider it cruel and unnecessary. PETA, along with other animal rights and animal liberation groups have called attention to fur farming and other practices they consider cruel.
Clothing suffers assault both from within and without. The human body sheds skin cells and body oils, and exudes sweat, urine, and feces. From the outside, sun damage, moisture, abrasion and dirt assault garments. Fleas and lice can hide in seams. Worn clothing, if not cleaned and refurbished, itches, looks scruffy, and loses functionality (as when buttons fall off, seams come undone, fabrics thin or tear, and zippers fail).
In some cases, people wear an item of clothing until it falls apart. Cleaning leather presents difficulties, and bark cloth (tapa) cannot be washed without dissolving it. Owners may patch tears and rips, and brush off surface dirt, but old leather and bark clothing always look old.