Off Campus

The disaster of fast fashion

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by Ayelle Tiné

About twenty years ago, mass-market retailers came up with a win-win idea: deliver fast fashion catwalks trends at affordable prices to average consumers. As every new market should fall into place, it was a way to respond to increasing demand, in this case of economical but fashionable clothes, and by reaching the high demand, sellers could both lower prices and make higher margins. But ‘fast’ quickly turned into disposable, which means overproduction and high waste both from the producer and the consumer.

Between 2000 and 2014, while clothing production volume doubled, the time consumer kept garment halved. This is due to the low quality of the apparel (cheap price here means cheap quality) and the continuously increasing renewal of trends. Nowadays, a new item will be fashionable for no more than a month before becoming has-been. While fashion lines used to be released four times a year, for each season (as common sense would want it), we now find ourselves with 52 micro-seasons a year. In other words, you are outmoded if you don’t buy new clothes every week. On an individual level, it is bad for your finances, and it can also be for your self-esteem.

On an environmental level, the outcome is obviously poor. You surely already know that there are plenty of figures on that matter, but a quick reminder is always useful: as the United Nations Environment Program stated, “every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned”. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the greenhouse emissions, second only to the oil industry as a polluter, and fashion’s consumption of resources is expected to double in the next decade. On top of that, as these items are mostly made of synthetics fabrics (polyester, acrylic…), washing them releases microplastic particles that pollute the water. In short, no need to be an expert to acknowledge that participating in this industry has a direct impact on the urging climate issue.

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Thus, it seems obvious that fast fashion is bad for the environment and this should be enough of a reason to refrain yourself from contributing. But, beyond that, let’s think about how these clothes are made.

The fashion market being very competitive, the pressure is high along the supply chain. To reduce costs, garment is obviously produced in countries where workers are paid a pittance and they have no working rights. The 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1134 workers and harmed more than the double is just an example of how far global brands can go to cut their costs. Bangladesh is one of the countries in which work in industries lasts 14 to 16 hours a day, for a minimum wage of around $70 (8,000 taka) a month. Meanwhile, Brits invest more than £1000 a year on new clothes.

So yes, you can argue that the climate (and social) crisis is not to blame on you, and that your behavior won’t impact the big industries that pollute. But why not give it a try?

Consume more responsibly means consume less. Think twice before buying these pants that you already have multiple copies of in your wardrobe… because whenever you think of donating your clothes after you realized you did not need them anymore (if you ever did), recall that only 10% of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold, the remaining part being sent to landfills. Also, buy second-hand rather than new (and avoid, to cite a few, main fast fashion brands that are H&M, Zara, Topshop, Forever21…). Thrift shops remain the best option. As they also became trendy these last few years, there’s always something for every taste. If you don’t mind searching for a piece you like, you can find very cheap clothing brands and in good condition.

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Moreover, if you don’t mind paying a bit more (which would still be less than buying it brand new), some thrift shops actually present themselves like conventional – fast fashion – stores, all well organized and with high-quality pieces. It is also a way not to find yourself with the same sweatshirt as three of your classmates. You can also head towards responsible brands, such as Alternative Apparel, Everlane, Patagonia… However, beware of greenwashing {an attempt of companies to convey an impression of environmental effort}, spreading through the fashion industry quicker than Kate Middleton’s wedding dress replica.

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