Chapter 2: Fast Fashion: Why are we still wearing it?

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Carrie Bradshaw once said “I like my money right where I can see it…hanging in my closet”

If we opened our closets right now, we might see most of our money hanging there in good numbers in different shapes, styles and shades. As happy as it makes one to stare at their beautiful array, it is when one dresses up and shares it on social media that the outfit meets its fulfilment. Our fashion choices are so influenced by celebrities, fashion influencers and our peers. We choose to wear a different outfit for every occasion, we also don’t want to be seen repeating outfits. We have adapted ourselves addictively to this new age world of consuming everything that is offered (or thrown at) to us that we have also succeeded in neglecting the impact our fashion choices are making every single day.

Each year people consume approximately 80 billion pieces of clothing

Cambridge dictionary defines Fast Fashion as, “clothes that are made and sold cheaply, so that people can buy new clothes often”

Does this resemble to any of your favorite brands? The brands that offer new outfits so often that you cannot resist the temptation to buy? Fashion industry is currently one of the biggest polluters in the world with high carbon emission, microplastics in oceans, huge amount of water consumption, clothing waste, forests depletion to add to its name. Fast Fashion has a huge role to play in this.

With every purchase, the cycle continues like a guinea pig made to run in an experiment

Even though you manage to buy these outfit for less, you forget that the quality of these clothes does not last long. They are made of cheap quality only to last a few washes. But it seems like a good deal getting good looking clothes for less that you can easily afford to get bored of sooner than later.

Is it us saving money by buying clothes that cost less but do not last or is it us spending more in the long run while also compromising on quality? This is exactly how your favorite brands are fooling you and creating deep pockets for themselves. Think about it yourself.
Do you even need these many clothes?
Would you still be buying these many clothes if it wasn’t being offered to you so often with discounts and cheaper prices?

Every fast fashion outfit in your wardrobe has a story. A story of how:

  • We are consuming more but also more of unsustainable fabric

According to a Mckinsey report, clothing production has doubled from 2000 to 2014, an average consumer purchases 60% more garments each year. Consumers are also keeping these clothes for half as longer as they did 15 years ago.

According to House of Common Environmental Audit Committee, 2019, “Clothing production is the third biggest manufacturing industry after the automotive and technology industries. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined”

Think about it – The rate at which the brands are producing and offering new clothes, can it be made sustainably? To meet the cheap end prices of the final product the fabrics used need to be cheap as well. Chemicals used in the textile dyeing process are not just toxic but also are carcinogens (Agents with capability of causing cancer)

These fabrics are made from Fossil Fuel – Oil

Even though viscose is produced from wood pulp, the manufacturing process requires treating it with chemicals such as carbon disulphide, that is harmful to Environment and to human health as it can cause birth defects, coronary heart disease. Viscose is also responsible for depletion of our forest, nearly 30% of Viscose is sourced from ancient forests, endangering them and its wildlife.

Animal Leather is also an unsustainable fabric because leather demands a lot of water right from livestock farming to the end production of the fabric.

  • Garment workers are exploited to make your favorite outfit

Brands are always on a look out for cheap labor to cut their production cost creating a difficult life for garment workers. Garment workers work approximately 14 to 16 hours per day in hazardous working conditions with no ventilation, lack of drinking water, sanitation. They are at the risk of inhaling toxics while working in dirty factories. They are forced to work overtime to meet the increasing production demands of brands despite this they find it hard to make ends meet for their survival. Most garments are made in Asia because of availability of labor – cheap labor.

  • According to fashion brands ABLE and Nisolo, only an estimated 2% of garment workers around the world are paid a livable salary.
  • As per brands surveyed by Fashion Checker approximately 93% of the brands do not pay their garment workers a livable salary.
  • As per 2020 Fashion Transparency Index only 5 out 250 Large brands – “publish a time-bound, measurable roadmap or strategy for how they will achieve a living wage for all workers across their supply chains”.

Rana plaza collapse is one of the most serious accident to have ever occurred in a textile factory in Modern History. Brands whose apparels were being manufactured at the time of the collapse include Benetton, Mango, Primark, Walmart and more. No brand wanted their name attached to the disaster, brands took time to take responsibility for what happened and to fairly compensate the workers. Some of the brands were also identified by their labels and tags on the clothes.

In 2013 an Eight Story building called Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh killing 1,134 and injuring 2,500 garment workers.

While some brands may still be offering you sustainable fabric choices in some of their collection, not paying their garment workers a decent salary is unjust. Brands can shift factories anytime they find cheaper labor costs. Thus, it is important to hold them accountable to pay these workers a decent salary and to look after them.

  • High consumption of fabrics is also generating higher carbon emission

The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of the carbon emission – UN Environment, 2019

Fashion industry generates huge amount of greenhouse gases because of its extensive production, manufacturing, and transportation process required for the millions of garments purchased each year. Synthetic fabrics generate higher carbon emission – The carbon footprint of a single polyester shirt is 5.5kg as compared to 2.1kg for a cotton shirt. Manufacturing of Nylon releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that Carbon dioxide emissions for synthetic clothing is six times higher than those for cotton (530 million tonnes of CO2 for plastic-based fibers in comparison to 86 million tonnes for cotton).

  • Microplastics are making way into our systems

When clothing that is made of plastics (Polyester, Nylon, Acrylic and others) are washed, they release microfibers also known as Microplastics. These fibers are less than 5 milli meters in length with a diameter of one-thousand of a milli meter. Every time these fabrics are washed, a single load of laundry could release up to 7,00,000 microfibers. They easily make way into our drainage, ending up in our rivers and oceans.

The State of Fashion, Mckinsey reports, “Fashion accounts for 20 to 35 percent of microplastic flows into the ocean”

According to a recent study conducted by a team of Scientists at the Ocean Wise Conservation Association, ‘73% of microfiber pollution in Arctic waters is from synthetic fibers that could be coming from textiles

Microplastics that end up getting consumed by the marine life, are also making way into our bodies. According to news published this year:

“Alarm over microplastic in the womb
“It’s like having a cyborg baby— in a first, microplastics found in human placenta”

A new study has found Microplastics in the human placenta. ‘The microplastics enter the women’s bodies through ingestion and inhalation, and then translocated to the placentas’. It is a matter of grave concern. If we do not address our fashion consumption, our habits sooner than later will lead to microplastics in our bodies, bodies of our future children, resulting in serious illnesses.

  • Cotton fabric isn’t as comfortable as you think

While cotton may be a crowd favorite, it also happens to be a very thirsty crop and the cultivation process involves an extensive use of harmful chemicals – 4% of all the world’s pesticides and 10% of insecticides is used in growing cotton. These chemicals leak into our soil (causing soil depletion), waterways – rivers, lakes, polluting our water system. For farmers, inhaling pesticides also creates respiratory issues.

According to Oxfam, water required to produce one kilogram of cotton is equivalent to the amount of water a person would drink in 13 years.

Child labor is also a big part of cotton production. Children are used in every stage of the industry right from picking cotton (the delicate hands of the children make the chances of the crop getting spoilt less) to yarn spinning, dyeing, to working in factories where the clothes are manufactured, all of which exposes children to hazardous chemicals. In India more than 4,00,000 children – mostly girls – are involved in hybrid cottonseed cultivation.

Aral Sea in 1989 (left) – 2014 (right)
Image Source: Wikipedia

Aral Sea, a lake in Uzbekistan dried up in over 50 years because an irrigation channel was created to divert water for cotton cultivation. One of the world’s then fourth largest lake is now only 10% of what it previously was.

  • Recycling your clothes is not the answer you hoped

Recycling is the need of the hour however when you donated your clothes in a recycling cycle thinking it will actually turn into something new, isn’t always the case.

According to Clean Clothes Campaign 2019, three out five garments of fast fashion end up in landfills within a year of being purchased.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that if this trend continues, over 150 million tonnes of clothing waste will clog landfills by 2050.

Globally 84% of the clothes end up in landfill, only 16% of the clothes end up being reused or recycled. These clothes that end up in landfill take over 200 years to decompose. While decomposing methane gas is released which is 30 times more harmful than Carbon dioxide. Most recycled clothes also come from recycled plastics, creating trouble in the clothing recycling process. Less than 1% of recycled clothing collected is turned to fibers and yarns.

Image Source: Environment Justice Atlas

A landfill in Nairobi, East Africa, one of the largest in the world

“Less than 11% of brands are implementing recycling strategies for their items” – Peppermint Magazine, 2019

Brands that offer discounts in exchange for donation of clothes do not end up recycling most of the clothes. Most of them end up in landfills. Brands are greenwashing us with their initiatives which only look good in name. In India clothes that are brought to be dumped from UK, US and other foreign countries mostly end up in Panipat and from there are recycled into blankets and other items.

“More than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling” – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Fast Fashion brands offer us more than 10 to 12 seasons of new clothes making us bite more than what we can chew. However amazing that outfit may be,

Is it really worth the impact it can have?
How can we ignore how fast fashion is corrupting us, the people around us and our environment?
Since when did looking good become about polluting our environment?
With fashion and clothes getting cheaper by the minute, the waste is getting increased by the second. 

I am not advocating that we should stop shopping or never buy new clothes but we can always be conscious with our choices.
Wearing our clothes longer can reduce our carbon footprint by a good margin. Even upcycling old outfits into something new.
Buying less and questioning our every purchase with questions like ‘how many times will I be wearing this outfit?’ might just be our saving grace.
If you wish to donate your old clothes, you can donate to someone directly or to an NGO that will end up utilizing your clothes.
Thrift shopping is also another great way to buy clothes, it is also a great emerging market that may even help you find vintage clothing. I personally enjoy thrift shopping -the joy of finding a pretty outfit is same if not more as shopping for new clothes.

Fast Fashion has been long part of our lifestyle but one lesson over the past year and half to take into the future (while we still face the massive crisis) is that it is not about how many clothes we can afford to wear, it is about our health, our food choices, how we plan to keep ourselves fit is what matters. As we head back to leading our normal lives, let’s also welcome positive changes in our fashion lives by welcoming Slow Fashion.

Embrace the world of Slow Fashion and see how much difference you can make!

References:

  1. A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  2. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/state-of-fashion#
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/sustainable-living/fast-fashion-sustainable-worst-fabrics-b1855935.html
  4. https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/7539/fast-fashion-is-drowning-the-world-we-need-a-fashion-revolution/
  5. https://labourbehindthelabel.org/campaigns/living-wage/
  6. https://wearzeitgeist.com/fashion-sustainability-ethics/fast-fashion-statistics
  7. https://cleanclothes.org/fashions-problems/waste-and-pollution
  8. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/sustainable-living/fast-fashion-sustainable-worst-fabrics-b1855935.html
  9. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes-plastic-pollution-polyester-washing-machine
  10. https://blog.planetcare.org/what-is-fast-fashion-and-how-you-can-slow-it-down/
  11. https://remake.world/stories/news/are-our-clothes-doomed-for-the-landfill/
  12. https://goodonyou.eco/material-guide-viscose-really-better-environment/
  13. https://www.wornforgood.com/blogs/blog/sustainable-fabrics-and-our-planet-which-fabrics-to-look-for-and-which-to-avoid

14 comments on “Chapter 2: Fast Fashion: Why are we still wearing it?”

  1. I think a lot of people struggle to really see the impact fast fashion is having, or has had. I have started buying second hand clothing, fixing old clothes instead or replacing them to the best of my ability and buying from small independent and ethically run businesses.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is fascinating! I had no idea that when you donate clothes they don’t necessarily get recycled or reused and just become landfill! As I’ve got older, and I suppose have more disposable income, I’ve started investing in more expensive pieces that last longer. I do try and use brands that are eco-friendly, like I do with toiletries and cleaning products, but I find with fashion brands and high street shops this is not as popular or available

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sustainable fashion is the future. However, there is a lack in understanding and responsibility. If that is achieved the rise in demand for will eventually make eco friendly and sustainable clothing easily available.

      Like

  3. Wow, I had no idea that making clothes used that many resources. I also didn’t know that a lot of used clothes gets sent to the landfill. I am definitely going to be more cautious about what I buy these days. I do try to buy sustainable things but a lot of the time don’t have the money for it. Now, that I have a better job and more money to spend, sustainable clothes is where it’s at. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a much worse situation than I had ever imagined, although I knew some of the information. I usually buy high-quality classic clothing at outlet stores and wear it for many years. Of course, I am not a fashionista.
    Thank you, Aakriti, for your concern for the environment and for sharing this information with us. ❤

    Like

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