Fast Fashion: A story of global injustice
“Write it like it matters, and it will”
Vibrant colours, creative patterns, a soft fabric sliding through your hands; it becomes difficult to keep loving and wearing our clothes for very long when we are constantly exposed to an array of newness on the high street. Readily-available, inexpensively made newness runs in what seem to be 52 “micro-seasons” a year.
Globally, 80 million pieces of new clothing are purchased on a yearly basis. Rapid production, trend replication and use of low-quality materials brings fashion from the catwalk to the public in mere seconds. While this transition is sometimes painted as the democratization of fashion enabling consumers of all socio-economic classes access to the latest styles, the human and environmental health risks are undeniable.
Yet, innovation in how clothes are made has not kept pace with the acceleration of fashion marketing and design. With globalization supply chains have became international, outsourcing production to areas with cheaper labour costs to keep prices down and production fast.
“Fast fashion is not free. Someone somewhere is paying”
It is almost 6 years after the fashion world was shaken by the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. 1138 died; another 2500 left injured. The collapse happened after multiple demands were made to close the factory due concerns about structural safety. Men and women, with hopes and dreams just like you and me, lost their lives while making clothes. And still many of our clothes are made by the poorest, most overworked and undervalued people in our society under conditions of violent attacks, intimidation, repression and well below safe work standards. This even includes child labour.
The textile industry and its' processes contribute to 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution and accounted for 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2015. These water and air pollutants have detrimental effects on our health resulting in, for example, respiratory diseases and cancer - not to forget the musculoskeletal hazards associated with the repetitive motions of garment manufacture.
Due to increasing consumption patterns and a lack of technology to turn unwanted clothes into new goods, millions of tonnes of textile waste end up in landfills and unregulated settings, often made from non-biodegradable materials.
While in Europe and the United States hazardous working conditions and occupational burdens are now strictly regulated, they barely shifted towards Low and Middle-Income Countries’ (LMICs) communities. In these communities, environmental and occupational safeguards are often not enforced due to the political infrastructure and a lack of support or resources. Without improvements in how the clothes are made, issues like this are likely to increase proportionally with millions of more people joining the middle classes. Those working or living near textile factories bear a disproportionate burden of the associated hazards creating a global justice dilemma.
You look down at your own clothing. “Who made my clothes?”
Some companies are already forming coalitions to improve and expand the use of non-toxic, sustainable chemistry as part of the “Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Coalition”. There is more that can be done. Standards should be developed to design clothing that can easily be recycled and has a lower environmental and social impact. Above all, companies need to transform to measure sustainability and social performances across the entire supply chain, holding suppliers accountable when not in line with their goals.
Human desire for beauty might be innate, but we have a choice for alternatives.
“Buy less, choose, well, make it last “
It is easy to feel defeated when hearing the stories behind our clothes. Yet, we all have the power to make a change. It’s about demanding fair conditions and greater transparency in the supply chain, environmental protection and global justice. As the millennial generation is gaining purchasing power we should have expectations that companies operate in socially and environmentally fair manners.