Crash Course :: Fast Fashion
We’re living in a point in time where everything is at our fingertips, but is that really such a good thing? It’s complicated. We’re able to attain stuff much faster than before, which means it’s also necessary to stop and think about the consequences that might have. As of recently, fast fashion has become an issue that has taken our world by storm. But what is it exactly?
Fast fashion is a term used to describe clothing designs that are moving quickly from designers to stores. Because the production process is being accelerated, the product demand for consumers is also rising. Keeping up with new trends allows consumers to pay for trendy clothing at very cheap and affordable prices.
But at what cost?
Is the $10 top worth the 1,134 garment workers killed in the due to the poor conditions of Rana Plaza?
So how did fast fashion emerge? It wasn’t until the 1990s that a demand for clothing increased. It became easier for brands to take looks and designs from popular fashion houses and reproduce them more quickly and cheaply. With everyone able to shop for trendy clothes, the demand just became higher from there. This cycle has continued to evolve the rate of production while simultaneously increasing demand.
But at what cost?
Is the $15 dress worth the 117 workers killed in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire?
Because demand is still high for trendy and affordable clothing, retailers are playing their part by providing supply. Trends are coming and going so much faster now than ever, so it’s not uncommon for retailers to introduce new products by the week.
But at what cost?
Are the $20 jeans worth the 289 garment workers killed in the Baldia Town factory fire?
So what makes fast fashion so unethical?
For starters, new, low-priced products are coming and going so quickly, it’s encouraging a “throwaway” attitude for consumers. This type of attitude encourages consumers to persuade themselves to think that it’s okay to throw away a product because it was bought at a low cost. According to McKinsey and Company, the average consumer purchased 60% more items of clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment for half as long, because the garment fell apart, went out of style, or was simply viewed as disposable. And that number is only growing. As a consumer, it’s important to factor in the serious consequences that come along with disposing our clothing so often. Simply throwing away clothing that no longer has use to us contributes to having a larger carbon footprint and continued poor working conditions in developing countries where our clothes are getting made.
According to the UNECE, the fashion industry is responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions as of 2018. To put that into perspective, that’s more than the emissions of all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
And what happens to the clothes we throw away? Some popular fabrics, like cotton, silk, and wool are easily biodegradable, but fabrics like polyester and nylon… not so easy. Because they’re synthetic fabrics, it takes 20 years minimum for them to decompose, if not more. On top of that, clothing that’s made with a blend of different fabrics or has buttons, zippers, etc. also impede on the already slow process of decomposition.
Maybe donating your clothes to thrift stores and second-hand retailers seems like a better option? Well, only about 10-20% of clothes that get donated actually make it into the store, while the rest gets packed in bulk and exported out of the U.S. to a developing country. While this might not seem like a big deal, this comes with negative consequences too. Sending clothes in bulk results in problems arising for local businesses in the areas where clothes are sent—some as serious as running people out of business.
Fast fashion is also linked to dangerous working conditions for the garment workers that are making our clothes. Because many retailers are introducing new products weekly, there’s a time pressure applied on garment workers—leading to long hours and low pay. These types of unsafe practices won’t stop unless we, the consumers, do something to change the direction of the fashion industry.
What can we do alternatively?
Buy less. By doing this, you’re helping to lower the overproduction of clothing in the fashion industry. Because clothing is being introduced at a faster rate now, overproduction is a big problem that’s causing many different environmental problems. Losing the desire to buy a trendy top does a lot more in the long run for the planet.
Do your research. The more we know, the more we can share our knowledge to others. Apps like Good on You gives information about different brands and their practices, impact on the planet, animal use, and general citizenship.
Buy from secondhand shops. Another more affordable option is to buy from consignment and thrift shops. Shifting to buying more ethical clothing might not be in everyone’s budget, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other alternatives.
Fast fashion. It’s complicated. But until we inform ourselves on it, there will be no change—and the cost will be atrocious for the planet. Fast fashion is a complex issue that’ll take some time for change to be implemented, but it’s up to us to start now and be that change.