A look at the impact of fast fashion
Did the video above surprise you? Did you expect the fashion industry to be all sunshine and sparkles? Then this post is definitely for you.
We may not like to admit it, but we humans are opportunistic creatures. We desire instant gratification, which makes Netflix and online shopping websites so successful. We want things fast, and cheap. This is exactly why fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and the like are minting billions from consumers. These brands feed our opportunistic selves and unfortunately give us a sense of entitlement. The sense that we deserve cheap and trendy clothing.
But what is so wrong with fast fashion, really? According to Wikipedia, fast fashion is a term used by retailers to express that designs move from the catwalk quickly in order to capture current fashion trends. Therefore, where it used to take months for designs from the catwalk to hit the stores, fast fashion retailers are able to do it in mere weeks and at low prices.
How are they able to offer such low prices? By cutting corners, specifically by paying low wages to their workers. I offer an excerpt from the Ethical Fashion Forum website to drive home this point:
The legal minimum wage in most garment-producing countries is rarely enough for a worker to live on. Most of the world’s garments are made in Asia, and yet the workers who make them are not paid enough to live on. It is estimated that the current minimum wage in Bangladesh still only covers 60% of the cost of living in a slum. In Cambodia and China the minimum wage would need to be at least twice as high to cover the basic cost of living (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2014).
In the Cambodian garment industry, over 80% of workers are women, aged 18-35. In India, Bangladesh and across Asia likewise, most garment workers are women. Many of these women have children and families to provide for and no other income earners in the family to contribute.
According to Clean Clothes Campaign, one worker’s salary typically supports at least three people in a family. Not only do low wages keep garment workers in a cycle of poverty, but they also add to the pressure to work long overtime hours, which impacts on health and safety, as well as on productivity.
Tell me, do you really feel good about spending RM200 on two items of clothing when in your heart, you know that the people who made them were not paid a fair wage? What’s more, there’s no way of telling
If you find that disturbing, the waste that the fashion industry causes is just as bad. Also from the Ethical Fashion Forum:
(In 2014) the worldwide consumption of textiles reached approximately 73 million tonnes and is expected to grow nearly 4% a year through 2025 (APIC, 2014), yet only 20% of textiles are recycled each year around the world (Soex, 2014). Meanwhile, every ton of discarded textiles reused saves 20 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and every 1000 tonnes of used textiles collected is said to create about seven full time jobs and 15 indirect jobs.
And that’s not all. The fashion industry consumes huge amounts of water, and causes pollution as well. According to the Ethical Fashion Forum:
Cotton accounts for 90% of all natural fibres used in the textile industry and is used in 40% of apparel produced globally. Growing it uses vast amounts of water, and needs extensive irrigation when grown out of its natural environment. The ever-thirsty cotton plant takes over 30,000 litres to create 1kg of cotton. One cotton shirt uses approximately 2,700 litres of water (Water Footprint Network). The Aral Sea has shrunk to just 10% of its former volume, largely through cotton farming. This is regarded as one of the greatest environmental disasters in human history. Huge amounts of water are also used in the wet processing of clothes, such as dyeing and washing.
An estimated 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment and an estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles, many of which will be released into freshwater sources (The Guardian, 2012). Even after wastewater has been treated, residual chemicals from the dyeing process continue to be present in water supplies. These residues can be carcinogenic, toxic, mutagenic and have detrimental effects upon human reproductive systems. According to the Pesticide Action Network, cotton uses 22.5% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of all pesticides, on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land.
The ‘cure’ to fast fashion is slow fashion, a term coined by Kate Fletcher in 2007. Online magazine Slow Fashioned says: “slow fashion is not a seasonal trend that comes and goes like animal print, but a sustainable fashion movement that is gaining momentum. Slow Fashion attempts to slow the rate of change down to a more sustainable pace.”
Slow Fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. Slow fashion encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste. – from http://study-ny.com/slow-fashion/
In my next post, I will share my experience with beginning the process of adopting slow fashion. If you’d like to know more about fast fashion and slow fashion, check out the following resources: