The Trouble With Fast Fashion

What an insanely dangerous monster we have all created in the guise of Fast Fashion. Every time you buy a cheap piece of throw away fast fashion clothing you are simultaneously promoting slavery, accelerating global warming and irreversibly damaging both your own health and the health of habitats globally, no ifs, no buts, this is what you are doing…. Fact.

My apologies for that truly bleak introduction but it’s the truth and I want everyone to realise their excuses are all null and void; if you buy into fast fashion then you are a participant. In this article I am going to talk briefly about the impacts of this buying culture and how changing our purchasing habits could make an enormous difference.

Currently the fashion industry produces 20% of the globes wastewater and 10% of the globes total carbon emissions, there is only one industry that pollutes more and that’s the oil industry. Now 10% might seem like a low figure but that works out to be more than the pollution generated by all international flights and maritime shipping combined. As we all know, both of those modes of transport are massive polluters and guess what, the fast fashion industry uses both to transport its endless cycle of goods. On to the 20% wastewater issue, that works out to be half a trillion gallons a year, A YEAR! This half a trillion gallons is mostly polluted with highly toxic chemicals and is released into rivers, streams and the sea damaging both sea life and human life. If you need proof then google the Citarum river in Indonesia, currently if you swim there it would be like swimming in a vat of bleach. Alternatively, Cairo’s Ain El-sirra District  where rivers of toxic dye run through the streets.

Sadly, the polluting effects of fast fashion garments do not end once it reaches your wardrobe. Most fast fashion clothing is made from synthetic materials that are cheaper to produce such as nylon or polyester. Each time you wash these garments they release thousands of plastic microfibres and chemicals from the dyes, these tiny microfibres pass through the water treatment plants and make their way to the sea where small creatures like plankton eat the microfibres. The fibres make their way up the food chain damaging habitats as they travel until finally, the microfibres are consumed again by humans, that’s right you are eating your own cheap clothing!

It gets worse! the dyes from these cheap fast fashion garments are also literally poisoning you as you wear them. Greenpeace’s Detox campaign tested a number of products from well-known high street brands and uncovered that many had the presence of hazardous chemical which are banned or strictly regulated in the EU and worldwide. These chemicals are known as ‘toxic bio-accumulative’, which means the chemical builds up in an organism faster than it is excreted or metabolised, this is disruptive to both hormones and organs and is also carcinogenic.  

Once you have finished wearing this fast fashion garment which according to some studies might only be 7 times, you then bin it! We bin 300,000 tonnes of clothing a year in the UK and that was a figure from 2016. These 300,000 tonnes go straight to landfills where both synthetic and natural fabrics damage the environment. Clothing made of natural fabrics like cotton behave in a similar way to food waste in a landfill, they biodegrade in an abnormal anaerobic environment and produce a 50/50 mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. This gas is vented into the atmosphere helping to increase the rate of the greenhouse effect. In the U.S, landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions countrywide with solid waste landfills (which is where clothing goes) representing 95% of this 3rd. Synthetics don’t biodegrade for up to and over 1000 years, they just sit at the bottom of these landfills leaching chemical dies (natural fibre garments also do this) and plastic microfibers into the soil and groundwater poisoning the earth in which our forests, foods, and animal life grows and lives.

For the few of you that do give your clothing away to charity shops, thank you for your thoughtful sentiment however I have bad news. The Council for Textile Recycling have recorded that only 20% of this donated clothing is actually sold in charity shops. Those that either don’t make the cut or are not bought end up going to textile recyclers where they are either bulk shredded for industry use, eventually finding their way to landfills. Alternatively, the garments are shipped to third world developing countries where the donation of second-hand clothing helps to prevent the development of a textile industry in that country, further preventing a stable economy developing.

For some of you it is all a little too inconvenient to worry about the environment, global warming and sustainability. I understand that it is time consuming searching for more sustainable products but the more we do it the stronger the message and the easier it will become. Spare a thought for the children that will grow up in a planet that is being killed by their parents.

The main driver of this fast fashion world is money, there is no passion for craft or creation. Historically there were only two fashion seasons, Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter, we all know these from the high-end catwalks that still only show the 2 seasons. Fast fashion however does not work to seasons, Huffpost reported that in 2014 the fashion industry was churning out 52 micro seasons a year, this number has since increased with the rise of online fast fashion retailers and the explosion/exploitation of social media. Having 52 or more micro seasons is a tall order to fulfil and to do so involved altering the manufacturing and marketing process. Clothing is being made faster, cheaper and of poorer quality in poorer conditions, all to keep up with the high rate in which fashions change.

In countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh, China, India and even the U.S there are enormous swathes of land dedicated to cotton farming. These farmers are paid pitifully and exposed to toxic pesticides used to protect the crops that are their only source of income. Evidence of this is shown in the docufilm “The True Cost” where a U.S cotton farmer dies from a brain tumour caused by pesticides and serious birth defects occur in the children of Indian cotton farmer

The cotton generated from these farms and the polyfabrics from factories are then sent to sweat shops worldwide where adults and children often work 14-16 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week in awful unsafe conditions. Proof of this can be seen everywhere, to name a few there was the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh that collapsed in 2013, killing 1100 workers crammed into an unsafe warehouse. The “Leicester: A City Fighting Fast-Fashion Sweatshops” article by the BBC where machinists are being paid as little as £3.50 an hour. Finally, the Guardians article on Cambodian female sweatshop workers passing out on mass from doing 10 hour shifts in temperatures of up to 37°C, with wages equivalent to £120 a month and short term contracts or no contract. On top of these appalling working conditions and wages the factory workers are also exposed to the carcinogenic chemical dyes used on the fabrics but in a much stronger dose than the final wearer. 

Without naming names, we have recently seen a certain number of brands try to distance themselves from the connotations of fast fashion. Ask yourself this, in these stores there are garments that are on sale for under £20 and often under £10, "How can you sell the garment for that price without using unethical means of production that is damaging the world and exploiting human lives"?  

The situation however is not hopeless. If we, the UK population, can collectively make a change in the way we purchase fashion, we can make a huge impact to the worlds fashion industry and reduce our destructive carbon footprint. Wikipedia states that there are over 40 large fast fashion brands selling both online and in bricks and mortar stores in the UK. According to the solidarity centre there are between 60 and 70 million people worldwide that work in the Garment and textiles industry, the majority are without contracts, fixed schedules or benefits of labor law. These employees work in appalling conditions inside factories and on farms that are massively polluting our atmosphere, habitats and waterways. This in an industry that is worth 4.4 trillion dollars with global trade totalling 600 billion. That’s 60 million lives that can be vastly improved by our shopping habits, along with the health of our planet that holds roughly 7.53 billion people and roughly 20 quintillion animals. All we have to do is demand better quality, better standards, ethical clothing and ultimately buy less and wear what we have more. If you buy into quality over quantity, you will also ultimately be happier with your purchases.

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