Buying clothes started to be a routine, with some people believing this can even work as therapy. Clothes are cheaper than ever and accessible for almost everyone in the developed world. But what is Fast fashion and how can our “therapy” of going shopping be reflected into violence to the ones who produce it? How can our hobby contribute to destroying our planet? That’s what I am going to show you in a second. Just keep reading.
What is fast fashion?
According to GOOD AT GO, Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.
In the late 1990’s and 2000’s Fast fashion brands such as Zara or H&M started doing business and selling clothes like the ones sold on top fashion houses. Therefore, Fast fashion allowed poorer people to access fashion, which before was reserved to the elite. So, why is that bad? Isn’t it promoting less inequalities? To answer to that question, we have to make another question:
This is the name of the current hashtag used on social media to alert to the social impacts of Fast fashion. As we know, Fast fashion allowed poor people (in rich countries) to access fashion. But what is the opportunity cost of it? Who made the clothes and in which conditions? Is Fast fashion a fairytale?
Fast Fashion survives because of its low costs and speed up production time. Low costs can be translated into low quality materials (cheap, toxic textile dyes, making the industry the second large water polluter) and in precarious and dangerous working conditions. In fact, garment workers receive low wages and sometimes are even forced to work for free, with less than 2% earning a fair wage, according to the Global Fashion agenda. Working conditions respect no basic human rights, exposing workers to toxic chemicals, impacting their physical and mental health. These workers not only receive a wage below the fair wage in most cases, as they have to work overtime to fulfill the daily targets, if they want to get paid. As a tailor in Tirupur told Clean Clothes Campaign:
“No, it is not our choice. We must work overtime. If not, the gate is open for us to quit our job.”
On the other hand, in order to diminish all possible costs, the owners of the factories also choose not to follow security regulations. According to Reuters, between 2005 and 2016, there were at least 9 deadly accidents in Bangladesh. In 2013, the worst accident happened in Rana Plaza when it collapsed due to a structural failure and more than 1000 workers died.
In fact, Fast Fashion has huge human costs. However, garment workers are not the only ones who paid the price, the planet also pays it. Then, it is time to ask:
What are the environmental consequences of our irrational consumption of clothes?
Fast Fashion is destroying our planet, representing the second largest polluting industry- to produce large amounts of clothes in the minimum time possible at the lowest price, someone has to pay the price.
On the one hand, to achieve scale economies and consequently, the lowest cost possible, firms will produce as much as possible even if it means wasting part of the production. According to Business Insider, 20% of what is produced in Fast Fashion goes to waste. As we can imagine, it has large impacts for the planet. Firstly, we are using limited resources (raw materials) in an inefficient way, in the sense that we are not consuming all we produce. Secondly, we are causing indirect impacts related to the Fast Fashion’s production process, which itself is already damaging the planet. Therefore, if we can minimize the production to the point where production equals consumption, we are already minimizing the externality. However, even in this case, in which there is no surplus and no waste, we are damaging the environment. According to the documentary, True Cost, the world consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than twenty years ago. More and more our desire to “buy cheap and buy now” is increasing, but are the resources increasing at the same speed?
Let’s analyse the raw materials used in the production of cheap clothes. Firms want to minimize costs and for that, they will choose the cheapest materials regardless of their quality or their environmental impact. More than 60% of the materials used in the fashion industry are synthetics, coming from fossil fuels so it does not surprise us that 10% of global greenhouse gases come from the clothing industry, according to Business Insider. Moreover, synthetics materials as polyester, the most used by the industry, came from plastic and are non-biodegradable. A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), estimated that 35% of all microplastics- tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic- in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.
Now more than ever, is the right moment to reflect on our consumption habits and think about what we can do to minimize the social and environmental impacts of our choices. We have to keep in mind that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. That’s why, all of us, are responsible for the consequences of Fast Fashion. The first step to start minimizing our impact is to be aware and not to ignore what is not in front of our eyes, because we do not see who made our clothes and how they did it, it does not mean that there is no violence or impacts behind it. Because we do not feel environmental changes, it does not mean they do not exist.
Finally, I will leave you with some solutions to mitigate the problem of Fast Fashion:
As Vivienne Westwood said, the best way to reduce fast Fashion impacts is:
buy less, choose well, make it last
This is the easiest mantra to follow but I am going to present you more ideas:
- Rent clothes if you will not use the piece a lot;
- Wear and repeat with pride, following the hashtag #30Wears. Do not buy a piece if you think you would not wear it at least 30 times (borrow it, instead)
- Go #Secondhandfirst: Before buying anything new, try to find it secondhand first. You can search in OLX, Facebook Marketplace, Custo Justo (online) and in Humana (physical stores), for example.
- Unsubscribe the newsletters of Fast fashion brands which increase your desire of buying even when you do not need to.
- Read the tag of every single item you buy and ask #WhoMadeMyClothes?
- Finally, do your homework and know the production process, the worker conditions and the materials used by the brands you shop. Choose ethical and transparent brands. You can use the website Good On You to help you.
To conclude, I recommend some useful bibliography and common hashtags to help you to learn more about Fast Fashion and its impacts:
Watch: True cost
Search: #WHOMADEMYCLOTHS? #30Wears #Secondhandfirst
- FASHIONOPOLIS- The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes By Dana Thomas
- How to Break Up With Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo
Visit: the museum: Fashion For Good in Netherlands
Check: the website of Good On You ( https://goodonyou.eco/ )
Good on You. 2020. What is Fast Fashion?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://goodonyou.eco/what-is-fast-fashion/. [Accessed 3 October 2020].
BWSS. 2020. The Problem with Fast Fashion. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bwss.org/fastfashion/. [Accessed 3 October 2020].
Board, E; Fast Fashion’s Detrimental Effect on the Environment [Online], 2020. Available at: https://impakter.com/fast-fashion-effect-on-the-environment [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Nguyen,T; Fast fashion, explained, Vox [Online],2020. Available at:https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/2/3/21080364/fast-fashion-h-and-m-zara l, [Accessed 2 October 2020].
Schlossberg,T; How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet [Online],2019. Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/books/review/how-fast-fashion-is-destroying-the-planet.html, [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Foussianes, C; What Is Fast Fashion, and Why Is Everyone Talking About It?,Town and Country [Online],2020. Available at:https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/fashion-trends/a30361609/what-is-fast-fashion/[Accessed 1 October 2020].
Bravo, L The fast fashion fix: 20 ways to stop buying new clothes for ever, Guardian [Online],2020. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jul/14/fast-fashion-20-ways-stop-buying-new-clothes-fair-wage-wardrobes [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Tmoy, T; Environmental and Social Impact of Fast Fashion, The Make of You. [online], 2020. Available at:https://themakeofyou.com/environmental-and-social-impact-of-fast-fashion/, [Accessed 1 October 2020].
Drew, D., 2020. By the numbers: the economic, social and environmental impacts of ‘fast fashion’. Greenbiz, [Online]. 2019, 1. Available at: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/numbers-economic-social-and-environmental-impacts-fast-fashion [Accessed 1 October 2020].