The term “fast fashion” has become a buzzword over recent years, but what exactly does it mean, and what consequences have to follow?
“Fast fashion can be defined as an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasises making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”Merriam Webster
The big, ugly truth about fast fashion is that these clothing retailers often cut corners, at the expense of the environment, to keep up with the demands of these frequently changing styles.
It is estimated the apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of the world’s GHG emissions. With nearly three-fifths of all clothing ending up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced. Also, 20-25% of globally produced chemical compounds are utilised in the textile finishing industry.
The ever-growing demand for cheaper clothes, alongside an increase in the use of more synthetic materials and less natural fibres, has meant that the apparel industry’s impact on climate change is on the rise. With increased awareness of the issues surrounding the fashion industry, more retailers and brands have started pledging to switch to more eco-friendly business practices. H&M is an example of this, having promised to be 100% sustainable by 2040 through transitioning the types of textiles and fabrics used. Alongside H&M, is Zara, which is aiming to stop sending all unused textiles to landfills by 2020. Their goal is to develop an efficient life cycle for their clothes, meaning less textile landfill waste.
The environment is not the only one suffering as a result of our purchasing. The apparel industry is and has historically been one of the most women-dominated industries in the world today. Unfortunately, despite producing some of the most profitable companies in the world, in many situations, women garment workers are subject to low wages, unsafe working conditions, and domestic violence.
Bonded labour is a reality for some women in the apparel industry. For example, in southern India, 80% of workers in cotton spinning mills are women and adolescent girls from lower castes. These young girls are paid below the legal minimum wage and can face a range of sexual and physical abuse. Furthermore, the University of California, Berkeley conducted a comprehensive assessment of conditions facing home-based garment workers, whose work often involves applying the final touches to a garment, such as embroidery and buttons. It found that women and girls from the most marginalised communities toiled for as little as 15 cents an hour in homes across India. Child labour and forced labour were rife and wages regularly suppressed.
“Every major brand, every boutique retailer and everyone in between who sources garments from India is touched by this issue,” said Siddharth Kara, the report’s author and a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. “It ends up on the shelves of every major brand in the west.”
We as consumers also hold responsibility. We are all guilty of purchasing a new dress or outfit for a special occasion, only to wear it once and then discard it to the bottom of the wardrobe. Which is where it will stay, unworn. It’s a process I have practiced myself for years, without giving much thought to the environmental effect. So, what can we do to help?
- An obvious suggestion – buy less clothing.
- Buy higher quality clothing that will last longer.
- Take the time to research the brand that you are buying from.
- Wash your clothes less frequently and steer clear of items that require dry cleaning.
- Don’t throw something out just because it’s gone out of fashion. There is a high chance it will come back into fashion in your lifetime.
- Thrift stores, charity shops, jumble sales, depop – there are endless options available for us to purchase secondhand clothing. Recycling clothes saves the water that is used to make new clothes, it’s cost-efficient and it keeps unwanted clothing out of landfills.
- Host a clothing swap with your friends.
- Don’t be embarrassed to wear an outfit again.
- If your clothes are still in good condition but taking up too much space in your draw, find a local charity shop to donate them to.
- Items unfit to be donated or resold can be recycled. More and more large retail stores are starting to collect unwearable clothing to sell to textile recycling companies where the clothes are turned back into fibres to make new fabric.