Fast fashion has turned into the proverbial black sheep of the industry lately and with good reason. However, this hasn’t deterred a lot of its consumers to break away completely. Inditex, parent retail company to the likes of Zara among many more brands has made over $26.1billion in sales in 2018 alone. Stylish offerings with a speed to market like no other — fast fashion clearly has us hooked but when we get down to the brass tacks, it's not as glamorous as it may seem.
Fast fashion is convenient and cheap but no one ever stops to think about why their t-shirts cost so less. In order to serve you clothing this cheap, it is evident that they need to be made at a fraction of the sum you pay for them. Many fast-fashion retailers outsource their manufacturing from countries like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and India where labour is cheap and not well regulated. Bangladesh relies heavily on sweatshops as 80-90% of their exports are from the textile industry. And yet, despite being a $29-billion industry, Bangladesh garment workers are only paid $0.35 an hour with 14-16 hour workdays in addition to working conditions that put them at risk.
Labour isn’t the only cheap factor weighing in on that steal of a price tag — its the material used as well. Fast fashion retailers depend on synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, rayon and spandex, that are made available at bargain rates. These man-made fibres are created from synthesised chemicals that are derived from petrochemicals like crude oil making it a large cause for carbon emissions. Additionally, these fabrics are non-biodegradable, spending about 30 or more years in a landfill before they actually start to decompose.
While the clothes may seem great at first glance, once bought, they are unassumingly causing more harm to the environment. When synthetic wears are washed, each cycle of a washing machine could release over 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment. Microplastics, as the name suggests are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in diameter, tiny enough to pass through sewage systems. While the impact of microplastic pollution is not fully understood, studies indicate that it can be swallowed by marine life, poison the food chain and eventually alter the behaviour of aquatic animals.
One of the main reasons behind fast fashion and its extreme agility to reach the market is plagiarism. Fashion weeks and their ability to put out collections a season ahead of time provide ample opportunity for fast fashion retailers to catch the details in time to create affordable knock-offs that have already proven successful in enticing consumers. Counterfeits hurt the artist or designer a lot more than it does the retailers that make money off them. While being called out on social media helps spread the word, the legal system does very little to help out the independent designers that were plagiarised, to begin with.
If we continue on this path of consuming fast fashion the way we are, the impact on the environment will be disastrous. Clothing production has increased by 400% over the last 20 years and of the billion new clothing items put on the market every year, 25% of it remains unworn. Moreover, in North America, 10.5 million tons of clothes are sent to a landfill each year and that is just the statistic of one continent.
Letting go of fast fashion is hard, but with the rise of sustainable brands on the market we can’t see why a positive effort to avoid it can’t be put into practice.
Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2020-01-02