To understand the impact that fast fashion generates and has generated, let's first look at its definition.
Fast fashion is a business model that focuses on producing pieces of clothing directly inspired by catwalks, Fashion Weeks, celebrities and offering them immediately to consumers at competitive prices.
Therefore, the core of the fast fashion model focuses on producing pieces of clothing with a very short life cycle, reducing production costs as much as possible, in most cases using practices that are far removed from what we can call ethical.
The aim of the fast fashion industry is to increasingly reduce costs and speed up the production process.
WHAT FABRICS DO THEY USE?
In order to maintain these low prices and reduce production costs, one of the points on which the fast fashion industry focuses is on fabrics and dyes.
They opt for cheap, chemical dyes and their compounds seep into rivers and seas, causing the fashion industry to be considered the second biggest polluter of clean water in the world after agriculture. The documentary River Blue (2016), which chronicles the impact caused by fast fashion, shows how the water in many rivers in Asia has become a public health crisis with a high incidence of cancer, gastric and skin problems, affecting those who work in the textile industry or live nearby.
The fabrics used to make fast fashion garments also have a harmful impact on the planet. Among the most popular fabrics used in this industry are:
Polyester, derived from fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming and can shed microfibres into our oceans when washed. For a piece of polyester to decompose, it takes at best 20 years and at worst 200 years, depending on its condition.
Cotton or organic cotton may seem like a good option as it is a natural fabric but it requires enormous amounts of water and pesticides to grow. To give you an idea; a basic cotton T-shirt needs approximately 2,000 litres of water to be produced. OK, let's look at another example; in India, where approximately 100 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, the water used in cotton production would be enough to supply 84% of the population with 100 litres of water every day of the year.
In addition to causing an environmental problem, fast fashion also creates a problem for all the people who come into contact with its industry.
Working conditions in the fashion industry
Most of the clothes offered by the fast fashion industry are manufactured in countries where workers' rights are minimal or non-existent. Although the argument of many is that "at least they have a job", "this is better than nothing"? To some extent, they are right! But why is the industry taking advantage of poor populations who have no choice but to work for any wage and for any working condition.
But don't many brands say that they pay the legal base wage to their workers?
Although some brands say that they pay the legal base wage to their workers according to the country where they are working, the base wage does not ensure a living wage to survive on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, in most of the countries where manufacturing takes place (Bangladesh, China...) the minimum wage represents between half and a fifth of the living wage.
ENDLESS WORKING HOURS...
Workers are often forced to work 14-16 hours a day. During the high season, their working hours increase in order to meet the delivery deadlines of the brands. They are forced to accept these conditions because their wages are very low and they need any source of income to support themselves.
According to Unicef, 168 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are forced to work. The most common industries are those requiring unskilled labour. A very common practice in South India is to force girls from poor families to work in the textile industry in exchange for pay, a practice which, although prohibited, is still carried out and is considered "modern slavery".
ORGANISING IN TRADE UNIONS IS PROHIBITED
In most of these factories, workers are not allowed to organise in trade unions. This is possible because of the laws of the governments where these factories are located, as well as the specific regulations of the export zones. For example, in Bangladesh only 10% of the 4,500 garment factories have a registered trade union.
Factories also threaten and physically attack union members or dismiss them with impunity. Moreover, the pressure not to form unions goes further. Garment factories threaten and physically attack union members or fire them with impunity and encourage other workers not to organise.
We know it is hard to read this kind of information. This is happening today in the textile industry and it is a reality for most of its workers. Before buying, let's think if we really need this garment and if it is worth wearing it knowing all the history behind it. Nobody is perfect and living in coherence with our values is very difficult if not impossible. But if we are more and more conscious of our actions and we consume, little by little, products from brands that share our values, we will gradually change things. Good things take time.
If you don't know where to start, here is a step-by-step guide to a sustainable wardrobe, with tips that will help you to organise your clothes and enjoy the clothes in your wardrobe 100% ethically. Download here!