When H&M came to the California, specifically the Bay Area, word spread quickly. H&M started in Europe, and finally arrived here, to the states. The clothing looked like good quality, and the prices were low, cheap even. It felt like consumers hit the jackpot with this retail store, on the surface. This isn’t the first retail store to offer cheap clothing, with what looked to be good quality clothing. But if you dive right below the surface of what retailers are marketing, you might find the harsh reality of what consumers are benefiting from.
In the past decade, fast fashion has become a growing problem. The Fashion Industry has sold us the idea that instead of four seasons each year, we have 52 seasons each year. Style and clothing becomes outdated as soon as you buy it. Fast Fashion focuses on speed and low product prices, so that they can deliver frequent, new collections inspired by celebrity styles or runway styles.
As you might guess, fast fashion’s marketing strategy includes creating vibrant prints, vibrant colors and eye catching prints to be more appealing to the consumers. However, much of these fabrics are treated with toxic chemicals in order to achieve the final product. The pressure to reduce the time it takes to get a product onto the retail display floor, results in more environmental pollution. Water pollution, the use of powerful toxic chemical and the increase of textile waste are a few of the negative environmental impacts.
Garmets that are made of fabrics such as polyester and polyamides shed microfibers into the waste waste, which continue to contribute to the increasing plastic in our ocean. The demand for more production, increases the amount of waste produced as well as increases the amount of clothing consumers subsequently buy and then get rid of.
The fashion industry feeds our addiction to garments, and they’re very good at it. The low prices and latest trends are great selling strategies. “Newer, bigger, better, faster, etc.” are emphasized in commercials, advertisements and all over social media. Fashion moves fast, and therefore, must continue to develop and market new products. We, as consumers, have a tendency to buy, because buying something new gives us some form of fulfillment (that’s another topic I’ll write about in the future). The combination of companies pumping out new products and our addiction to fulfill that want for new products, creates a perfect storm in creating excessive textile waste and the destruction of the environment.
There are quite a few companies who have been called out for their practice of discarding unsold clothing and garments by cutting them up, destroying them or even pouring paint on them, so they can’t be worn. In January 2017, outside of Nike SoHo, in New York, there were bags of shoes found that had been slashed with a blade. Ex employees of Michael Kors, Juicy Couture and Henri Bendel have come forward in revealing that they were instructed to smash watches, cut up track suits and tear up silk dresses before discarding. Ex Urban Outfitters employees have admitted to being instructed to destroy “dime-outs”, which is a term used for merchandise that didn’t sell. H&M, Zara, JC Penny and even Victoria’s Secret have come under fire for these types of wasteful practices. Their defense in the the destruction of unsold merchandise, is that they are protecting the brand and are worried that donating the unsold clothing would undercut their brand. By not donating the extra merchandise, consumers won’t be able to purchase these items for a discount at outlets and thrift stores.
Americans throw out 25 billion pounds of clothing each year; 15% is recycled, and the rest ends up in a landfill. Not only does “fast fashion” damage the environment, it also disregards the rights of its workers. Fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M search for cheap manufacturing labor in countries like Bangladesh and others.
Here comes some ugly truths about fast fashion.
- The fast fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
- The fast fashion industry is responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater.
- In 2015, the fast fashion industry used 80 billion cubic meters of freshwater.
- Production of textiles uses about 3500 different chemicals.
- Cotton is one of the most resource-intensive crops out there.
- We make 63% of clothes from petrochemicals.
- The fast fashion industry produces 97% of our clothes overseas.
- 40 million people work in the garment industry today.
- Dangerous working conditions exist for garment workers in the fast fashion industry.
- Fast fashion is predicted to increase ~60% by the year 2030.
- Between 1992 and 2002 the time we keep our clothes decreased by 50%.3
- We buy 2X more clothes than we did just 15 years ago (2015 data).
- The fashion industry produced 92 million tons of waste in 2015 alone.
- 85% of our old clothes end up in a landfill.
- Only about 1% of textile waste is truly recycled.
- With current technologies, it would take 12 years to recycle what the fast fashion industry creates in 48 hours
- Fast fashion is a huge contributor to plastic pollution.
There are a lot of people and factors involved, when considering the timeline of producing a garment. From the farming of cotton fields, to the workers who work to create the bales of cotton fibers in the cotton facilities, then dying and creating the fabric, or using the screens to print images and patterns on the shirts, than to the manufacturer selling and sending the product out to distribution centers; there are a lot of people involved in this process.
There are real dangers for garment workers, who work to help push out production for big companies. In 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Balngladesh, which housed the Dhaka garment factory, collapsed and left 1,134 people dead and left approximately 2,500 people injured. It was a an eight story building and collapsed due to a failing structural system that included an additional illegal three stories above the original permit. Even though an engineer had requested an inspection of the building, since it was deemed unsafe, unethical administrative players in this case, passed the building off as safe, and told the workers they should return to the factory and continue to work.
There’s speculation that perhaps the pressure to have the workers return to the factory the next day, was to continue to complete the garment orders on time. The demand for the garments were still flooding in, so slowing down production was not an option for the managers. The demand for fast fashion, low-cost clothing by clothing brands, dangerous conditions, non-union representation and low wages, is what the fast fashion industry creates.
Our resources for producing cheap and fast clothing is taking a toll on the environment, and people are starting to speak up and speak out about it. The bigger the industry is, the more impact it has on our natural resources. More companies are looking towards more sustainable materials such as hemp, linen, and wool.
Hemp material is a favorite of mine because it is a more sustainable material. It’s a very durable material, has UV protection qualities, water absorbent and breathable, no chemical fertilizers pesticides required during farming, naturally biodegradable, and highly antimicrobial. It grows quickly and can be grown in all different climates.
Linen is derived from the flax plant. Linen is 30% stronger than cotton and is known to be the strongest natural fiber. It’s thicker than cotton, but linen lasts longer than cotton too. Linen can absorb 20% moisture before it starts to feel damp. It has a natural ability to prevent bacterial growth, yet can move air and moisture through it’s hollow fibers easily.
There are options when the choice of introducing new garments into your wardrobe. You can shop at thrift stores, choose more sustainable materials for your wardrobe, or even choose to not buy clothing as often, to alleviate the textile waste created by the fashion industry. Apparel retailers such as Zara and H&M dominate the world of fast fashion, with Zara owner Inditex making 3.44 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in profit in 2018.
The second hand apparel market was worth $24 billion in the U.S. in 2018, versus $35 billion for fast-fashion, say the figures from GlobalData.
However, by 2028 the used-fashion market is set to skyrocket in value to $64 billion in the U.S., while fast-fashion will only reach $44 billion.By shopping at thrift stores, you can help keep clothing out of the landfill.
Even better, is to stop buying cheap clothing, invest in sustainable fashion clothing and stop buying unnecessary amounts of clothing.