The fast paced nature of the fashion industry today is leading to overproduction and waste.
Photo Courtesy of Tim Mitchell
Affordability vs. Accountability
By Emily Wexler December 10, 2017
Who doesn’t love affordable and fashionable clothing that’s up to date with social trends? Most shoppers will jump at the chance for high-quality fashion with a small price-tag. But, while I love cute clothes that won’t drain my bank account, I don’t love the consequences of the fast-fashion trend. Fast-fashion is a business model in which retailers keep up with ever-changing fashion trends by quickly manufacturing cheap textiles with inexpensive marketing costs. Superficially, this may seem like a good thing- it’s quick, cheap, and fashionable- it takes a huge toll on our environment, for reasons unknown to many clothing consumers.
One of the biggest problems that emerges from fast-fashion is the overproduction of textile products. In order for fast-fashion companies to profit more, they have fostered a culture that pressures the public to want the most up to date look in order to keep up with ever-changing trends. Because of this new high demand, there is an extreme surplus of wasted textiles. An estimated 13 trillion tons of clothing end up in landfills- from just the United States alone. This overproduction, along with the fact that much of the garments are cheap, poorly-made, and flimsy, is to blame for this astounding figure. And unfortunately, donating your clothes or “recycling” them doesn’t do enough; only 10% of donated clothing actually gets resold. One brand guilty of fast-fashion, H&M, initiated a take-back program to recycle and reuse old fabrics that customers brought in. However, only a miniscule 0.1% from the program is actually able to be recycled back into clothing and thrift stores. 10% of the world’s carbon footprint is due to fast-fashion, and according to the EPA, 12.8 million tons of clothing out of 15.1 million is discarded. Our old clothing can remain in landfills for decades, even centuries, spreading harmful dyes and chemicals into our natural resources. Some textiles contain trace amounts of lead, which also poses a threat to the health of consumers. Burning these discarded garments releases toxins into the air and leaving them in landfills will cause chemicals to leak into our soil and groundwater. Even clothing with synthetic fibers and plastics hurt the environment because it can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and because the energy intensive nature of its production. Along with the extreme environmental costs, fast-fashion also has high monetary costs. In the United States alone, $250 billion is spent annually on clothing. It costs states about $45 to ship a ton of waste to landfills and incinerators, so when the tons of clothing are factored in, the number reaches into the millions.
It is also important to consider the problem of unfair wages and labor standards that exist in the fast-fashion industry. Have you ever noticed that a lot of your clothing says it’s made in China, Vietnam, or India? That’s because industries like to produce their clothing in countries with lower labor wages and loosely enforced regulations for the sole purpose of increasing profits. A majority of the laborers are young women working in poor conditions and earning low wages- one of the main reasons why the clothes they make can be sold at such a cheap price. Even worse, some fast-fashion industries may be guilty of child-labor. Factory machines are capable of sewing beads and sequins onto cloth, but purchasing such machines tends to come at a higher expense than hiring low-paid workers. Because of this, industries have home workers from developing countries do it, meaning that children, the sick, or the elderly are subjected to strenuous work for egregiously low wages. Children are often targeted by the textile industries because of their ability to perform detailed work with their small hands. Additionally, they are perceived as more obedient, can be paid less, and are more easily manipulated than adult laborers. This is a harsh reality, but one that must be addressed in order to end the crimes of fast-fashion industries.
Luckily, we live in world where consumers play a huge role in market demands and the success of certain industries. There are so many brands out there that practice sustainable and fair production; they don’t contribute nearly as much to destructive landfills and have stricter factory regulations. Companies like Patagonia, Everlane, and Alternative Apparel are just a few brands working to end fast-fashion and protect the earth from its harmful ecological impact. It is important to pay attention to the level of transparency these companies have with their customers about how they produce their textiles. Where they source their fabrics, how they dispose of leftover materials, and labor force regulations are all things to consider. Fast-fashion is not a business model that can be sustained forever, meaning that soon we will need to change how we wear, buy, and use our clothes. Simply being a conscious consumer is easy- mainly by focusing more on quality rather than quantity- and can have a huge impact on how the garment industry produces its textiles.
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Quora. “Fast Fashion Is A Disaster For Women And The Environment.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 July 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/07/26/fast-fashion-is-a-disaster-for-women-and-the-environment/#5a4d48a01fa4.
Tan, Zhai Yun. “What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable And Cheap?” NPR, NPR, 10 Apr. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/04/08/473513620/what-happens-when-fashion-becomes-fast-disposable-and-cheap.
Whitehead, Shannon. “5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn't Want You to Know.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 Aug. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/shannon-whitehead/5-truths-the-fast-fashion_b_5690575.html.
Wicker, Alden. "The earth is covered in the waste of your old clothes." Newsweek. March 16, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017. http://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/09/old-clothes-fashion-waste-crisis-494824.html.
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