Have you ever wondered- how is it that every few days your favorite clothing company outlet has new clothes? Where do these clothes come from?
Fast fashion is a business model that aims to keep the cost of producing fashion items as low as possible. The means to do that, however, are not ethical. Several extremely popular brands in India use this model including, but not limited to, H&M, Zara, Forever 21, GAP, and Mango.
With the industrial revolution, new machinery allowed for much faster production of clothing. With an increase in the requirement for labor, the concept of sweatshops was popularized. A sweatshop is fundamentally a place where manual workers are employed for the production of clothing items. However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century, that fast fashion as a business model was made possible. This was due to the use of new materials such as polyester and nylon, which led to a drastic reduction in production costs. The 1990s and 2000s were also the time when the world was becoming digitized and therefore online shopping made these cheap clothes more accessible globally.
Today, most fast fashion clothing items are produced in sweatshops located in South, South-East, and East Asia. These sweatshops are infamous for terrible working conditions for long hours, violation of child labor laws, and very little wages. A huge section of these workers are women who have little to no employment rights and are exploited for their work on a daily basis. They are forced to do overtime, often with no overtime pay, and fired if they refuse to do so. Already living in awful conditions and being the sole breadwinner of their households, the workers are left with no choice but to abide. The factories do not monitor their health and safety conditions leading to an extremely high chance of accidents and injuries. Due to the lack of ventilation, the workers are forced to inhale toxic substances, which can have severe long-term effects on their respiratory systems.
The materials used to make these clothes are cheap and meant to be worn out easily so the average consumer continues to purchase more clothes regularly. The idea behind this is that the consumer would love to be on-trend and therefore have their clothes become obsolete once very specific trends die. This idea functions on the concept of planned obsolescence, a policy that aims to design products so that they become of very little use quickly and lead to high future sales. Due to this principle, despite fast fashion seeming cheap, it actually manages to make its customers shell out way more than they normally would have.
With the lowered costs, the environment is left to pay the price in the form of pollution and textile waste. Following the oil industry, the fashion industry is the second largest global polluter. The production of apparel accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, and the statistic is expected to rise to 50% by 2030. A shocking 20% of the global total wastewater sources from the dyeing and treatment of fabric. The wastewater from textile factories contains extremely toxic substances including lead, mercury, and arsenic which severely disrupts the aquatic ecosystems. The production of a ton of dyed fabric can take up to 200 tonnes of water, while hundreds of millions suffer from water scarcity every single day.
Okay, so the numbers are scary, but what can I do?
- For starters, open your wardrobe and hunt down those clothes that you bought 5 years ago and never wore- and wear them!
- Avoid shopping from fast fashion brands and use the clothes that you buy for as long as possible.
- Don’t dispose of your clothes the moment you get bored of them. You can choose to donate or thrift them, if they are in good condition, instead.
- Shop local. Use your research skills and find smaller businesses that manufacture clothes ethically. The importance of supporting small local businesses, especially in a global pandemic, cannot be stressed enough.
- Thrifting is a great alternative if you want to aim to save your wallet.
The fashion industry is notoriously known for running on trends, but let’s also start considering what goes on behind the curtains of these quickly dying trends.