Imagine you are shopping on a hot Monday afternoon and an adorable shirt catches your eye through the shiny, sanitized glass panes of your favorite clothing store. The cheap rate of Rs 199 on the price tag is tempting, but having already purchased beyond your budget for the day, you make a mental note to return to the store the coming week to buy the shirt. While you are home catching up on youtube, you see that two of the influencers you subscribe to have bagged this shirt in their clothing mega-haul videos, which further invigorates you to get your hands on it too. However, when you walk back through the same glass panes on the following Monday, you quickly realize that the shirt is long gone. The store is now swamped with a fresh collection of clothes, with no trace of what you saw the previous week.
The 90s fashion schema of people eagerly awaiting the biannual autumn and spring clothing launch has long divorced itself from the scene of the 21st century. In hopes of staying relevant in the market, today’s fashion stores churn new clothes almost on a weekly basis. The term ‘fast fashion’ is used to depict this rapid cycle of revamping that the retail floor goes through in such a limited time. Fashion giants like Zara and H&M move from the birth of a design idea to the sale of the product in a mind-bogglingly short span of 14 to 21 days.
Here’s the catch. Since the inherent objective is to keep people up with the fluid trends of fashion as well as to keep them as frequent customers, the quality of the clothes is poor. The low quality of material used reflects on the prizes as well. The greatest appeal of fast fashion is that the garments are cheap. Even if the cost of manufacturing and transport happens to exceed the selling price, the overspill is compensated with reduced salaries and inhumane working conditions for their employees.
On a global average, a person buys about 70 clothes per year, which means each of us is bound to buy more than one piece of clothing per week. More than 56 million tons of clothes are sold every year in the world. Among this, India itself singlehandedly generates more than 1 million tonnes of textiles per year. For the first time in the history of human existence, customers can very easily take their wardrobe “To the salon” in the time it takes to bat an eyelid.
Although fast fashion has allowed us to experience a new form of freedom – since our self-expression and clothing preferences have started becoming a symbol of our identity – the mass production of cheap clothes has high environmental consequences. The fashion industry is the eighth-most polluting industry in the world. Not only does this ceaseless pattern feed to over-consumption, it concurrently keeps leaving longer and longer trails of clothes that go to the dump every day. 92 million tonnes of textile waste is discarded into landfills per year, which comprises 4 percent of the world’s solid waste. This is equivalent to saying a truckload of abandoned clothes reaches a landfill every single second!
Zooming into the materials used to produce clothes, Polyester poses a major threat to microplastic accumulation in the ocean. It is a petroleum-based fiber that makes manufacturing clothes abundantly easier and cheaper and therefore has outpaced the production of the usual cotton or wool. However, polyester is also a non-biodegradable substance that sheds fibers every time it is washed. These fibers trickle into our soil, ocean, and other water bodies eventually and can take from 20 to 200 years to decompose.
Several fast fashion brands have now taken up ‘Greenwashing,’ which is the practice of maintaining a sustainable image of their brand. With pompous advertising of their efforts for sustainability with recycling baskets or donation baskets in their stores, quality and cruelty-free products used in their manufacturing, safe and healthy working conditions, etc, fashion brands capitalize on consumers’ consciousness. Their slogans are oftentimes empty rhetorics with the central objective of attracting more sales. Barely one percent of the clothes that fall into H&M’s recycle bins are actually used for the said purpose. As for charity and donations, we certainly generate more unwanted clothes than the needy even need. “It takes twelve years to recycle what they sell in 48 hours,” says Claudia Marsales, a Senior Manager from Waste Management and Environment, City of Markham.
Patagonia’s campaign slogan is a classic case of employing reverse psychology. Following the launch of a blue jacket captioned with “Don’t buy this jacket,” Patagonia claimed in a press release that their campaign was an initiative to address the growing issue of over-consumption. However, the caption did the expected trick of attracting more buyers.
As individual consumers, we can resist the motion of fast fashion by simply not participating in its system. Buying less is the ultimate objective, so it’s best to be mindful of how much we’re consuming. Thrifting, swapping clothes with our friends and family members, upcycling our clothes to trendier styles by ourselves, and buying from better options than from fast fashion giants are some sustainable alternatives. In this age of technology, one can explore an array of YouTube videos to find inspiration.
- The environmental prize of fast fashion by Krisi Niinimaki, Greg Peters, Helena Dahlbo, Patsy Perry, Timo Rissanen and Alison Gwilt
- Fast fashion in the retail store environment by Liz Bernes
- Climate Change: How Fast Fashion Hurts the Environment – indiaspend.com