Fast fashion, it has to go.
We live in a world with an economy where living things are worth more to us dead than alive, and as long as we continue along the path of “profit at all costs”, then we will continue to destroy forests, mine natural resources, and kill animals, until it is gone. We do this even though we all know that it is wrong and will leave a worse world for future generations. The apparel industry contributes to 10% of the worlds carbon emissions, 93 trillion cubic meters of water wastage, mass deforestation, and 93% of brands using unethical work environments. All to have the luxury of buying lots for cheap.
So how did we get to this?
Well, In the late 1990s and 2000s, low-cost fashion was reaching its peak. Online shopping took off, and something called fast fashion turned up, and it has been exponentially growing ever since with retailers such as Zara, H&M, and Topshop. We, the consumers, have continuously bought more and more clothes, and this growing market for cheap items and new styles is taking a toll on the environment. On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000, and they only kept the clothes for half as long. I am sure if you take a look at your own wardrobe and spending habits on clothes that you will see that we all do it. It is almost unavoidable in today’s societal norms not to partake without actively making a conscious decision to change.
So, we buy more, what’s the problem?
- Carbon Emissions
Fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, but it comes at an environmental cost. According to 2019 Wellness Trends, from the Global Wellness Summit, the apparel industry spews out 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, and if nothing changes, the fashion industry will use up more than 25% of the world’s entire carbon budget by 2050. It would be easy to think that there are other industries that are more damaging to the environment, but think again. The apparel industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions. That’s more emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Also consider that the fashion industry contributes towards transport emissions too.
- Water Usage
The apparel industry is the second-largest consumer of water worldwide. For example, it takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one non-organic cotton shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink at least eight cups per day for three-and-a-half years. If that is for just one t-shirt, imagine the environmental cost for everything in our wardrobes. All in all, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide. The water volume consumed by the fashion industry in 2017 was nearly 79 billion cubic meters, enough to fill 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools.
More than 8,000 chemicals are used throughout the textile-making process in the apparel industry, from pesticides in growing non-organic cotton and other fibres, to bleaching and dying yarns, to washing fabrics, to printing patterns. This amounts to an estimated 43 million tons of chemicals every year.
In total, up to 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. That’s enough to fill the Sydney harbour annually. This is the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes being burned or dumped in a landfill every second. Less than 1 % of used clothing is recycled into new garments and according to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, they estimate that every year some $500 billion in value is lost due to clothing that is barely worn, not donated, recycled, or ends up in a landfill. This is not just the consumers getting rid of our unused wardrobe items, but also due to retail stores who instead of recycling or donating clothing that did not sell, most fast fashion companies often toss or burn the unsold stock, which leads to terrifying losses of natural and financial resources.
Ethics behind manufacturing
According to Fashion Checker in 2020, 93% of brands surveyed are not paying garment workers a living wage. Fast fashion production facilities are often located in countries that are referred to as emerging or developing markets. Fast fashion retailers employ thousands of people from Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, and other developing nations as a cheap workforce. Not only do these people have to work exhausting hours, but the payment they get is usually far from fair.
The 2020 fashion transparency index found that only 5 of the 250 large brands surveyed (2%) “publish a time-bound, measurable roadmap or strategy for how they will achieve a living wage for all workers across their supply chains”. The statistics show clearly that fast fashion takes advantage of those who have very little choice, all so that we can buy cheap clothes to satisfy the obsession with wearing something new for every occasion.
We need to change how we view our wardrobe
One in three young women, the biggest segment of consumers, consider garments worn once or twice to be old. This in itself reveals a huge part of the issue that we are facing, consumer behaviour in the apparel industry drives all of the above. As the industry of fast fashion grows, our ideas on what is fresh and socially acceptable to wear also face a massive transformation. Fast fashion retailers have made their name by giving us a chance to buy cheaply made pieces that look like designer clothes for next to nothing. But their sales techniques are having a drastic impact on consumer behaviour around the world. The most successful fast fashion brands use influencers and other ploys to push trend driven items at ridiculously low prices, all while producing new clothing collections as often as every two weeks. In particular, this changes our perception of the lifespan of the garments we buy and tries to convince us that outfit repeating is a faux pas, when we know it’s a sustainability must do. This all comes at an enormous cost to the lives of the workers who make the clothes, and the environment as covered earlier.
What can we as consumers do?
To make the apparel industry more sustainable, we all need to be accountable and must get involved, from designers to manufacturers, critics, and consumers. However, with no incentive to change, brands will continue as they are. Without consumers making a change, the efforts will be in vain. We must make a conscious effort to rethink our buying habits and taking these small steps can help:
- Buy only what you need. In some countries, 40 % of purchased clothing is never used.
- Buy from brands that use ethical and sustainable practices.
- Be creative in combining garments and recycle them after they wear out.
- Repair clothing.
- Donate what you don’t use.
- Consider quality over quantity. If clothes can last longer this will mean less pollution. Cheap clothing often doesn't survive the wash cycle, meaning you are not saving money and in fact likely are spending more compared with buying better quality clothes.