- Suhavi Dhillon
According to Wikipedia, fast fashion is a term used to describe a highly profitable business model based on replicating catwalk trends and high-fashion designs, and mass-producing them at low cost.
In theory this is, in every sense of the word, perfect.
Trendy clothes at low prices entice customers. You see a dress in the same design as that of your favorite actress, you see a price tag that won’t turn your bank balance to negative numbers and you think, man, how did I get so lucky. It is in our nature to bask in convenience and if it’s one thing fast fashion is, it’s convenient.
It also has the perfect business model. Low cost of production, high sales and high profit margins, all these are the sweetest dreams of a clothing company.
However, fast fashion remains perfect only in theory.
These avaricious companies, in their greed to maximize profit, resort to unethical means to reach unnaturally low costs of production. This has had a significant impact on the environment. According to this UNEP report, the fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. The report also states if things do not change by 2050, the fashion industry will have used up one-fourth of the world’s carbon budget.
The horrifying reality behind our ‘oh so colourful!’ closets is enough to make bile rise up in my throat. This CNN feature showcases pictures of pitch black rivers, bloody red rivers and rivers so littered they look like flooded landfills (this water is described as thick as tar.)
"There are no fish now," Abdus Salam from Dhaka, Bangladesh (the world’s second-biggest garment exporter) says, "the water is so polluted that our children and grandchildren cannot have the same experience."
While the environmental impact cannot be overlooked at all, an equally if not more upsetting side of this story is the impact on labour. Uneducated workers desperate for a job cannot fight against their employees. These workers are not even provided with the bare minimum safety gear, they do not wear gloves, masks and protective clothing that gives them any defense against harmful chemicals and toxic gases. The poisonous and damaged water bodies result in many fishermen not having any catch and effectively losing their livelihood. In cases where families cannot afford filtered water, they make do with dirty contaminated river water-for they have no other option.
I cannot even imagine the condition of kids that have to grow up near such factories, who are forced to have damaged lungs because big corporations simply do not care about the correct way of garbage disposal. But even more than that, I cannot imagine the conditions of kids who are forced to work in the fashion industry.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates around 170 million children ~11% of the global population of children- to be engaged in child labour, a very large percentage of these children work in the fashion industry to make textiles and garments to keep up with rising demands of consumers in Europe, US and many more countries. (source: https://labs.theguardian.com/unicef-child-labour/)
Illustrated by Avani Gupta
It’s surreal to think that this is the truth behind your favourite t-shirt from Zara.
As for what we can do to help, I think it’s incredibly important to remember that every single step counts, every effort made amounts to something. It would be unrealistic of me to demand we all immediately stop buying clothes from stores like H&M and Zara and switch to organic clothing exclusively, most people can’t afford that and I do not expect them to, however if we can consciously make an effort to, if not stop, then reduce the number of clothes we buy from such stores, it would make a huge differences.
Instead of throwing away our old clothes into garbage, we can donate these clothes to charities or consider upcycling old clothes into new garments. Another way of sustainably shopping is thrifting. I’ve been glad to see that even during the pandemic, many thrift stores have been able to gain recognition on social media platforms.
The fashion industry at large is a nightmare from hell but it’s crucial to contribute to reform as much as we can.