Fast fashion is defined as the quick process in which retailers can move designs from the catwalk to the stores in order to keep up pace with the constant demand for more and different styles.
I have been using my free time productively to do some thorough research into the effects of fast fashion. Now I’ve known the basics from previous work and have in fact done a variety of post linked to it, which will all be linked at the end of this post…. but I wanted to do a series about the truth surrounding fast fashion to help educate others. With Fashion Revolution week just ending it seemed appropriate. This is something I am really passionate about teaching others because people are so blind to the truth, we really need to change our way of thinking and make a positive change.
So my next few posts are all surrounding the topic of fast fashion and I highly recommend making a cup of tea or coffee because they’re long posts. Sorry not sorry.
Fast fashion started back in the 80s and as sales kept increasing throughout the 2000s, the average retail prices decreased because with more people having a disposable income it means they are able to produce even more products at cheaper prices. We are raised nowadays to put convenience and cost ahead of everything because we want things that require very little effort, meaning things that are disposable and cheap. It’s almost like we are buying a temporary satisfaction.
Gonna be brutally honest, I think we’re quite a lazy generation.
By selling large quantities of cheap clothing it means that garment consumption has skyrocketed because it offers consumers the opportunity to buy more clothing for less. Prices are able to be kept down by outsourcing production to low/middle income countries with the majority of products being assembled in China and Bangladesh, however there are many health costs associated with the production of cheap clothing. For those who live near or work in textiles manufacturing facilities, there’s many environmental health hazards due to tones of textiles waste ending up in landfills in unregulated settings just being one example.
In a world of accelerating demand for clothing, consumers want and can afford new clothing after only wearing a garment for an average of 7 times which just shows how much we don’t invest value into the clothing the buy. This rapid consumption put stresses on production resources resulting in supply chains putting profit ahead of human welfare. The fashion markets annual 5% growth, risks exerting a huge strain on planetary resources because the quality of clothing is reduced in order to focus on advertising and marketing to create consumer demand. Basically it’s all about the money. Companies target consumers in innovative ways to keep them consuming by creating a desire for fast fashion that so many people have. We now need to create a new circular model that is sustainable, fulfills our desire but that spares the consequences.
Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000 and it was reported that in 2014 people bought 60% more compared to 15 years previous. That percentage is likely to be even higher now because of how much we view fashion as being disposable, it’s viewed as being in the same basket as single use plastic. The consumption model is similar to that of single use plastic with items being used a few times before being thrown out and ending up in landfill. The number of times a garment is worn before being thrown out has decreased by 35% and it’s estimated that the equivalent of 1 garbage truck of clothes is burned or dumped in landfill every second. This is not really a surprise though with fashion houses offering around 5 collections a year, and increase from 2 collections back in 2000. Additionally high street brands tend to put out more than 10 collections per year, which is where the majority of us probably shop from.
Fashion could potentially be green if there was some legalisation but the UK government rejected recommendations to improve fashions wider impact on the environment last year. With things like plastic in cotton buds being banned, why not putting some laws surrounding production for example? Clothing contains plastic, so it’s just as toxic as those plastic cotton buds.
Fast fashion is a disease in which the both the planet and it’s people are paying the price.
Textile production is the first step in the global supply chain where synthetic and natural fibres are made. The majority of our clothes are made from polyester or cotton.
Polyester is a synthetic material derived from oil, and is a common fibre found in 60% of garments. Therefore producing it releases 3 times more carbon than cotton and it doesn’t break down in the ocean because it’s a plastic. On the other hand cotton is a natural fibre which requires less energy to produce but it’s still not a sustainable option because of the how much land and water is required. It requires large amounts of water and pesticides to grow and many lakes and rivers have dried up in the areas where it’s grown.
Textile dyeing is another step in the production cycle and results in additional hazards such as untreated wastewater from dyes often being thrown into local water systems. It releases heavy toxins that can impact the health of animals and residences nearby, making it the world’s second largest polluter.
Producing clothing takes up mass amounts of water. It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce 1 cotton shirt which is enough water for one person to drink 8 cups a day for 3.5 years, and about 2000 gallons of water to produce 1 pair of jeans which is enough to drink for 10 years. That’s an unbelievably large amount. Think about how many new bought pairs of jeans you have.
There are many environmental affects from textile production.
It is estimated that the fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, just making a new pair of jeans produces as much greenhouse gases as driving a car more than 80 miles.
The industry also causes 20% of all industrial water pollution and is the second largest consumer of the worlds water supply. Once thriving rivers in China, India and Bangladesh have now been wrecked by the wastewater from nearby factories. The 8000 different synthetic chemicals which can be found in dyes and other production processes end up in the wastewater which flows into waterways and agricultural systems. It’s not just the aquatic life affected by this, workers are also exposed to these chemicals.
The environmental issues do not just occur in the production stage, it extends all the way to washing machine. Washing clothes that contain synthetic materials like polyester can actually release thousands of pieces of microplastic into our oceans as they shed off of the clothes. This affects many sea creatures, an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of it end up in the sea every single year. (I have a whole post planned about plastic in clothing so keep your eyes peeled for that)
After textile production, the next stage in the cycle is garment assembly. This employs about 40 million people and 90% of the world clothing is being produced in low income areas. While clothing production has spured growth in some developing economies, it has revealed some social challenges.
80% of people who make our clothes are young women aged between 18 and 24, they face terrible working conditions and even abuse. Workers in third world countries make unlivable wages, for example it shows that those in Bangladesh make about $96 a month yet they would need over 3 times that amount for basic facilities.
Developing countries often have poor labour laws and human rights protection. Often occupational and safety standards are not enforced due to poor political infrastructure and organisational management which results in respiratory hazards due to poor ventilation and muscoskeletal hazards from motion repetitive tasks. Furthermore there is evidence of forced and child labour in some countries. It’s horrible to think of all these people who suffer just to make your clothing.
These dangerous working conditions can lead to accidents and factory fires. One example being the 2013 Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh where the factory collapsed killing 1,100 people and injuring many others. This inspired many anti fast fashion groups to be set up such as the Fashion Revolution group which calls for brands to be more open and transparent about where there clothes are made the conditions that they are made in.
Basically the message that I am trying to get across is that fast fashion is bad. I think that the negative affects of making your clothing definitely outweigh the positive affects. The only positive affect is that you feel confident, I guess. You can get this same confidence from more sustainable clothing.
Now the negative affects don’t just happen in the production stage, they’re there when you wear them and wash them and also when you dispose of them which is what I’ll be covering in upcoming posts.
I hope you learnt something from this!
Do you shop from fast fashion brands? Or have you converted to shopping in secondhand shops?
My previous fast fashion related posts:
The difference between fast and slow fashion
Why we need a fashion revolution
How fast fashion affects the oceans
Why I love secondhand shopping
Why I’m not buying new clothing for a year
My honest opinion on London Fashion Week