Fashion fanatics have more seasons than the regular four seasons that we have. Not the weather one, the fashion one. New fashion seasons change once every two weeks, or worse once a week. The stores across the world stock their aisles with thousands of new clothes from the new collections. As seasons change, the ‘old’ yet brand new, unused clothes get loaded onto dump trucks and taken to an incinerator to be burnt.
Welcome to the world of fast fashion.
The fashion industry is, globally, the second largest polluting industry after oil. It consumes 20% of the global water supply, produces 10% of the global carbon emissions, and fills the oceans with microplastics. This amounts to carbon emissions larger than maritime shipping and international flights combined. The following facts explain the picture better:
A dump truck filled with clothes gets burned or dumped in a landfill every second.
Retailer giant Zara refreshes its collection every week.
The textile industry across the world manufactures 20 garments per person on an average, every year.
Like any other business, the players of fast fashion are looking to make more money. But, this is harmful to the planet as well as the people manufacturing them. The 3 key constituents of the fast fashion business are:
1. Overconsumption of fashion trends
The extenuating process of acquiring a new line of clothes involves designing, fabric sourcing, production, distribution, marketing, and sales. All these get done in a minimum span of two weeks and repeated every two weeks. To expedite these processes, the businesses need to keep costs low. This is primarily done by using low-cost fabrics and outsourcing production to cheap labor in underdeveloped and developing countries.
2. Unsustainable production
The rising use of polyester has fuelled the fast fashion expansion over the years. Polyester is easily available, cheap, and accounts for 60% of global garment production. Unfortunately, the material is non-biodegradable, non-recyclable, and releases microfibers which damage aquatic ecosystems. It has thrice the carbon footprint of cotton since it gets made from fossil fuels.
3. Unethical supply chains
Retail brands such as Prada, Versace, Gucci, Mango, Walmart, and Moncler typically manufacture their clothes in countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Thailand, for their lax labor laws and cheap labor. The poor working environment includes toxic chemicals and poor lighting, gender-based exploitation, and highly demanding production targets. In April 2013, an eight-story commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1100+ people and many more injured. The upper floors of the building, used by fast fashion retail brands as factories, were built without a valid permit. Despite concerns of cracks in the building walls, the retailers continued to occupy the building which ultimately led to its destruction.
The solution? Sustainable Fashion.
Ethical manufacturing and product development are the core principles of sustainable fashion. The most important, recent trend in fashion is the consumer’s need for trust in creative originality and product authenticity. Some ways of identifying sustainable brands and garments are:
Sustainable materials: All fabric materials used are organic, recycled, or repurposed, and make use of natural dyes.
No Greenwashing: ‘Greenwashing’ is the term used to describe marketing gimmicks done by retailers to create a pseudo image of sustainability.
Locally sourced and produced: This ensures a reduced carbon footprint and fabrics get designed to suit the local climate.
Only necessary collections: Styles get released not more than 2-3 times per year.
It is also necessary that one stays aware of PR gimmicks and secure the ability to distinguish between genuine brands and fake ones. For instance, look out for brands that promise to recycle clothes. These clothes will likely get downcycled into insulation or carpets. From here, the second round of recycling is impossible.
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