Opinion: Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is like fast food. The two industries feed off of the fact that the cost is low and the consumers receive instant gratification from their purchase.

Like fast food, however, the quality is matched by price and the long term consequences of it are detrimental to the environment.

During February and September the most important events in the fashion industry are held. Fashion week sets the precedent for what clothes are worn in what style for the season.

New York Fashion Week began as a week of press during World War II for fashion industry insiders, unable to travel to Paris to see French fashion shows. Now, it has grown to include anyone with an ounce of celebrity or social class, to a newly selected celebutante or ‘influencer,’ per say, as crowned by the hierarchy of social media.

Fall and Spring were the seasons, but with the fast changing consumer appetite the fashion cycles now are compressed into shorter periods of four-to-six weeks.

The term for this is fast fashion.

Stores including Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, Beneton and Top Shop, are crowded with the latest and greatest mish-mosh of clothes cheaply made and cheaply sold with no true style to describe this generation.

Consumers are able to buy cheap because costs are reduced by taking advantage of lower prices in markets in developing countries.

Developing countries accounted for nearly 75 percent of all clothing exports, according to “Buyer Behavior for Fast Fashion,” by Margaret Bruce and Lucy Daily.

A consequence of fast fashion is waste. Many of these fast fashion garments are made cheaply, falling apart after one to two uses. Therefore, more people buy more clothes and don’t keep them as long as they used to.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated 11.9 million tons of clothing are thrown away making five percent of all landfill space occupied by the textile waste.

PureEarth.org has listed textile dyeing as one of the top dirtiest industries and the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. Artificial dyes are most often preferred over natural ones because of inexpensive cost and can be made in bulk.

Wastes from this industry are heavily loaded with chemicals, many of which are harmful to human health.

The presence of hazardous chemicals has been found after testing many different brands’ garments.

Greenpeace.org lists many of the banned or strictly regulated chemicals in various countries because they are toxic, bio-accumulative (the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can metabolize it), disruptive to the nervous system, hormones and carcinogenic.

One other most popular fabrics used for fashion is polyester. When washed, they shed microfibers that add to the increasing levels of plastic in the oceans, representing a serious threat to aquatic life.

In Dig Deeper, an article written by Vice President of United Natural Foods Incorporated Melody Meyer and published in Rodale Institute.org, cotton has a devastating toxic chemical impact in agriculture.

Cotton growing requires high levels of water and pesticides. Most cotton grown world wide is genetically modified and they often need to be treated with more toxic pesticides that are harmful to livestock and humans.

In the documentary “The True Cost,” it speaks of a U.S. cotton farmer who died from a brain tumor caused by toxic pesticides and serious birth defects in Indian cotton farmer’s children from the toxicity of the pesticides.  

There is a huge interest in organic cotton, but it remains caustic to the environment. It will take about 290 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce a t-shirt, according to Cotton Inc., however, 660 gallons of water is needed to grow the same amount of organic cotton for the same shirt.

Besides the negative environmental impact, water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste. Fast fashion has also impacted socio economic levels.

The fashion industry is known as the most labor dependent industry, as one in every six people work in acquiring raw materials and manufacturing clothing.

Bangladesh is home to 4 million garment production workers in over 5000 factories, the second largest garment supplier of the world market, after China.

According to cleanclothes.org, 85 percent of workers are women, and these women are forced to work in unsafe and poor conditions while receiving a minimum wage of 3,000 taka a month (approximately $34).

This is far below what is considered a living wage. The bare minimum to provide shelter, food and education, which is considered at 5,000 takas, (approximately $59). The need to achieve low cost to sell at low prices leads to mass impoverishment.

Fast Fashion is a machine that helps create the feminization of poverty. United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), describes this as “the burden of poverty borne by women, especially in developing countries.”

But as Greenpeace and others have pointed out, the technology doesn’t yet exist for H&M to turn most of what it collects into new pieces because it churns out vasts volumes of clothes.

The consumer has the power to change this with the power of their wallets.

Begin by shopping with a conscious and choose to buy from brands that are transparent. There are plenty of stylish, inexpensive and ethical clothing lines out there waiting to be discovered.

If you must buy new, buy indie. Support designers that are based in or near your community, because independent designers don’t have the budget to buy in bulk and use an excess amount of material.