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With new trends emerging on social media every year, we feel left out if we don’t follow them. The countless new clothing collections per year constantly make us feel out of date and encourage us to keep buying more. Fast fashion is an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. They are the cheaply produced and priced garments that replicate the latest catwalk styles and get pumped quickly through stores to maximize current trends. Fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, but it comes at an environmental cost.
WHY IS FAST FASHION DISASTROUS?
Fast fashion is resulting in the depletion of non-renewable sources, emission of greenhouse gases, and the use of massive amounts of water and energy. For fast fashion brands, the only way to offer garments at an inexpensive price is through cheap labor, especially when clothing demands are increasing every year.
Among the 80 billion pieces of new clothing that are made annually, most of them are assembled in places like the low-income areas of China and Bangladesh. 90% of the world’s clothing is produced in low and middle-income countries as a means of cheap labor. The workers physically involved in making the clothes are presumably underpaid and overworked.
In such low and middle-income areas, the occupational hazards aren’t taken into consideration. Safety standards in workplaces often go unenforced. The garment workers suffer from lung disease caused by cotton dust and synthetic air particulates. Likewise, overuse injuries are also seen in the workers due to repetitive motions and lack of sufficient breaks. Deaths have also been reported because of these hazardous conditions. For instance, the collapse of an eight-story building, Rana Plaza, in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013, resulted in killing and trapping more than 1,100 garment workers.
Chemicals are used in textile production for making fibers, bleaching, and dyeing fabrics. When they arrive in the shops, the garments still contain a lot of chemicals, even those made of "100% natural" fiber. Our skin absorbs anything we put on it, including chemicals in our clothes, that jeopardize our health.
The fashion industry is the second-largest water polluter in the world. In most countries where garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped directly into the rivers. Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. These are extremely harmful to aquatic life and the health of millions of people around the globe.
1.5 trillion liters of water are used by the fashion industry each year. 200 tons of freshwater are needed to dye one ton of fabric. About 700 gallons of water is required to produce one cotton shirt and 2000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. The fashion industry is leading to the scarcity of water around the world.
Every time we wash a synthetic garment, such as polyester or nylon, about 1900 individual microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year which is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles.
87% of the total amount of fiber in our clothes ends up being disposed of in a landfill or incinerated, leading to land and air pollution.
Fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions. The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of millions of garments purchased every year.
Cheap synthetic fibers also emit gases like N₂O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO₂.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
First and foremost, we all must focus on sustainability. Upcycling and thrifting should be encouraged. Buying less, mending and repairing, swapping, borrowing, renting, and shopping secondhand are all affordable ways to own a more sustainable wardrobe.
Organic fibers and natural fibers that do not require chemicals to be produced should be chosen. To counter the waste caused by fast fashion, more sustainable fabrics should be used in clothing such as wild silk, organic cotton, linen, hemp, and lyocell. Fibers with low water consumption such as linen and recycled fibers should be used.
Avoid fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, Adidas, GAP, American Eagle, Shein, and Forever21. Research brands ahead of time and know which ones produce ethically. Opt for clothes from ethical fashion brands that are challenging the fashion industry and doing their part in saving the planet.
Check the quality of the clothes before buying them. Look for better quality clothing. Your clothes should feel fairly durable. If you don’t think the clothing will last, don’t buy it, no matter the price.
The fashion industry should specialize in producing better quality, long-lived items, while innovations like clothes rental and new approaches to resale should be scaled up.
The most sustainable way to control the impacts of fast fashion is to avoid buying a lot of clothes. When it comes to fashion, less is always more. So wear more of what you already have in your closet. Don’t buy anything new, unless you really need to.