problems of fast fashion

Today I have a post from Lianne Bell, author of How On Earth Can I Be Eco-Friendly, on the problems of fast fashion, and what you can do to help.


What’s So Bad About Fast Fashion?

I recently signed up to Slow Fashion Season. Here 25,000 people have pledged not to buy any clothes for 3 months, between 21st of June and 21st of September in order to raise awareness about the wasteful nature of the fashion industry and how you as a consumer play a role in it.

I love sustainable fashion. So much so that friends, family, and people on Instagram all ask me the same thing – how can I shop more sustainably? And my response is pretty simple – just stop buying clothes. Because let’s be honest, the rate at which we are collectively consuming clothing is beyond nauseating.

The number of garments being produced has doubled in the last 20 years. As a result of this, we are wasting the equivalent of one garbage truck full of textiles every single second.  This is a staggering amount of waste, that has severe ramifications on the planet.

Fast Fashion and Economics

Over the last 20 years, as the price of our goods and services has steadily risen, clothing has not. In fact, clothing is the only consumable which has deflated in price. It has instead done a complete 180, dropping considerably in comparison to other consumables, and thus completely defying the laws of economics. But why?

One of the main factors which contributed to this was the Multi-Fibre Agreement. This was an international trade agreement that imposed quotas on the volume of clothing we could import from developing countries. When this ended in 2005 it opened the door for suppliers and factory owners in developing countries to work on a larger scale with major corporations within the western retail world. 

Western corporations were able to treat the labour of garment workers as though it were a commodity. The factory owners offered labour at lower and lower prices in order to meet the desired garment prices. These prices were demanded by the high street stores attempting to meet their profit margin targets.

When Cheap Equals Disposable

If you’re sat there wondering why cheap clothing is such a problem, then do not fear, you are not alone. I thought the exact same thing. This was until I realised that the heart of the problem lies in the fact that we’ve come to think of clothing as disposable and easily replaceable.

When something is so readily available to us, it devalues the whole item. We don’t even have to think about it; we just buy it, aimlessly and needlessly. Half the time, we’ll buy clothing, then send it off to a charity shop without ever wearing it

This creates a whole new problem. Once our high street charity shops are overrun by cheap, generic clothing which they can’t sell, they bundle it off to developing countries. Here it is chopped up into rags, sold on at markets, or thrown into landfill.

The town of Panipat in North India recycles over 100,000 tonnes of our cast-offs every year. So much so that it is known as the world’s “cast off capital“.

The women of Panipat that shred these practically unworn garments have surmised that there is a water shortage in the Western world. That’s because the mindless nature of our clothing consumption is so alien to them, that they assume it’s too expensive for us to wash our clothes. This is the only way for them to make sense of how we discard our clothing after only wearing it a handful of times.  

What Can We Do?

So what can we do to stop this deluge of clothing? Well, this brings me back to Slow Fashion Season. By avoiding buying from fast fashion brands; trading, upcycling or DIYing clothing; buying second-hand and vintage clothing; and/or supporting sustainable, local, small fashion labels who may be struggling due to COVID-19, then by acting as a crowd we can be a force for change. Change for ourselves, the people around us, and the policies and industries that are woefully inadequate.

The fashion industry should be more sustainable, and the fashion industry should treat its workers fairly, and having a direct effect through our own consumption changes, as well as call for transformations of the fashion industry can help bring about the changes needed.

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