We are probably alive in a very critical for the environment age. Sure you have heard the word “sustainability” and if you are really interested in fashion you have most likely stumbled across the term “fast-fashion”. Very often, these terms come hand in hand too. However, you might not know what exactly the term “fast-fashion” stands for and the impact it has on the environment and people involved in it, so I felt the need to start a discussion on that topic. I truly hope you keep reading and learn more about the problem with fast fashion. I think it concerns all of us.
But first, for the ones that have never heard this term, let’s discover what exactly fast fashion is.
What Is Fast Fashion
We use the term “fast fashion” for cheap, poorly made, trendy clothes that quickly come out of style. Fast fashion retailers create a demand for this type of clothes by introducing new products multiple times a month (some even every two weeks). Why do they do that? Well, because changing collections all the time is very profitable.
How they do that?
Instead of replenishing their stock with the clothes they have already in their shops and are sold out, they create new items making the previous ones looking outdated and unfashionable. That makes us, the consumers, to constantly want to keep shopping in order to have in our possession newer and trendier clothes.
Now that the term fast fashion is clear let’s talk about why it is bad.
The Problem With Fast Fashion
Producing massive quantities of clothes in a very short time comes at a real cost. Since fast fashion retailers want to have new trends all the time, they create huge quantities of each garment. The reason for that is that if it sells out they will not have enough time to replenish the stock before the next collection comes in. But, many times the stock is so big that doesn’t sell.
What happens to the stock that is not sold? I would like my answer to be “They give it to charity”, but no. That’s not the case. It ends up in landfills or gets burned because they claim that by donating clothes they will ruin their image.
Also, promoting and producing new trends at a very high rate results in stealing and copying designs from other small creators or even bigger brands. That is because the design process needs time. It takes a lot of brainstorming for a design to emerge and become concrete whereas copying is so much faster. This is something that can really hurt the creators and especially the small ones that are struggling to make their living from their art. How would you feel if your idea got stolen from someone that is practically untouchable and you could never claim your right?
Conditions of the working places
One of the worst parts is that they use cheap labor that is usually sourced from sweatshops. Sweatshops are factories in countries where labor is cheaper and where the safety laws and ethical human rights are usually less well enforced and neglected. Long hours with very low wages, working places in which safety standards do not apply, exposure to toxic chemicals, and even child and slave labor.
Have you ever heard of the Rana Plaza building that collapsed in April 2013? That resulted in the death of 1,134 people and the injury of approximately 2,500 and it was a factory that produced fashion for fast-fashion retailers. (If you want to know more about that here is a Wikipedia link and a 5min documentary from the New York Times.) It is so frustrating to realize that they spend millions of dollars in order to use appealing advertising with celebrities and people of influence but do nothing to improve the working conditions of their employees.
Under these circumstances, the term “fashion victim” takes a literal meaning.
One more interesting thing to keep in mind is that when you see the “Made In…” tag it doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole production started and ended in this country. It is just the country in which the garment was transformed last. The other stages, like where the fabric was sourced, made, or assembled are completely unknown and nontransparent.
Overconsuming can’t be harmless to the environment either. Garment production in unregulated factories allows the use of toxic chemicals in creating colors, prints, and fabrics. These chemicals can be harmful to the workers, to our skin when we wear these clothes and to the environment. They are usually dumped into rivers and streams polluting the water, the soil and harming the ecosystem in these areas. Let’s not forget the water and the resources it takes to make them.
A report written by a team from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (you can find it here) claims that the textile industry is one of the most polluting and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation.
Also, because of the fact that these clothes are cheap and poor quality can be worn out after a few washes. That makes them even more disposable to the eyes of us, the consumers, so we throw them away in huge rates. As a result, the cycle of a garment from a fast-fashion brand is usually “produce-> buy -> dispose”.
Some more facts
Is there any solution to the problem with fast fashion?
After all this research and the things I learned, I started questioning myself. Is fashion really worth all of this? Well, definitely ‘No”. Is there something we can do? I think “Yes”, but we need to try and be more conscious when we shop. I don’t know a single person (including me) that is not or has never been a consumer of fast fashion and I believe the same applies to you and the people that surround you. And that makes sense since no one tells us what’s behind a 5 dollar t-shirt and the only thing we see is the glam advertising and the money we save.
Small but important changes that we, as consumers, can do in order to stop supporting this kind of practices.
- Stop looking to buy trendy things that you know are going to be out of fashion in the next months. Look for stylish things that are classic and you feel like you will wear in the years to come.
- Look the tag of the production country. Avoid buying from countries that you know the working conditions are poor and even children are exploited.
- Do your research and learn to distinguish between slow fashion and fast fashion brands. This way you can make informed decisions on how you shop.
- Choose to make more sustainable fashion choices. I have a full, detailed guide that you can check out here.
I’m not saying do it all at once, because fast fashion is easy, cheap and this is all we know, however, its good to be educated on the matter and start making conscious choices. Even a small change in the way we shop can be a step to a big improvement.
At the end of the day, the constant demand of consumers is one of the parts that are responsible for the rise of fast fashion and the exploitation of the environment and the people involved in.
I’m really looking forward to your opinions on the problem with fast fashion, so feel free to tell me in the comments section below.