This is a continuation from my last blog post, which described what sustainable fashion is. Now, let's look at why you should care.
The term “fast-fashion” refers to the shift in the fashion industry that has resulted in faster production with lower costs. At first glance, this appears to be an extremely beneficial change, especially for the general United States consumer. We can buy more clothes and spend less money in the process. However, it is important that we take time to ask how it is possible to the industry to have changed the way that it did. What does it really cost?
THE ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF FAST FASHION
Fast fashion brands manufacture cheap clothing meant to last only a couple years, knowing that consumers will keep buying new, trendier clothing as old trends die out. This means that we over-consume and treat our clothing as disposable, so a large amount of clothing ends up in landfills.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded (1). Discarded clothing made from synthetic fibers don’t end their environmental impact there—unnatural fibers have been treated with many chemicals which then leach into the environment through the ground, or air if the clothing is incinerated, and also take hundreds to thousands of years to biodegrade (2).
In addition, it takes a lot of resources to manufacture an article of clothing. It takes up to 2,700 liters (700 gallons) of water to produce the cotton needed for a single T-shirt (3). That’s more water than you’d drink in 12 years, assuming the average American drinks 58 gallons a year (4).
What are the ethical costs of Fast Fashion?
The process of making clothes is complex and involves many people and corporations around the world. Brands want to keep their profits high and their costs down so they will move orders to whichever factory will make it cheapest. To get the work, factories often compete to pay the lowest prices. They cut corners on health and safety. Slash wages. It’s a race to the bottom.
In 2013, 1,138 people lost their lives when Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Five years on, people from all over the world have used their voice to tell brands that things must change. And it’s working. The industry is starting to change.
In the textile factories, some workers do not earn enough in a month to pay for one of the garments that they are producing. They are forced to work in unbearable conditions in order to meet the demands for disposable discount fashion.
What You Can Do
It is easy to fall into feeling like there is nothing you can do on this side of the counter and ocean. Fast-fashion seems to be a very distant issue. However, there are changes you can make in your own life to be a part of the transformation of the fashion industry. First and foremost, it is important that you make an effort to stay informed on the issue and inform others as well. A problem cannot be solved if no one acknowledges that it exists. Second, if you can afford it, buy from brands such as Eileen Fisher and People Tree who work to produce clothing through sustainable and ethical methods. Such companies are generally more expensive than what we have become accustomed to because of the fast-fashion industry, but the products are typically of a higher quality. If you need more affordable options, try to get clothes second-hand, whether that be through clothing swaps or going to thrift shops. Apps like Depop and Poshmark, make it possible to buy clothes directly from other individuals, or sell your old clothes directly to other people. Selling your unwanted clothes through apps like these, you can help keep clothing out of landfills. Donating clothes can be a great option when you want to clean out your closet, but it is best when you can come relatively close to directly giving clothes to the people who will receive them. Of the clothes that are donated to “mission stores” like Goodwill, only about 10% are purchased in those stores, and the rest have the potential to end up in landfills.
Finally, though the aforementioned options are wonderful and should warrant consideration and use, it is imperative to recognize that we do not need to purchase clothing nearly as often as we do. Advertising glamorizes things that we do not really need so that we will spend more money. New trends come out nearly every week, so we feel the need to buy more stuff just to keep up. Society has become very consumeristic, and this contributes to industries, such as fast-fashion, that disregard the health and safety of their workers to allow people in countries like the United States spend as much money as possible. By purchasing less of what we do not need, we can avoid supporting these harmful practices while also saving money ourselves.
You may not always be a part of large-scale change, but you can make small, daily changes that, when combined with the efforts of others, can truly make a difference.
Hope this has been educational and a good reminder that we all living on this beautiful blue marble together and we could all use each other's support.