While the most remarkable thing about fashion is that it touches and impacts our lives in so many ways— that is also its dark side. With fast fashion, the price tag associated is low, but the price we pay for it in the future is unarguably high. The singular agenda of most fast fashion brands is to churn out the latest trends quickly and convince us that buying into these trends is essential to our sense of self-worth. They produce their garments in factories with working conditions detrimental to both employees and the environment. The Fashion Transparency Index (2020) reported that only five out of 250 fashion brands established a tangible roadmap on offering a living wage to their employees. While that sounds awful, let’s plunge into some hard facts about fast fashion to make wiser fashion choices.
Source: Scoop Whoop
And while there has been progress in some countries, the losses caused by the pandemic threaten to set the clock back making it all the more imperative for customers to keep up the pressure on brands to source the ethical way.
But, First, What is Fast Fashion?
Ever saw a celebrity walking the red carpet at Met Gala in a fantastic outfit? Well, if you notice its counterfeits in less than a week, it is fast fashion. Fast fashion trends are fleeting; they are produced, marketed, and sold almost instantly. And these trends are generally lifted from celebrity outfits and fashion weeks with minor tweaks and sold at abysmally low prices.
Source: Our Good Brands
Fast fashion is affordable because of its low-cost production, cheap fabric and poor wages, which translate into inexpensive prices for the customer. Most fast fashion brands introduce new collections every week, an average shopper doesn’t repeat an outfit more than twice because they shop for fast fashion clothing every month and the vicious cycle goes on.
10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Fast Fashion
- 3 out of every 5 garments end up in landfills: If we thought the lack of donning a new outfit every time we step out is a big problem, there is something bigger coming our way. McKinsey reports that three out of every five garments produced end up in landfills or incinerators, creating more toxic waste. Incinerators also produce greenhouse gases that pollute the environment. So, remember, every underutilized or non-recycled outfit pushes us one step closer to a more polluted planet.
- 89% of brands globally lack transparency: Most fast fashion brands are unethical while sourcing, purchasing, and paying their workers. Fashion Transparency Index 2020 states that only 11% of global brands are transparent about their labour costs, and only 6% disclose they’re paying within 60 days of purchase.
- Fast fashion brands violate human rights: Focussed on driving down costs to remain competitive, most fast fashion brands produce garments in factories that don’t follow hygiene or fire, health and safety protocols. Apart from paying low wages, these factories are often sweatshops that exploit their employees by overworking them in toxic and poor work conditions.
Source: Project Cece
- Fast fashion is one of the most polluting industries: Did you know that the fashion industry emits more carbon than the airline industry? As a matter of fact, CBS reports that fashion industries shed around 1.2 billion tons of C02 every year and contribute majorly to greenhouse gas emissions. The only way we can turn this around is by less consumption and using the garments for longer.
- Gender inequality and exploitation is rampant: The vast majority of factory workforce at over 80% is made up of women, often in poor countries, who are exploited with low wages, lack of insurance, or basic rights. In most parts of the world, they are paid less than $100 a month and much lower than male workers. According to Fair Trade Certified, garment workers in Ethiopia make only $26 and, in Bangladesh, around $35 a month. And in most cases, women are made to work long hours in unsafe working conditions. The deadly Rana Plaza fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 that killed over 1000 workers, most of them women, was a wake-up call for governments, brands, manufacturers, activists and customers. And while there has been progress in some countries, the losses caused by the pandemic threaten to set the clock back making it all the more imperative for customers to keep up the pressure on brands to source the ethical way.
- Over $500 billion worth of products go to waste due to the lack of recycling and underutilization: The volume of wastage that fast fashion creates is enormous; we don’t have the capacity to recycle or look for sustainable ways to reuse the garments. Due to this, products don’t just end up in landfills; the storage facilities also overflow with stock that may never be used or sold again. We’ve got to remember that a lot of resources have gone into their making.
- The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water supply: It takes nearly 2,700 litres to produce one cotton shirt and around 7,500 litres to manufacture a pair of denim. The entire cycle to produce garments consumes a lot of water, and the only way to reduce this is by extending the life cycle of our clothes. And choose slow fashion brands that tackle this issue by slowly producing their garments using recycled water.
- Only 1% of fast fashion garments are recycled: Ellen Macarthur Foundation has conducted extensive research that states that only 1% of fast fashion garments are recycled into new clothing and only 13% is recycled into anything at all every year. Given that the global fashion industry produces 150 billion items per year, and 50% of this is discarded in under a year, that’s a staggering amount of wastage!
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- The fashion industry contributes to one-third of microplastics dumped in the oceans: We already know that the plastic that ends up in the oceans is harmful to the environment, especially the marine species. Marine wildlife mistake plastics for prey and die from ingestion of microplastic items. In fact, Mark Anthony Browne — an ecologist who studied the build-up of microplastics on the beaches worldwide, discovered that around 85% of materials found were a result of microfibers that come from nylon and acrylic.
- Fast fashion’s open-loop production damages the environment: Most fast-fashion brands follow open-loop production where they don’t recycle or reuse water. They also use large amounts of toxic chemicals and dyes. This leads to water wastage, and the contaminated water is let out of their production factories untreated, which further pollute the environment.
Fast fashion is tempting, pocket-friendly, and it’s easy to stay on-trend with it. But it is worth asking if we are being conned by a make-believe world of ever-changing trends, colour palettes, seasons and silhouettes, all geared to make us buy more and more. Because, it’s dangerous, unfair, damages the environment and puts many at risk. Our local boutiques and neighbourhood tailor craft alternatives that are sustainable. However, nothing replaces extending the lifetime of our outfits. There is no shame in repeating them; if anything, styling outfits and accessorizing them in several creative ways to score new looks or even repeating them make for a a truly evolved statement.