Fast fashion- if not we, then who pays the price?

Brands like Zara, H&M, Forever 21 have crept into the wardrobe of every young adult today,
which was not the case a couple of decades ago. The attractive pricing of these clothes and rampant marketing by the brands makes them popular amongst the cash-strapped teenagers across the globe. Fast fashion- is a term used to describe the replication of clothes fresh from the ramps of high-end designers and the production of them on a ginormous scale to offer the masses. While it seems like a successful, profitable trade for the consumer- who has access to trendy, affordable clothes and for the brands reigning in the enormous profits, there seems to be one entity that pays a heavy price for our fashion choices. No prizes for guessing, it is our planet suffering silently and almost irreversibly for our irresponsible choices. In fact, after the oil industry, fashion is the second leading cause of pollution in the world.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion focuses on clothes being moved from designer fashion shows to low-cost retail shops in order to meet the latest trends. The low cost that is associated with bulk manufacturing, quick shipping and the ability to meet the needs of fashion-hungry teenagers makes this a favorable option. The business model of these companies is based on linking the consumer and the dealer in a mutually beneficial way. Such collaboration is essential because the fast-shifting needs of the consumer make it paramount to refine and accelerate supply chain processes. An average consumer today buys 60% more clothes than they did in 2000 but utilizes these clothes 50% less now than they did two decades ago. High purchasing power and cheap clothing drive fast fashion consumption. The power of social media promotes that in order to stay fashionable, one must stay on trend by buying more clothes and accessories to stay tuned with the ever-changing face of global fashion.

The economic impact of fast fashion

Fast fashion plays a major role in the growing textile industry. The apparel industry has had a significant impact on the global economy due to the fact that fashion is a structured and diverse industry that involves ranks of major retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers from popular brands to local shops. Fast fashion is responsible for the recent growth of an average of 4.78% and future growth of 5.91% of the apparel industry. About 88% of shoppers in America prefer shopping fast fashion followed by 46% in Europe, 25% in India, and 21% in China. As reported by A. Orendorf in 2018 the e-commerce revenue in the fashion industry worldwide was USD 481 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach USD 713 billion in 2022.

Ethical Issues in fast fashion

Developing countries like India, China, Bangladesh are the nations in which mass
manufacturing of goods from brands like H&M, ASOS, Zara takes place because of the cheap labor provided by them. The International Labor Organization estimates that 170 million children engage in child labor in the textile sector. Most of these multi-million dollar companies do not prioritize the health, welfare and sanitation of the daily wage worker they employ. According to the non-profit Rapid, 80% of the apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24. Global Justice Research shows that female garment workers in large brand suppliers have suffered mistreatment and exploitation. The poor working conditions of garment workers pose as a serious threat to their health and also makes them a victim of wage theft and exploitation. In 2013, an eighty-floor factory building that housed several garment factories in Bangladesh, killing 1134 workers and injuring more than 2500. Rapid production means that sales and profits supersede human welfare. These workers have no voice or platform to air their grievances as the government does not enforce favorable labor laws in fear of losing international investors.

The price the environment pays for fast fashion

Water pollution

The mounting pressure on the industry to create cheaper goods within a shorter period causes a negative impact on the environment. More than half of the production of these clothes takes place in countries like China, India and Bangladesh, countries that heavily use fossil fuel energy like coal. An increase in water pollution by the release of industrial toxins, filling of landfills at an alarming rate and poor disposal of waste are the top contenders that affect environmental wellbeing. The textile industries dump untreated toxic waste containing lead, arsenic, and mercury directly into the river. These poisonous chemicals are harmful to the millions of people who live by the banks of these rivers and consume this water and also for the flora and fauna inhabited within the river beds. In fact, using fertilizers to increase the growth of cotton at an unnaturally aggravated speed causes the water to evaporate faster and lead to pollution. Also, a cotton crop requires 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on the already scarce resource and also leads to catastrophic ecological impacts like the desertification of seas. In an article written by Business Insider, 500,000 tons of micro-fibres
are released into the ocean when clothes are washed, which is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles. The fast industry is responsible for about 20% of global wastewater.

Air pollution

Every year the textile industry produces 1.2 billion tonnes of green gases which is marginally
more than the emissions caused by all the international flights across the globe. To further emphasize this point, almost every minute a truck full of clothes is burnt or disposed of in the landfills, whereas, only 1% of these clothes are recycled.
According to 2019 research by Oxfam, the new clothes bought into the UK produce more carbon emissions in a minute than driving a car around the world six times. The textile industry contributes more to climate change than international shipping and aviation put together. If we allow fast fashion to continue in an unregulated manner, the industry will use up over 25% of the global carbon budget associated with an increase in a 2-degree celsius pathway by 2050.

Is recycling enough?

While recycling is a great way to reduce the negative impacts of fast fashion and conserving resources, it is a solution with more theoretical benefits than practical. Only 13.6% of waste clothes and shoes are thrown away in the united states get recycled, while the rest stay in the landfills. Globally, textile recycling amounts to just 10%. While using virgin plastics in the making of polyester fabric is cheaper because of the low oil prices than recycled polyester. People also try to recycle by donating to charities, but the low quality of garments produced by fast fashion industries make this an unsuccessful method of recycling. The clothes are damaged and often do not last long enough to warrant a second home. Charities upcycle, recycle, and thrift only 10% of donated clothes while the rest usually end up in landfills.

Making sustainable choices

By 2050 clothing consumption looks set to rise to 160 million tonnes a year. While this may be good news for fashion retailers, it also means that the amount of cloth thrown away will also be on a rise and also inevitably have a negative impact on the environment. The World Resource Institute suggests that companies need to design, test, and invest in business models that reuse clothes and maximize their lifespan. One way that shoppers can reduce their carbon footprints is by buying from thrift shops and second-hand stores, people sell their unwanted clothes to these sites and people get to purchase these outfits at a lower price than the original. There has been a boom in the number of stores that provide clothes for rental too. Especially bridal wear, which is not only very expensive but usually worn only once through a lifetime is available for the bride and groom and their family to rent from. Governments need to be more actively involved in the fashion industry’s damaging effects. The French government has made a pact with 150 brands to make the fashion industry more sustainable. The mega fashion house Ralph Lauren has announced that it will use 100% sustainably sourced key materials by 2025. Thon most fashionable tip on reducing the use of fast fashion should be “Less is always more. ”

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