6 Dirty Secrets of the Fast Fashion Industry
There’s no denying it: fashion is a huge part of our culture. But the really tricky thing about culture is that we never question how it came to be.
Sadly, the fashion industry benefits from our willing detachment from the history of fashion and is able to sweep a lot of dirt under the rug. For a long time, no one was the wiser.
With fast fashion at its menacing peak, people have started to look at the industry through more cynical eyes. Popular fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M are on the public radar for their entire business model, from the sources of raw materials to their unethical labor practices.
Still, a lot remains to be uncovered.
Here are 6 ways in which the fast fashion industry has fooled the modern-day consumer and gets away with unsustainable practices.
In 1980, the average American bought about 12 items of clothing each year. Today, that number has gone up to 68 — almost six times as much!
But how did we turn into such greedy consumers?
Let’s face it: no one needs five to six new items of clothing every month; it’s unnecessary, wasteful, and borderline gluttonous.
Well, the fashion industry knew this, which is why they had to start fabricating a demand for clothes and accessories. By releasing new clothes every week, fast fashion brands instill a need in their consumers to keep up with the ever-changing trends.
Of course, social media has its own part to play in this. For example, within the virtual space of Instagram and Facebook, we consider it a sin to be seen in the same outfit more than once.
We’re already suffering from a global freshwater shortage, and the fast fashion industry only exacerbates the problem.
At one point, your designer t-shirts and glamorous handbags were mere crops or synthetic raw materials. As you can imagine, turning them into wearable garments is a meticulous and resource-heavy process.
For example, the King Crop Cotton, as the industry so fondly calls it, uses an unbelievable amount of water for just one kilogram of yield. That’s not even considering the water they use to clean, dye, and process the cotton after the harvest.
The ironic thing is that cotton is actually a drought-resistant crop that can survive on rainwater alone. However, the fast fashion industry uses highly ineffective irrigation practices and ultimately ends up wasting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
Not only does fast fashion waste precious water, but it also pollutes it. From cultivating crops and raising livestock to processing, dyeing, and weaving the fabric, the global apparel and textile industry doesn’t even spare the water they don’t directly use.
Let’s take the example of cotton again. As a crop, cotton requires a lot of insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides. Once the soil absorbs them, they’re out of sight, out of mind, right?
But let’s think about this for a moment: all those chemicals don’t just disappear into thin air. So, where do they go?
Unfortunately for us, they go straight into our freshwater supplies. When it rains, these toxic chemicals hitch a ride with the runoff water and eventually end up in rivers and lakes.
It’s not just horticulture chemicals that contaminate the planet’s water bodies.
When you wash synthetic fabrics such as polyester, they shed plastic microfibers that bypass waste treatments and pollute our waterways.
These oil-based microfibers are non-biodegradable and can easily infiltrate our food chain. Planktons and other marine drifters ingest these plastic microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain and onto our dinner plates.
The fast fashion industry quickly caught on to the fact that consumers were becoming green-conscious. So, they started slapping on labels such as “environmentally-conscious,” “green,” and “ethically-made” onto their clothing lines.
But these labels are often misleading and ultimately meaningless.
Think about it: what does it even mean for clothes to be “green”? The truth is that these labels are vague enough to simultaneously ease our conscience and absolve the fashion industry of any blame.
Appealing to the masses by claiming to “go green” is called greenwashing. Unfortunately, all fast fashion brands do it.
Recently, clothing companies have started to encourage their customers to donate their old clothes, usually with incentives such as getting a discount on your next purchase.
For example, H&M has a well-established garment collecting program whereby customers’ old, unwanted clothes are sent to recycling plants— or so they claim.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 87% of all fabrics end up in landfills and incinerators. Yes, that includes the clothes you donate.
The rest of the clothes are sold by the tonne to developing countries.
At the end of the day, greenwashing allows fast fashion brands such as H&M to keep making more money while convincing us that our clothes are being recycled or donated.
That little tag on your designer jeans that says “made in XYZ” is more telling than you realize.
You probably already know that most of the world’s textile production happens in the developing world, even for clothing brands based in the developed world.
This is because textile manufacturing and processing are much cheaper in the developing world. But the reason that it’s so cheap is that they are able to employ uneducated workers, which mainly include women and children. Moreover, the laborers are heavily underpaid and subjected to hazardous work environments.
Bangladesh is one such prime example.
Why? Because it’s easier to get away with these unethical labor practices when it’s all happening “over there” and not here.
But that’s not the end of it. These countries are also the direct victims of water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, and land pollution that comes with manufacturing clothes that they don’t even use.
Seems a little unfair, don’t you think?
In a world where fast fashion has become a dominating force in the global market, it becomes easy to dissociate ourselves from the dirty secrets of the industry.
But once you realize what’s happening behind closed curtains, you can no longer turn a blind eye. The environmental and social adversities of fast fashion can no longer remain unchecked.
Luckily, this is an issue where you can actually make a difference: support slow-fashion brands, use hand-me-downs, wear your clothes for at least a year before you think about throwing them away.
Sure, it may sound tedious if you’re used to a particular lifestyle. But ask yourself this: would you rather be a part of the problem or the solution?