As our need to consume more increases every day, the earth pays its price.
Fast fashion, inexpensive and off the rack garments, has changed the way people purchase and dispose of clothes. By selling an enormous quantity of clothes, which is inexpensive, fast fashion has now become a dominant business model, causing garment consumption to skyrocket. Every day millions of people buy clothes without considering the impact it will have on this planet and the environment. From the growth of water-intensive cotton, disposing of untreated dyes in water bodies, to worker’s low wage and introduction of sweatshops, fast fashion comes at an environmental and social cost.
According to a McKinsey report, the lowest-priced fast fashion garments may be discarded after being worn just seven or eight times. Consumers are now retaining clothing for only half as long as they did in 2000, resulting in a vast increase in the amount of waste generated by the fashion industry.
The new force fueling consumerism on an unprecedented scale is social media. For digital natives used to stalking social media to track down items, being able to ‘swipe up’ and purchase an outfit worn by someone they follow is intuitive. Influencers push fast consumption across sectors and platforms. Compared to twenty years ago, people tend to keep what they buy only half as long.
“We want a new look every time we go out, once we post a photo of an outfit on Instagram or Snapchat, we generally won’t wear it for a few weeks,” Ankita, a high school student, tells Media India Group when asked on why they need to buy clothes so often.
Similarly, Shreya Mandal, a college student tells us that “Brands like H&M, Zara, Forever21, Shein are so popular because they bring the latest things on the runway at a low price. We also buy from them because our favourite influencers endorse it. At the end of the day, you want to look like your favourite influencers that you admire so much.”
Fast fashion is popular because it democratises high fashion, and they do that by knocking off designer brands at scale. It provides consumers with a feeling of luxury without paying the full price.
According to the McKinsey report, after oil, fashion is the world’s second-most polluting industry. And as the scale of production grows, so does the scale of pollution.
In 2015, the clothing industry was responsible for 1.714 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and used 141 billion cubic metres of water. Similarly, after agriculture, water-dyeing textiles have resulted in the industry to be the second-largest polluter of clean sources of water globally.
“The trillion-dollar fast fashion industry is responsible for 10 pc of the global carbon footprint, adverse environmental impacts including water pollution and global warming, the use of toxic chemicals and high levels of textile waste, and poor working conditions for millions of workers, primarily women and children, especially in developing countries. It is a clever tactic to exploit vulnerable human resources in the developing world in the garb of employment generation and economic upliftment to formulate humongous profit generation for major retail fast fashion giants without taking any responsibility and accountability in terms of ethical practices in production and sourcing,” Aloke Kumar Singh, the co-founder and director of ESEDS School of Design Kolkata, India’s first sustainable award-winning British design school for fashion, textiles and interiors, tells Media India Group.
Fast fashion brands are completely focused on making knockoffs. Making knockoffs fast means companies depends on real-time data to regulate supply and demand, monitor transit, and scan social media for feedbacks. The brands call this dynamic assortment, which means, to pump new items constantly. In comparison to legacy brands that have two or three seasons every year, fast fashion brands have way more seasons every year. New items are placed on the racks every week. This ultimately results in producing more waste.
“The rise of capitalist consumerism today as a dominant global force cutting across socioeconomic barriers is paving the way for the augment of fast fashion and mass consumption of un-considerate clothing by the younger generation today without realising the negative consequences it has on the environment, climate, society and people. The narrative of hyper-consumption, shifting fashion trends and economic materialism exerted by the fast fashion retail giants and corporations to the younger generation today are shaping the way we are unconsciously consuming fashion, quenching their selfish thirst for more profits and less accountability towards the environment, people producing it and the society as a whole,” adds Singh.
An easy way to sustainable fashion is, wearing your clothes for a longer time. Studies show, just by wearing a garment for nine-month longer, the carbon footprint for that garment is reduced to 30 pc.
In the last G7 summit, French President and host Emmanuel Macron announced fashion industry pact signed by 32 companies and 150 brands promising to reduce environmental impact. G7 Fashion Pact marks the first serious broad-based push by a coalition to private-sector companies to help reduce global warming, replenish the planet’s biodiversity and curtail the dumping of fashion in the world’s ocean. Despite this, the changes are not happening fast enough, the fast fashion industry accounts for 10 pc of the global greenhouse gas emission, and the percentage is on a rise.
Fast fashion contributes to the nature of excessive consumption and wastefulness that have worrying consequences. The environmental price tag for fast fashion is huge. It starts right from the usage of toxic chemicals throughout the growing and manufacturing process. Once thriving rivers of India, China, and Bangladesh are wrecked by watershed effluent from factories, have transformed into a biologically dead zone replete with cancer-causing chemicals. Tiny plastic particles shed by synthetic garments, during laundry are inundating our water supply and food chain. Polyester, spandex and nylon use roughly about 342 million barrels of oil every year. Textile like viscose that is made from natural sources threaten forests as 33 pc of the viscose in clothes are made from ancient or natural forest and this process leads to a huge amount of waste. Of all the fabric used for clothing 87 pc ends up incinerated or in landfills. Fast fashion also has a social impact. These clothes are usually made in economically weaker countries where people are often paid too little for their work.
“Awareness is the key to drive the change towards a more ethical and sustainable consumption of fashion. It starts from educating the buyers to think about the larger picture including the environment and people involved before making a conscious decision to buy a piece of clothing. We need to also educate the young generation of fashion designers on sustainable fashion and ethical practices in the industry. As Lucy Siegle, author and journalist summed it up in the documentary The True Cost, ‘Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying,’” says Singh.
Role of the consumers
While government and industry self-regulation has failed to make an impact in this area, consumers have a role to play in protecting the environment. Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse 2019 report quotes research showing 50 pc of consumers would switch brands if offered an environmentally and socially friendly alternative. Sustainability is a key purchasing criterion for only 7 pc of the consumers.
Rise of slow fashion
Fast fashion utilises trend replication, rapid production and low-quality material in order to bring inexpensive style to the public. Unfortunately, this results in a harmful impact on the environment, human well-being and ultimately our wallets. As the world is gearing up for a faster life by each passing second, informed consumers are taking a break. After noticing the effects of fast fashion to the world and environment, a new concept of slow fashion is coming up. Slow fashion is a movement towards mindful manufacturing, fair labour rights, natural materials and lasting garments. Conscious fashion means these brands, community and individuals who are fighting for the safety of our earth while providing the buyer with quality products and protecting those that need it the most.