The problem with fast fashion – how the fashion industry is damaging the environment
Millennials and their younger cousins yearn for instant gratification – and fast fashion delivers that, in bucketloads. The moment a celebrity or someone famous steps out in something new, or a new season’s trend hits one of the Fashion Weeks, these young people want the same outfit, and they don’t want to wait for it, either.
That’s fast fashion in a nutshell. It's the way manufacturers replicate what we've just seen moments after models walk down the catwalk or a celebrity posts a picture on Social Media.
This type of fashion makes a lot of quick money – brands that embrace this type of fashion like Zara and H&M, as well as online outlets like American brand Fashion Nova mass production duplicates of these fashion outfits as soon as social media starts talking about them.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion means grabbing new trends the moment they appear on Social Media and translating them for the public really quickly, at a price they can afford.
Basically, those who want to be on trend need to remain relevant. Yesterday we bought an item because we thought it was popular. Today we don't think it's fashionable anymore, so we discard it. And this attitude is creating major environmental and climate issues.
The psychology of fast fashion
It should come as no surprise. This type of fashion is changing the way we look at the fashion industry, and clothing production in general. We don't look at the clothing in our wardrobes as precious pieces that people have made beautifully. Sadly, we don't consider these classic pieces that can withstand the test of time. We believe that we should look at them in a whole new light.
That’s what we call slow fashion – clothes created with care, often by hand, using quality natural fabrics like cotton and linen.
Since fast fashion brands became so popular, clothes aren’t valuable anymore. It’s something cheap, new, easily changeable and just as easily discarded. It’s on trend this week, and out of fashion by the following Monday. Trends change so quickly it’s hard to keep up.
Consider these statistics
Recently, McKinsey researched the US fast fashion industry formula, as they call it. And the news report ratio is scary: approximately every five days, someone will buy something new to wear. So in a 12 month period, that is approximately 73 clothes.
Compare that to 1960, where many a news report showed that the average American bought less than 25 items of clothing a year. They spent around 10% of their income on clothing, according to more than one news report. They’re currently buying three times that amount!
How the fast fashion industry is harming the environment
If we look at young peoples’ need for having something the moment it becomes a trend, we’ll find plenty of problems with the biggest fast fashion brands. It’s not sustainable fashion, for starters. As quickly as something becomes a trend, it loses its lustre. And when that happens, we throw it away – into landfills.
We can't easily recycle this type of garment. To make it affordable, manufacturers use cheaper fabrics that are usually synthetic and flawed. Factories don't make the clothes well – they don't make it with care, as we are only going to wear it a few times.
As a result, the items often fall apart. But the wearer hasn’t found this a problem, because we don't expect this type of fashion industry to last. It’s a fad, a trend. And when it’s over, there’s plenty to take its place.
Why is fast fashion bad?
We talk about sustainability more and more these days, so it should come as no surprise that this type of fashion isn’t sustainable. The impact this type of garment has on the environment and ultimately the climate, the people and animals that live in it, are scary. The ideal is a circular economy – an ideal situation where producing and consuming products involves extending their life cycle. That circular economy is basically what sustainability is all about.
The circular economy is a model of production and consumption. Aside from being discarded in landfills, there’s lots more that is wrong with fashion that is not sustainable.
The bad news is that one of the biggest problems with this type of garment is that those involved in its manufacture aren’t well looked after. Labour conditions for fast fashion industry garment workers in this non sustainable garment production industry are horrific. And garment workers everywhere, from India and the rest of Asia to Africa and Latin America, are suffering.
Tackling fast fashion head on
Organisations like the United Nations have created programmes with the goal of dealing with the fast fashion industry and other sustainability issues. There’s UNEP (The United Nations Environmental Programme), a global environmental authority with programmes that focus on environmental justice regarding the climate, nature, sustainable development and much more.
There’s also Oxfam Education, which provides resources and support for educating every school learner and Google scholar about the global environmental and resulting climate issues we are facing right now as well as the impact these are having on a global level. United States magazines like Good Housekeeping, have initiatives like their Sustainable Innovation Awards, that recognise different companies that are producing products in a more sustainable manner.
Here’s some good local news – right here in the UK, the BBC adopts numerous sustainability strategies, including programmes that constantly update viewers on how to be more sustainable. You can join every movement if you are interested in taking action.
Take a look at how maake pioneers sustainability in everything that we do.
The true cost of cheap clothing
When clothing doesn’t come at a high price, we can buy more of it. But this comes at a major cost to the environment, the climate and to the people living in this environment. With clothes being so cheap, consumer demand has increased.
The more shopping guides are produced for shoppers to buy, the more is produced. And the production there is, the more ends up in landfill.
Most of this fast fashion production is carried out in poor countries where industry workers are happy to work for a pittance. Currently, these non-sustainable fashion companies employ around 300 million people globally.
UK data indicate that the fashion market in the UK was valued at £42 billion in 2019 and that around £8.4 billion was from fashion that is not sustainable – that’s approximately 20% of the fashion market revenue.
What’s happening is that production in the fast fashion industry uses cheap textile dyes and a lot of synthetic fabrics. Manufacturers of this type of clothing production are responsible for a vast amount of water being consumed.
The more sustainable alternative
This is why it’s so important to choose local, more sustainable fabric production for making fashion products. Take a look at our magnificent fabric selection. The fabrics we use at maake are manufactured in the most sustainable manner possible.
What fast fashion is doing to the UK economy
An article in the New York Times entitled How Fast Fashion Became Faster — and Worse for the Earth describes the rise of these types of fashion retailers and brands:
“During the 1990s, retailers began to introduce trendy, cheap clothes that are poorly-made on a weekly basis, intending to match the breakneck pace at which fashion trends move. Style became cheap, convenient and consumable.”
The article discusses how this type of fashion has become a ‘privilege’.
“It is a privilege to buy clothes solely for their style," the article says, "and it is a privilege to ignore the environmental and climate consequences of doing so.
"In reality, the aggressive cycle of consumption perpetuated by fast fashion means that the clothes we wear are now more likely than ever to end up as part of the 92 million tons of textile waste produced annually.”
Sad fast fashion facts
But that’s not the whole story. Online retailers that sprung up and became ever-popular during the Pandemic shipped their products to consumers. The article explains: “they only exacerbate the annual billion tons of greenhouse gasses released by shipping.”
The synthetic fibres and chemicals we us to produce these fashion brands is also toxic to the environment, which, the article tells us, is “responsible for 35 percent of the microplastics contaminating our oceans and can subsequently take centuries to decompose in landfills.”
What the fashion industry is doing to the global environment
Let's take a look at what fast fashion industry and brands are doing to the environment and the climate, why it's not environmental friendly or ethical...
In 2020, fast fashion statistics showed that the UK clothing production involves 206.456 tonnes of textile waste in a 12 months. This made us the fourth largest producer of fabric waste in Europe.
Aside from ending up in landfills, this type of fashion also has a terrible environmental impact when it comes to carbon emissions. Besides the vast amount of waste ending up in landfills, the fast fashion environmental impact is through carbon emissions as a result of fossil fuels.
By 2050, along with all the clothes in landfills, this unsustainable fashion industry will account for 10% of CO2 emissions. In fact, by 2050 we’ll have used up a quarter of the carbon budge globally.
How does this happen? Every time factories transport the clothes to retailers, this results in releasing of carbon emissions. After that, people who buy the pieces have to travel to purchase them in retailers, or have them delivered if it’s an online store.
Then, of course, there’s discarding those items and taking them to landfills – that also emits carbon. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Aside from carbon emissions, fast fashion also plays part in water pollution action. We create much of this type of fashion out of synthetic fibres that contain microplastics. When we wash the clothing, or when it’s in a landfill and it rains , it releases those microplastics.
These tiny elements eventually land up in the sea, harming marine life. This happens because those microplastics end up being eaten by marine life.
Bad working conditions
Many of the factories involved in mass producing unsustainable fashion don’t have safe, healthy labouring environments. We’ve all heard the stories about sweatshops where the health of workers is not considered, hazardous labour conditions, low wages and ridiculously long working hours. This is violating workers basic human rights and impacting their health.
Give fabric and clothes a second life
Important tips to consider to help make sure that fabric lasts longer, is more sustainable and has low industry environmental impact:
- Extend the life of your clothes by washing with gentle detergent.
- Instead of discarding a garment – fix it.
- Donate what you don’t wear. There are so many stores online and on the high street selling preloved clothes.
- Take advantage of maake’s free upcycling offer – order your upcycling bag of fabric remnants here and make your products out of recycled fabric.
Why slow fashion clothing is a better choice
It makes sense: avoid this type of fashion, and choose slow fashion instead. What does ‘slow fashion’ mean? It means choosing to buy clothes that are sustainable, ethical and good quality. This type of clothing is environmentally friendly and ultimately good for your health!
The way we used to look at a garment before the new fashion production model reared its head. This is only way we can look towards a more sustainable future.
To do this:
· Choose quality over quantity.
· Select classic, timeless outfits that will withstand the test of time.
· Buy clothing that factories have made sustainably, and where they treat workers well.
· Consider buying quality second-hand clothes so that you give old clothes a new life.
Follow maake’s low waste example
· maake has a zero waste policy – we send excess fabric and cut-off to local charities, schools and educational establishments for them to reuse.
· We fit all of the printing machines we use with energy-saving cut-off switches to reduce energy consumption when they’re idle. That’s how we keep our energy consumption low.
· When we print designs on fabric, we only use sustainable inks.
· To ensure low waste instead of fabric sitting on shelves, we only print what our customers order .
· If customers return any printed material, we don’t resell or restock it. Instead, we donate the fabric – see above.
· Our focus is on sourcing all our materials ethically. We buy them from from UK-trusted mills where possible. This helps the local economy. It also reduces our carbon footprint and the climate.
· The factory believes in local textile production – we produce your entire order in our NW London mill. If you prefer, you can pick up your order to reduce our carbon footprint.
Sustainable printing and design with maake
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