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Fast fashion isn’t saving us. Far from it.

By: Aprajita Rawat

Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” What that basically means is that fast fashion is knock off clothing, which is mass-produced, easily accessible and above all an effective way to be up to date with the latest trends on a budget.

Image credits: Priscilla Du Preez 

Regardless of the fact of whether you have heard of this term before, it is without a doubt an essential part of your closet at this very moment. We have reached at such a point in the globalization and liberalization of the fashion industry that fast fashion is fashion now.

Brands like H&M, Zara and Fashion Nova have gained a staggering influence in modern markets as they pretend to play the role of the saviours which provide people with discount version looks of their favourite celebrities. In reality, however, these brands disguise their inhumane treatment of the environment and the labour which works for them by putting up a facade of playing the Robinhood of the fashion industry.

Fast fashion isn’t saving us. Far from it.

The fast-fashion business model might have revolutionised the way we look at fashion but it has certainly not come without consequences.

Now an average person is said to drink 2 litres of water a day. That equates to about 2700 litres of water in 3 years. This is the same amount of water that is used to produce a single cotton tee shirt. So if you happen to own around 25 cotton shirts, that is equal to 67500 litres of water. That amounts to almost a lifetime of water for an average human being.

But more often than not, this might not be the case. Even if you own less than 25 shirts, chances are they are not a 100% cotton. Which is even worse. For example, polyester is the most popular fabric used for fast fashion because the microfibers used to make it do not biodegrade and are ingested by aquatic life.

This can not only be harmful to humans in the form of sickness stemming from the dyeing process with the consumption of fish but also disturb the aquatic ecosystem by polluting rivers and water systems which are located near these textile factories in developing countries.

In addition to the environmental repercussions, many human rights violations are also traced back to fast fashion. With the inherent connection between environmental abuse and the plight of women, it should come as no surprise that it is mostly women who are affected by the maltreatment of the fast fashion industry.

Dozens of companies that utilize cheap labor to increase their own profits hire women and children in vulnerable conditions who have no choice but to provide for their families in whatever little way they can. In fact 85% of sweatshop workers are young women between the ages of 15-25. These are mostly women who are illiterate, unskilled and uneducated.

This makes them easy targets for exploitation in fast fashion factories which distribute jobs into minuscule chunks amongst them in order to get work done faster. Women in such factories are made to work long hours, paid low wages, and often harassed and sexually abused. With no or little knowledge of Labour Laws and legislation, these women receive no protection whatsoever from the atrocious working countries of their employers. The extent of which was seen when in 2017 Zara shoppers found secret messages sewn into their clothes by such workers one of them being, “I made this item you are going to buy but I didn’t get paid for it.”

The minimum wage for a garment factory worker in Bangladesh is about $67 per month. No matter how good the Zara sale is, you can’t buy a decent outfit for that amount. Imagine trying to provide nourishing food for your family or to keep a dignified roof over their heads for that. It is not enough for even one person to live decently for a month let alone an entire family.

It takes a garment worker a lifetime to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes in just four days. And you won’t be surprised to know that almost all of these fashion CEOs are male.

This is where we argue how fast fashion becomes a feminist issue. To be more specific, an ecofeminist issue.

Ecofeminism is a school of thought which links human domination of nature with the exploitation of nature. It looks at climate change and environmental issues through the lens of gender which, when you break it down, is crucial. As much as it is about seeing yourself as part of something bigger than your immediate community, ecofeminism is also about the exploitation of the environment and how this impacts women in particular.

So, while you proudly flaunt your cheap slogan tee shirt to show the world “we all should be feminists”, it’s a cruel reality that that very shirt may have exploited women somewhere in the world in its making. Thus it is vital that we realize how our multiple interests overlap in the real world to be more conscious and aware citizens of the world.

So how and what can you do to make your wardrobe better? Try something along the lines of the following:

1. Try and buy from grassroots companies and organisations which bridge the gap between the producers/manufactures and actual consumers. This way you not only support small industries but also can feel great about sustainable buying.

2. Recycle. Don’t just throw away your clothes. Donate them to trusted organizations not ones controlled by rich companies so that your clothes don’t end up in a dump somewhere indirectly despite your efforts.

3. Research your brands: check their websites, google about them, and read their “about us”, “what they stand for”/ “their mission”. This allows you to make a more mindful investment in your clothing. Look for certifications (e.g. GOTS or FairTrade), research by country, brand or production criteria (e.g. Eco Fashion World), read about blogs and websites on sustainable fashion. Educate yourself about ecofeminism and fast fashion. The more you know, the more better you can deal with the situation at hand.

4. Shop second-hand (thrift shopping): not only is it affordable and sustainable, but it can be fun creating your own style and doing more with less. You’re preventing items from ending up in landfills! Look into local and online “swapping/trading events”, shop at stores that sell ethical brands, but second-hand. Shop less at malls.

5. Have a minimalist or capsule wardrobe: not spending so much on every new “trendy”, fast-fashion pieces of clothing, allows you to save up and afford the more expensive brands and products that are sustainable. With a small clothing budget, you’re allowed to be more mindful as to what you add to your wardrobe (even if it’s one piece). Change your shopping habits around quality vs quantity. Due to the concept of “year-round-clothing” with minimalism, you’ll be able to buy pieces that actually last. Think about your shopping list. Make the switch to a capsule wardrobe. Have a selective set of high-quality outfits, shoes, and accessories which you can mix and match. This way you can not only spend less but control impulsive buying as you invest in a few items which you actually like and will use for a long time. Build a wardrobe that will last longer!

6. Find a balance between conscious brands and second-hand clothing that works with your budget: this depends on your situation (age and location), budget/finances, needs, and lifestyle. The impact your wardrobe has is affected by how you care for your clothes. Don’t always wash your clothes in hot water and dry in hot dryers, in order to not waste energy and allow your clothes to last longer while not replacing items continuously.

Aprajita Rawat

Aprajita Rawat

Head of the education committee at the Last straw, a youth led environmental organisation. My motivation work for the environment is simply because I live in it:)

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