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How ‘Fast Fashion’ Initiative Is impacting the environment in 2024?

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The dazzling lights and trendy styles of the fashion industry often mask a darker truth: it is a major environmental polluter and its impact on our planet is undeniable. We live in an era where fashion styles are changing in a flick of a second, in times where we do not think twice before scraping our garbs. A period of fashion renaissance in which “How fashion impacts” never occurred to us.  

Fast fashion is not just a buzzword, then what is it? Well, it is a sense of style which is ubiquitous. Some trendy dresses and graphic tees at rock-bottom prices. But here is the thing – the breakneck speed and low costs often come at a hidden price and labyrinth of stumbling blocks that can affect the environment. Fast Fashion’s environmental footprints are growing quickly and must be stopped soon. It involves copying current high-end fashion trends and producing them in enormous quantities at a low cost for rapid retail sales. Major retailers like Primark, H&M, Shein, and Zara have become large multinationals by selling affordable, seasonal, and trendy clothing in high volumes. However, fast fashion’s environmental, social, and economic impacts are significant, including resource depletion, labor exploitation, child labor, and massive economic loss due to textile waste. 

The fashion industry consumes enormous amounts of water, pollutes waterways with chemicals, generates mountains of waste, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing demand for less expensive and trendy outfits has led to an increase in the production of cheap clothes, which as a result led to more resource consumption and waste.  

Let’s delve into and find out how fast fashion is not good for our environment: 

  • Water Pollution: The fashion industry, driven by fast fashion, heavily pollutes our fresh water sources. Harmful chemicals from dyeing processes contaminate water bodies, harming aquatic life and risking the health of communities relying on these waters. 
  • Excessive Water Use: Fast fashion demands massive amounts of water. For instance, producing a single pair of jeans requires about 7,000 liters (about 1849.2 gal) of water, equivalent to what an individual drinks in 5–6 years. 
  • Textile Waste: Fast fashion fuels the textile waste crisis. Constantly changing trends lead to the rapid discarding of clothes, with around 85% ending up in landfills annually. Synthetic fabrics used in fast fashion have persisted in the environment for centuries. 
  • Carbon Emissions: The fast fashion industry significantly contributes to global carbon emissions, accelerating climate change. Every stage of a garment’s life cycle, from production to transportation, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 
  • Biodiversity Loss: The quest for raw materials in fast fashion often drives deforestation and habitat destruction. Pesticides and chemicals used in crop cultivation further harm local ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Not only does Fast Fashion have ecological consequences, but it affects the economic side also. Fast fashion’s economic impact goes beyond clothing prices, revealing significant drawbacks. It fosters a throw-away culture, reducing clothing lifespans and generating massive textile waste, estimated at $100 billion (about $310 per person in the US) annually.  

Credit: https://sanvt.com/blogs/journal/environmental-impact-of-fast-fashion-infographic

The proliferation of fast fashion undermines local industries, threatening small businesses and traditional craftsmen, and leading to economic instability. The industry’s reliance on low production costs perpetuates a low-wage economy, especially in developing countries, raising concerns about job quality, and living standards. Fast fashion’s rapid production depletes natural resources like water and non-renewable materials, potentially leading to higher costs and resource conflicts.  

HUMAN RIGHTS IMPACT OF FAST FASHION: 

Fast fashion’s impact on labourers and the environment. Let us delve deeper into the harsh reality behind the price tag: 

  1. Exploitation of Garment Workers: Fast fashion leads to gross labour exploitation, with garment workers in supply chains often subjected to long hours, low wages, and unsafe conditions. 
  2. Child Labor: The pressure to keep costs low results in the use of child labour, with millions of children working in the global fashion supply chain. 
  3. Suppression of Worker Rights: The right to form and join trade unions is often suppressed, leaving workers with little job security and no contracts. 
  4. Gender Discrimination: The fast fashion industry employs women, who are often underpaid, overworked, and subjected to various forms of harassment and abuse. 
  5. Resource Depletion: Fast fashion’s high production rate depletes natural resources, leading to increased competition for resources, higher costs, and potential conflicts. 
  6. Environmental Impact: Fast fashion contributes to environmental degradation through excessive water usage, non-biodegradable fabrics, and greenhouse gas emissions. 
  7. Economic Loss: The potential value of recyclable materials lost to landfills is estimated to be around $100 billion (about $310 per person in the US) annually, representing a massive economic loss. 
  8. The undermining of Local Industries: Fast fashion chains selling low-cost apparel pose a threat to local clothing industries, leading to a loss of livelihoods and traditional skills. 
Image Attribution: Adam-Smith Institute

Ineffective Strategies: Clothes donation seems like an eco-friendly solution for unwanted garments, but the reality is more complex. When donating clothes in Europe or the USA, the best pieces go to charity shops in wealthy countries, while the rest is sent overseas in bulk to buyers in developing countries. However, the quality of these donations is declining each year, and the unsold majority is often dumped, incinerated, or used as rags. Only 12% of materials used to make clothes are globally recycled, with the majority being industrial waste. Recycling clothes is challenging due to material blends, buttons, labels, and zippers. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the condition and quality of clothes before donating and ensure they are like-new or gently worn. If clothes are heavily worn out, they should be repurposed or recycled instead of donated. 

World Economic Forum recently posted the below video on their LinkedIn page highlighting that, Globally, just 1% of clothing is recycled. To reduce the industry’s huge environmental footprint, our Centre for Nature and Climate advocates for a systemic rethink of production and consumption patterns. Watch our session from Davos ‘From Waste to Wardrobe: Making Circular Fashion Fashionable’ to learn more: https://ow.ly/Tce350Sel9L”

 

To reduce fast fashion pollution, consider changing your attitude towards clothes.

Here are some steps you can take: 

  • Buy less and more durable clothes: opt for slow fashion and invest in high-quality, long-lasting pieces.  
  • Avoid fast-fashion companies: Instead, support small local businesses, which are often more sustainable and ethical.  
  • Rent clothes: If you only plan to wear a particular item once, consider renting it instead of buying it.  
  • Buy used items: Purchase second-hand clothes from thrift stores, consignment shops, or online platforms.  
  • Swap clothes with friends: Organize a clothing swap party to give new life to your old clothes.  
  • Repair and upcycle your clothes: Learn basic sewing skills to mend or alter your clothes or get creative and upcycle them into something new.  
  • Resell or give clothes away online: Use online platforms to sell or give away clothes you no longer want.  
  • Reuse clothes: Get creative and repurpose clothes for different purposes, such as using a special occasion dress as an office outfit or turning old T-shirts into cleaning rags.  

By taking these steps, you can help reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Fast fashion harms the environment, economy, and garment workers’ rights, despite its appeal due to low prices and trendiness. It is crucial to recognize the genuine cost of fast fashion. 

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Neha Sharma

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