Over the past five years, I have turned myself into an avid slow-fashion enthusiast. It all started with me watching the ever so popular documentary True Cost. This was when I still worked at one of the mass production clothing giants. So, the pain felt in my heart was rather acute as I was actively contributing to the industry myself. My partner found me glued to the TV screen sobbing rather uncontrollably. Fast forward to now, I do not work at the clothing multinational anymore obviously, I do not shop at any of fast-fashion brands, and I do my best to adhere to second-hand clothing market. If I absolutely need new clothes I support clothing brands that are environmentally and ethically sustainable.
Reaching this milestone of habit was not possible had it not been for the Fashion Revolution movement. By following the movement, I have learned which clothing brands are transparent enough to show the faces of the garment workers who made their products. As the movement was born from the tragic collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, its main interest is in the garment workers' rights. Overworked, underpaid, uncertain, and nonunionized, garment workers are definitely the most fragile human links in the whole of the supply chain. However, as the industry is highly resource-intensive we cannot neglect other parts of its impact on the environment and people who are not garment workers. This piece is to shed a light on those parts and may inspire you to ask more questions before you buy clothing.
The very model which enables fast-fashion to exist is to choose highly trendy designs and mass produce them and deliver them on time to consumers at an affordable price. When we dismantle this sentence, we have the four pillars where the fast fashion model is built upon, which are the trendy styles, mass production, on-time delivery, and low price.
They have a high potential to sell. This was mostly influenced by fashion shows of well-known designers before, but now it is also influenced by what is hot on social media. They are short-lived, temporarily hyped designs with most of the time daring colors, prints, and cuts. These items can be tempting to resist at an affordable price offer, so we buy into it. We end up wearing those pieces once or twice or never and move on to the next one, just as the retailers want us to. This creates a throw-away culture. According to a recent statistic, we throw away over 12 kilos of clothing and shoes as a global citizen annually. This makes our total fashion waste about 90 million tons a year. Only about 10-15% of this gets recycled at the second-hand market, and a mere 1% gets spun into yarns. The rest, 85-90% ends up in the landfill. To give you an idea of how massive this is, it equals 340,000 times the weight of the statue of liberty. Yep, you read it right. In addition to this, many independent designers and small brands have alleged that fast-fashion retailers have mass-produced their designs illegally.
In order to lower the price, retailers manufacture clothing in large quantities. The more they produce the less the overhead cost. Additionally, suppliers involved throughout the whole supply chain tend to give a discount for such orders, be it the clothing manufacturer, the trim suppliers, or even the shippers. This in return lowers the variable cost per unit. The obvious downside here is the sheer quantity of the goods. The more you produce, the more it ends up in the landfill. Additionally, the raw materials needed for the production increase in line with the quantity, which in return degenerate and deplete the ecology.
Because the items are highly trendy, they go out of fashion as quickly as they come in. So, it is crucial for retailers to deliver the merchandise on time to the stores in order to profit from the hot new item. Tight delivery demands often cause the retailers to use expedited shipping methods, by air, which significantly increases their already high carbon emissions. The fashion industry contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Since fashion is a labor-intensive business the majority of the fast-fashion retailers outsource their production to the Far East, where they get access to cheap labor. This cuts their cost significantly. But the quality and safety of workplaces in factories go south. A prime example here is the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza that took place seven years ago. This incident killed over 1100 people and wounded many more. Additionally, countries where one can find cheap labor usually do not have any regulation for the environment, which ultimately leads to the problem of rivers and soils contaminated by the wastewater from the textile factories. Locals living in and around the area do not have a choice but to consume this chemical concoction infused water and crops in order to survive. I recommend watching The World's Most Polluted River, a documentary by DW. Another attribute to the low-price tag is obviously the poor quality of the products. In order to keep the price affordable, the retailers choose sub-quality materials and workmanship that most of the clothes fall apart, or lose their shape or color or both just after a wash or two. This naturally plays a big part in the creation of the throw-away culture.
This is just a scratch on the surface. One can always write about each of the pillars in more depth. And that is exactly what I will be doing in the coming weeks. This article will come in a video version soon, so stay tuned!
Read more: Change Is the Only Constant
Economy, U. (2017, March 26). The Money Minting Fast Fashion that Powers Zara Business Model. Retrieved from https://unicornomy.com/zara-business-model-business-strategy/
Kerr, J., & Landry, J. (2017). Pulse of the Fashion Industry. Global Fashion Agenda & The Boston Consulting Group.
McCarthy, A., Allison, McCarthy, A., Allison, Chris, San Francisco Chronicle, & San Francisco Chronicle. (2020, April 2). Are Our Clothes Doomed for the Landfill? Retrieved from https://remake.world/stories/news/are-our-clothes-doomed-for-the-landfill/
Nini, J., & Nini, J. (2019, November 22). 69 Facts & Statistics About Fast Fashion That Will Inspire You To Become An Ethical Fashion Advocate. Retrieved from https://ecowarriorprincess.net/2018/10/facts-statistics-about-fast-fashion-inspire-ethical-fashion-advocate/
UN Helps Fashion Industry Shift to Low Carbon. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/news/un-helps-fashion-industry-shift-to-low-carbon
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