The word “fashion” can conjure up many different images and emotions. Whether we like fashion or not, we are all affected by it and we all consume it. Low prices and trendy clothing appeal to us. We can afford clothes at bargain prices and don’t give much thought into making an investment in terms of what we wear. Most of the clothes we buy from big retailers in the world, come under an umbrella term known as ‘Fast Fashion’. The manufacturing of these clothes costs next to nothing and it doesn’t burn a hole in our pockets while shopping. So as consumers, we feel like we are able to buy a lot for a very miniscule amount.
The term ‘Fast Fashion’ refers to the speed at which clothes are consumed and disposed of. This is a result of consumers constantly replenishing their wardrobe with the latest trends. The story behind limitless options and the large scale production of garments is called Fast Fashion. Certain characteristics of this phenomenon are problematic such as the inefficient production practices and the exploitation of workers in developing countries. Capital-friendly labour laws allow these companies to produce clothing on a mass scale and sell them at extremely low prices, to attract consumers. These workers are made to work and live in extremely poor conditions with hazardous chemicals around and poor infrastructure. Mass supply and affordability, combined with the never ending craving for novelty bred by consumer culture, has led to a mindset of expendability when it comes to clothing that the planet is unable to sustain.
The detrimental environmental impact of fast fashion begins with the production of raw material, which mainly consists of cotton and leather. The first and perhaps most obvious impact of the fast fashion industry on the water is the contamination and pollution of water bodies through the use of harmful, toxic chemicals, dyes, and detergents. Chemicals found in clothing including Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE’s), toxic perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), and azo dyes, all of which are carcinogenic to both humans and animals. The contamination of rivers, lakes, and oceans is not the only water related outcome of the fast fashion industry. To produce textiles, right from their harvesting to the finished final product takes a significant toll on the amount of water used. The impact of the industry on people and resources, calculated that it takes as much water to sustain two people per day as it takes to produce one kilogram of fabric. Waste is also a major concern within the fashion industry, both at the pre-consumer and post-consumer stages of the garment’s life cycle. A certain percentage of all the textiles produced annually are deemed “cutting room floor waste,” which typically ends in landfills. Once the low-quality clothes are produced, most of them are discarded or not used. This happens all over the world, and in major fashion capitals like New York, London, Hong Kong where the low quality garments could be reused but instead also end up in a landfill.
Our love for Fast Fashion has caused the demand for all fibres to increase, and while natural fibres are the best, the supply cannot meet the demand. This demand for fast fashion has led to irresponsible production practices by multinational companies and negatively impacts society. Too often, these companies that outsource their production to third world countries such as Bangladesh, China or even India, ignore well documented cases of slavery, child labor, poor infrastructure and how this creates an extremely hazardous working environment. This lack of regulation has led to hazardous work conditions, not very recently but brought to light by the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013, where over a thousand workers were killed. This is just one of the many calamities that have occurred due to negligence of companies in taking all precautions to keep their working conditions safe.
This fight against fast fashion is important Well over one thousand garment workers died in 2013 alone so that we can have cheap copies of other runway looks. Many more individuals have been killed or seriously injured (and continue to be killed and seriously injured), as original styles from the runway are being copied in large quantities, at very cheap costs and at rapid turn-over rates.
In any case, these facts alone are insufficient to change the mindset of most consumers, particularly when these facts are combined with our excessive desire to buy clothes and our extreme utilisation practices. Yes, fashion is a business and websites and fashion bloggers are not here to take upon social missions with the responsibility of educating readers about the dangers of fast fashion and even if they were we cannot expect consumers to spend beyond their capacity or suddenly change their shopping habits in hope of a safer, more sustainable clothing production. Although, with the hope of creating a better culture for the industry, we must try.