Clothing is a worldwide commodity; it is a product that must be manufactured from varying materials in varying ways, and it is generally a sought-after necessity. It’s no surprise that consumerism is a dominating social order held among most cultures; the want for more is intensified and encouraged by suppliers all over the world—but at what cost? Many producers implement specific methods used for expediting mass-manufacturing processes, and the fashion industry is no stranger to said methods. The practice of fast fashion is widespread, and though it may have its benefits, it also has its fair share of environmental and ethical setbacks.
So, what is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is a practice used by retailers to rapidly mass-produce inexpensive clothing that mimics current trends in order to satisfy popular demands. On the surface, it doesn’t seem so bad—consumers are able to purchase up-to-date styles at an affordable price. Trends are always changing, though the producers that integrate this method of manufacturing will surely keep up. Popular retailers that thrive as a result of fast fashion include H&M, Zara, and Urban Outfitters.
How can fast fashion be harmful?
First and foremost, a theme can be spotted throughout brands that embrace fast-fashion methodologies—poor quality pieces. Considering the objective of fast fashion is to produce a lot of clothing in a short amount of time, top-grade resources aren’t going to be used; therefore, clothes purchased through these vendors aren’t going to last but a few years at most (should they be worn an adequate amount)—and they’ll oftentimes end up in the trash. Higher production rates yield higher amounts of waste; if clothes don’t last long due to their cheap quality, then people will inevitably go through more items, resulting in an increase of wasted material. It is suggested that roughly $170 million worth of clothing falls into landfills on a yearly basis. Furthermore, living near landfills can then be hazardous to one’s health as pollutants are emitted into the air and subsequently inhaled.
Alongside copious amounts of waste, the practice of fast fashion relies on exploitation in the workplace. Manufacturing facilities are typically held in underdeveloped regions where labor costs are lower, generating harsh conditions with long hours and little to no compensation. These factors undoubtedly deteriorate the lives of those being exploited—prolonged hours result in high levels of exhaustion and, most likely, less productivity; a hot, cluttered working environment can easily diminish one’s overall health and well-being.
Another jaw-dropping statistic that is often hidden from the public eye is the prevalence of harmful toxins in clothing. According to the Organic Clothing Alliance, harmful chemicals range anywhere from carcinogens (linked to cancer) to polyurethane (associated with bronchitis and asthma) to dioxins (can alter the immune and endocrine systems). Furthermore, it’s claimed that more than ten commonly used chemicals in clothes may have an impact on human reproduction and infertility; if these clothing components can affect the human body in such harrowing ways, there’s no telling what else might suffer as a result.
How can we make a change?
Many initiatives are underway in hopes of eradicating the harmful methods used by an innumerable amount of producers and manufacturers in the fashion industry. Sustainable fashion is more popular than ever—the Ethical Fashion Initiative, for one, aims to connect marginalized craftspeople in more challenging territories with global brands, all the while compensating them fairly. The brands in which they partner with both practice and advocate for sustainability and eco-friendly procedures.
Making small changes can ultimately reap huge rewards for individuals, communities, and the world as a whole. Supporting sustainable fashion initiatives not only contributes to the abolishment of harmful practices, but it also tends to directly benefit the hardworking individuals behind them. Innovation within the fashion industry will need to be supported by consumers, manufacturers and governments for substantial change to occur.
Research is important—as is keeping an open mind. In order to play a part in environmental conservatism, one must be willing to try new ways of doing things. Promoting sustainable fashion is also promoting the welfare of humanity and the way we treat the place we call home. Find further inspiration with eco-conscious blogs such as The Sustainable Edit and Sustainability in Style.