Oh, fast fashion *rolls eyes*. At this point, most of us know what it is and can give a list of fast fashion brands without stuttering.
It’s no secret that transparency and sustainability aren’t the fashion industry’s favorite subjects. Well, when it comes to fast fashion – oh boy –, these two aren’t even in the syllabus.
Look at your outfit and tell me:
What do you know about its environmental impact? Do you know who made it? Can you imagine their working conditions?
In this post, we’re going to dive into these questions and get some shocking and sad answers. However, I don’t want you to feel discouraged and think that all is doom and gloom in the fashion world.
Only in the last few years, lots of fun and exciting things are happening in terms of sustainability in this sector – and most of them are here thanks to conscious consumers just like you.
So read this post with a critical mind, share the information in it, and let it inspire you to keep working for a clean and fair industry.
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Fast Fashion 101
We recognize fast fashion by:
- its low quality and durability
- its low price, due partly to…
- the low wages garment workers are paid
- its lack of originality – its repetitive styles are based on trends that change at the speed of light, and they are known to copy the work of smaller designers and artists 👀
Now, this is what really boggles my mind about fast fashion: instead of offering 4 collections a year – as in one for each season – fast fashion brands have about 52 – as in one for each week of the year.
Like, some of the fastest fast fashion brands add over a hundred new listings to their websites daily.
This cheeky trick taken from the overproduction-overconsumption book creates a cycle where the more fast fashion we buy, the faster we feel outdated and in need of the next big thing, and the more we consume to scratch that itch.
But there are ways to get out of the loop. If you need help, these are the 8 things that helped me break up with fast fashion for good + without losing my mind.
Enough rambling, let’s chat about uncomfortable facts.
1. Over 80 billion pieces of new clothing are bought each year worldwide
Do you realize how many zeros this number has? 80 billion = 80,000,000,000.
This means we consume 400% more clothes than we did in the year 2000, and, in 2016 alone, approx. 20 new garments were manufactured per person.
These 20 pieces of clothing aren’t distributed equally throughout the world (both geographically and socially). So for every person who doesn’t contribute to fast fashion because of principles or lack of accessibility, another one is contributing x2.
This is key.
We’re not bashing those who consume fast fashion out of need (price, size options, accessibility,…) or even those who purchase from them punctually because theyre’s that one thing they love and can’t find anywhere else. Rather, our criticism goes to those who could realistically support sustainable fashion business models or promote responsible consumption, and still promote overconsumption and spend hundreds and thousands of dollars every year on hauls.
The second group of consumers are the ones helping fast fashion thrive, hurt the planet and exploit workers.
…even when it is possible to recycle or reuse the materials.
Also, remember that most of our clothes are synthetic – plastic, fossil fuel-based, non-biodegradable –, and if they end up in a landfill they’ll spend the next 200+ years breaking down into microfibers (microplastics) that are released into the air, soil, and water.
Some fashion brands are trying to tackle the whole fashion waste problem by making clothes out of recycled materials. This is great in the case of natural textiles, but in the case of recycled synthetic clothes things are a bit trickier – we talk about the pros and cons of these materials in this post about clothes made of recycled bottles.
3. Textiles account for almost 35% of the global microplastic pollution
Did you know that washing a load of synthetic clothes can release more than 700,000 microfibers into the water? It’s wild how just using synthetic clothes, even when they’re second-hand or recycled, can be an issue.
However, the most sustainable clothes are the ones that already have a place in your closet and all of us have synthetic clothes, so this doesn’t mean that you should get rid of them.
It just means that you might want to take care of how you treat and wash these pieces.
While we wait for alternatives to polyester, there are ways to reduce microplastic pollution when you do your laundry, like installing a filter in your washing machine or using laundry bags that catch microfibers, like the ones from Guppyfriend.
Read more: What Are Microplastics?
4. The textile industry is very water intensive
Just producing the cotton t-shirt you’re wearing right now required 2,700 liters of water and that cute pair of jeans, 7,500 liters.
The textile industry also produces around 20% of global wastewater, which is often polluted with toxic chemicals and dyes.
This is the case of Kanpur, a city in India where leather manufacturing factories pour about 50 million liters of polluted water daily into the Ganges river.
5. The fashion industry makes 3 trillion dollars yearly
Which equals 2% of the world’s GDP.
Of those, around $1 trillion belong to the fast fashion sector.
In 2013, there was this huge protest in Cambodia where garment workers demanded a decent minimum wage of 160$/month.
As a result of the protests, the government agreed to raise it to 140$/month from the 100$ they were initially offering. Can you believe it?
So the fashion sector is highly profitable, but sadly it’s also among the least equitable.
6. Fashion is the 4th most polluting sector
There are only 3 sectors that pollute more than the textile: food, housing and mobility.
This is about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If we continue business-as-usual, the fashion industry will be covering more than 25% of the carbon budget by 2050.
7. 40 million people work in fast fashion all over the world
Of those, around 4 million work in 5,000 factories in Bangladesh alone mainly producing for western brands. And yes, you guessed it, the reason is cheap labor. Messed up.
Read more: What Is Ethical Fashion?
Delocalization is very common in fast fashion. With the vast majority of their manufacturing facilities – known as sweatshops – overseas, they can manage to pay extremely low wages with no legal consequences and facing minimal backlash.
But this is also happening closer to us than we thought. In the past months, we’ve been hearing about LA sweatshops exploiting immigrant workers and Boohoo doing the same in the UK. How can we choose to turn our backs to human rights violations even when they’re taking place in our neighborhoods?
And this is not good news. It doesn’t have to do with female emancipation and empowerment, but with exploitation.
In many cases, women working for delocalized sweatshops are the only breadwinners for their entire household – with, let’s say, around $97 per month. If you want to learn more about this, the film The True Cost shows the living and working conditions of one of these women and I can’t recommend it enough.
Fast fashion is a feminist issue – and this isn’t just a cute quote to post on Insta. With the information and influence we have, we can’t be selective and empower women in one part of the world while we ignore others that just weren’t as lucky as us because they were born a couple of hundred miles away.
So what’s next?
Look, I just don’t want to live in a world without fashion. And to have fashion, we need a fashion industry.
Which doesn’t mean that we need a toxic fashion industry.
Raising awareness among consumers, small business owners, creators and fashion workers is the first step. We might not have the combined net worth of a big fashion CEO, but we still have power and influence (and we can still vote with our dollar).
When we talk about environmental activism, there’s strength in numbers, we just need to spread the word: our fashion choices shape the world.
So, why don’t you start by asking who made your clothes?
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