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Fast Fashion: How it is affecting the environment

Created on 05 May 2022

Wraps up in 5 Min

Read by 1.8k people

Updated on 10 Sep 2022

Your OOTD is toxic. Your future generation is going to suffer just because you want to copy that good-looking celebrity!

We all know 'our time on earth is limited.' The year is 2022. What we must also know is that the earth's time is limited. Mars and Moon are not ready to have us on board just yet. We change our clothes faster than Mother Nature changes her seasons. And she is unable to keep up with our trends. In this blog post, let's decode how fashion is choking the earth and how each one of us, in our blind pursuit of fashion, is digging our graves.

What is Fast Fashion?

Before the industrial revolution, people made their own clothes. They sourced organic materials, weaved their own fabric, cut, hemmed, and sewed them on their own. There were hardly any big or fancy embellishments. Clothes were repaired, worn and re-worn. 

The Industrial Revolution took the fashion world by storm. In the 1760s, James Hargreaves introduced the spinning jenny. In 1846, the first sewing machine was patented. The price of clothing fell, and the scale of production exploded. By the 1950s, fashion had become an integral part of one's personality. 

Come the 1990s, fast fashion houses like Zara, Mango, and H&M, made clothing incredibly cheap, 'democratic', and disposable. Imagine yourself, sitting in a high-end luxury fashion show. You come back home, quickly ape all its designs, produce them with cheap material and even cheaper labour. You then put up these clothes on display and market them as 'exclusive'. Every 14 days, you change your stock, creating a sense of scarcity and urgency amongst your customers. In the entire process, you give them trendy new clothes at super cheap rates and a rush of dopamine or shopper's high! And this is precisely what fast fashion is.

Thanks to fast fashion, fashion trends have been rendered more volatile than global equity markets!

Fashion in figures (I mean numbers)

Ever wondered what the carbon footprint of your wardrobe is? Fashion is innately damaging to the environment. Add fast fashion to it, and it becomes the perfect recipe for disaster. A study conducted in the UK on the consumption of different types of fibres revealed their carbon footprint as under -

 

Fibre

Greenhouse gas emissions

(kg CO2-eq per tonne of fibre)

Nylon

8070

Viscose

2118

Acrylic

7577

Polyester

5357

Here is what the World Bank has to say about fashion–

  • The fashion industry's yearly water consumption stands at 93 billion cubic meters. That is enough to meet the needs of 50 lac people.

  • 20% of global wastewater comes from fabric dyeing and treatment alone

  • 10% of worldwide total annual carbon emission comes from the fashion industry. This is more than all international and maritime shipping combined.

  • 50 lac tons of plastic microfibres from your clothes are dumped into the ocean. 50 lac tons of plastic = 500 crore plastic bottles. The fish eat this plastic, and we eat the fish. 

Under pressure from environmental activism, fast fashion brands have come up with bizarre solutions and tall claims -

a) Can you tell who has Uniqlo partnered with as its "Green Sustainability Partner"? Nobita's BFF Doraemon (don't ask why or how. The world is equally perplexed)

b) Fast fashion brand H&M says its Conscious collection contains 50% more sustainable products. It also offers discounts in exchange for recyclable clothes.

c) Mango says 79% of its garments are already sustainable.

d) In 2019, Inditex, Zara's parent company, announced that by 2025, 100% of the cotton, linen and polyester used would be "organic, sustainable or recycled".

e) Same goes for Levis. It promises to use 100% sustainably sourced cotton by 2025, run entirely on renewable energy, and reduce 50% water usage in manufacturing in the water-stressed areas of the world by 2030.

Wondering how real are these claims? Experts suggest as real as Doraemon. It is here that I'd like to introduce you to the concept of 'Greenwashing'. Greenwashing, much like brainwashing, is misleading people into believing that you are doing something meaningful for the environment when in reality, you are doing nothing. Add the words 'eco-friendly' and 'sustainable' to your labels, and they will sell like hotcakes. Another example of greenwashing - in 2009, McDonald's changed its logo from yellow and red to yellow and green. That's it. So much for the environment or the optics, perhaps?

Changing Markets Foundation, an NGO based in the Netherlands, released a report this year – "License to Greenwash: How certification schemes and voluntary initiatives fuel fossil fashion". The report alleges that brands' certifications (sustainable fashion, organic fashion, etc.) lack transparency and accountability. Brands in the garb of being 'eco-friendly' greenwash their customers and escape government scrutiny.

Now that we understand the gravity of the problem let's look for possible solutions.

Redefining fashion

Here are some simple steps using which you and I can become a part of the solution–

1. In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi started the Swadeshi movement. Salt and the humble handspun fabric called Khadi did all the heavy lifting. More than a century later, we need Khadi as much as we needed it then. A metre of Khadi needs only 3 litres of water. The same quantity of mill produced fabric uses 55 litres of water. Since the spinning and weaving are done by hand, khadi's carbon footprint is zero.

2. Investing for the long term should apply not just to equity shares but also to clothing and fashion.

3. Be mindful of how you wash your clothes. Using a full load machine can reduce energy and water consumption. Washing with warm/ hot water uses less energy than washing with cold water. Likewise, front loader machines use less water than top loader machines and also cause fewer emissions.

4. Unleash your creativity by using old clothes in new ways. Reuse and repair clothes. There is no shame in repeating dresses. Borrowing your siblings' clothes is an integral part of Indian culture. 😁 Keep it alive.

5. Your virtues define you, not the clothes you wear. Own things; don't let things own you. Remember, brands use marketing tactics and psychological tricks to fool you. Stop falling for them.

Conclusion

A quote that I read somewhere said, "Fashion is so dirty, you need to change it every 6 months". Well, thanks to fast fashion, we need to change it every 14 days! A significant reason for the massive heatwave sweeping across the country can be the dress that you are wearing. Fashion isn't supposed to be fickle. It's meant to be timeless. 

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Ruchika lives by what Victor Hugo said, "What makes night within us, may leave stars." And believes that you should too. She sometimes writes book reviews on her Instagram page - comeletusread

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