Maybe you’ve made a list, maybe you haven’t (i’m in that second category) and if you have, your list might include stop smoking, workout consistently, travel more often or just any objectives you have for 2018.
But as the state of our planet is deteriorating at a incredibly fast rate and social inequality around the world has never been more more important, why not make 2018 a mindful year ? Don’t panic, i’m not talking turning your life upside down and moving to Patagonia to raise goats in a self sufficient tiny house (though that could be nice…). I’m thinking small changes in your everyday life that could have a tremendous impact at a global scale (ever heard of butterfly effect ?) and more specifically about fashion shopping habits. Why not set a goal of bringing more mindfulness to those in 2018 and reduce or even quit buying cheap, fast fashion and shift to a reasoned, slower, more respectful of the planet and its inhabitants kind of wardrobe ?
Why should you do that when you can get fashionable items at Zara, H&M and so on for a super cheap price f ? Here are a few reasons that might convince you :
1. Fast fashion creates a new model of fashion consumption that is, by definition, UNSUSTAINABLE
For decades, fashion has worked with 2 collections a year according to the seasons : spring/summer and fall/winter. The large amounts of time between the design decision making and the arrival in stores were linked to the strategy in place at that time : the push through strategy, according to which production begins without concern for what the customers are demanding and is rather based on forecasting previsions based on the fashion shows and the sale from the previous years.
Fast fashion thanks to enhanced design based on real time sales analysis, quick response and production methods (thank you outsourcing to low income countries !) is able to respond to the consumer’s demand in as short as two weeks in some cases which changes considerably the consumer purchasing behavior. No more waiting for sales, frequent stock up and low prices enables instant purchase and because of the idea of « here today, gone tomorrow », customers buy more frequently in the fear of missing out.
Moreover, the actual wearability of the clothes sold represents a challenge. Due to outsourcing strategies and mass production, the quality of the clothes has decreased leading to shorter life cycle (sometimes as short as 10 times) before the product becomes unwearable.
But overconsumption isn’t the only issue, fast fashion also impacts consumer’s behavior once the garment is bought ! Disposability is no longer an issue and while few years back, we would wear a garment for several years before buying a new one or try to repair it, with fast fashion items, repairing is no longer worthwhile as something new is waiting right here for cheaper.
Want figures ? Fashion consumption increased by 400% in the last 20 years in France and in the UK, 360,000 tonnes of used clothing is sent to landfill every year. That much.
2. Fast fashion is an ecological disaster
Often refered to as the second most polluting industry worldwide, second only to the energy sector, purchasing a fast fashion item entails massive environmental impacts throughout the supply chain.
For instance, conventional cotton, which is one of the most used and versatile fibers in the clothing industry, requires more insecticide than any other crop and accounts for 10% of the total pesticide use worldwide.
Yet, man-made fibers and synthetic fibers are also unsustainable in the sense that they require large amount of crude oil and other chemicals.
The manufacturing stage is particularly harmful in terms of water pollution and mostly happens in low-wage countries, especially south east asia where pollution episodes are often not taken care of due to poor environmental regulations. In China for instance, one of the largest exporter of fast fashion, Greenpeace found in two manufacturing facilities used by well known fast fashion brands « hazardous and persistent chemicals with hormone-disrupting properties ». To this date, no brands has been known to have taken depollution action.
Finally, the consumer using phase with its maintenance activities such as washing, dying, ironing and dry cleaning counts as an important part of the overall environmental impact of a fast fashion product. Indeed, frequent laundering uses considerable energy and sends toxic chemicals and micro plastics into wastewater (that eventually ends up in the ocean… yey !)
Is the environment safe once a product is discarded ? Nope… did you know that non biodegradable synthetic products causes methane emissions (one of the most important green house gas) to air and pollution to groundwater through toxic chemicals ? No rest for mama earth with fast fashion.
3. Fast fashion is a highly unethical industry
Ever heard of the Rana Plaza tragedy ? On the April 24th 2014, a building containing several clothing factories collapsed in Rakha, Bangladesh, killing over 1,100 textile workers, mostly young women that represent 80% of the workforce in the fashion supply chain.
Basic human and workers rights are poorly implemented for workers of the industry and the legal minimum wage is rarely enough to live decently (2$ a day in Bangladesh for instance).
Children exploitation is not uncommon in the fast fashion supply chain. In Uzbekistan for instance, one of the world's largest cotton exporter, cotton is grown on government-controlled farms. Every year, a big part of the population is sent to pick cotton in those farms. According to a study released in recent years by the Responsible Sourcing Network, entitled “From the Field: Travels of Uzbek Cotton Through the Value Chain,” "schools are closed from September to November, and children across the country, some as young as 7, are placed on buses and taken to fields where they work full days without adequate food, clean water, safety protection, and medical care.”
In Turkey where many migrants seeking refuge in Europe have ended up staying, children as young as 9 have been spotted working in textile factories, instead of going to school, in order to help their families survive. You can read more about the issue here: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/europe-migrants-turkey-children/
4. What can YOU do
There are plenty of things you can do if you want to start ditching fast fashion this year (and hopefully forever!) Here are a few that are super easy if you want to build yourself a clean, ethical fashion closet but the first and most important one is GET INFORMED. Watch documentaries (The True Cost is on netflix, River Blue just came out), read articles or NGO reports (Detox by Greenpeace for instance), learn to read a clothes tag, check the brand website but keep in mind that greenwashing is widespread and exercice your critical critical judgement. If it costs 10 bucks, chances are it wasn't made ethically. If it doesn't fit after 5 washes, raw materials is probably poor and it wasn't made to last.
Fast fashion is NOT a fatality. There are alternatives including some that will not make you look like a dirty hippie living in a cave (nothing against hippies living in a cave) and google is your best friend here!
Will you be stopping fast fashion in 2018?