Over time, clothes have changed in concept from a basic human need to a way for people to express their identity and personality, but it has become costly to keep up with the season's latest fashion trends. The term fast fashion was introduced to the public promising trendy clothes at a very reasonable price at a fast pace. Unfortunately, this happened at a disturbing environmental reality. The fast fashion industry is a global empire worth 90 billion dollars, yet is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of the world's water pollution. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is disposed of or burned. All these facts drive us to rethink what we always thought about the fast fashion industry.
As the fast fashion market expanded globally, companies like Zara and H&M moved their production to Asia; they were driven by two things cheap labor and lack of any binding environmental regulations. Two decades later, with 44,000 textile manufacturing companies, China became a temple for producing fast fashion clothes for major brands like Zara, Nike, and SHEIN. However, this thrive came at a huge environmental price. Approximately 70% of the rivers and lakes in China are contaminated. Due to a lack of regulations, the textile industry discharge about 2.5 billion gallons of toxic chemical waste in nearby waterways. Five hundred million residents in China depend on the li river's chemically contaminated water for drinking, bathing, and irrigation as they don't have any other source. Over time, chemicals altered life in the river and caused the water to change from crystal clear to whatever the season's color. As the Asian market grew beyond China, Bangladesh fought hard to be an integral member of the garment supply chain market and became Asia's second garment market producer. Hard work and clothes dye chemicals can be smelled in every part of Dhaka in Bangladesh, especially in the rivers. Twenty years ago, local fishermen used to catch fishes from the river and sell them in the local market; now, the Buriganga river is considered dead in every possible way from all the chemicals and fabrics which are thrown into the river without supervision. When the production process moved to Asia, facilities weren't prepared to handle this magnificent leap in production. For example, in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, home of 446 production textile factories for brands like Adidas, production chemical waste is barely treated when dumped in the river through an underground pipe. Moreover, factories build underground hidden shared pipes making it hard to hold any brand responsible for this environmental disaster. As a result, most people living around The Citarum River suffer from skin conditions and, in some cases, cancer. When environmental activists tried to take some corrective actions and confronted factories, some denied the allegation, leaving citizens suffocating from air and water pollution.
What’s next for the Fast Fashion industry:
Sustainable fashion is not just a trend. While still producing trendy clothes that fit consumers' needs and tastes, companies must become more environmentally friendly and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C and meet the Paris Agreement target requirements. One of the main steps companies need to adopt is eliminating the use of synthetic fabrics such as polyester and look for more sustainable alternatives, for example, sustainable polyester and organic dye materials. Polyester is derived from fossil fuels and takes years to break down. Around 70 million barrels of oil annually are used to make polyester fibers; right now, polyester makes up 55 percent of clothes globally. Some brands have taken profound, sustainable steps. For example, in 2013, giant cloth manufacturer Primark started the sustainable cotton initiative, one of the most significant initiatives in the fashion industry. Typically, cotton is a water-thirsty crop taking about 2,000 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans, which is enough to sustain one human drinking 8 cups of water a day for ten years. However, sustainable cotton farming methods have managed to decrease water usage by 4% and take fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Now, sustainable cotton accounts for 14% of all the company clothes. Also, some companies like Zara and Levi's have successfully established collection points for recycling clothes to reduce the throwaway culture and give clothes a second life.
Being environmentally sustainable goes further than the labels you choose to buy from. When it comes to shopping, buying clothes has never been easier, so caring for your purchases is the key to ensuring they last as long as possible and don't end up getting thrown away. So next time you're being ambushed by the fast fashion industry or social media influences to think about a wardrobe change to match the latest fashion trend, before carefully choosing what item goes with what, consider taking only a minute to think; this is happening at what environmental cost.
David, J.C. (2022) How the Fast Fashion Industry destroys the environment, H2OM. Available at: https://www.shoph2om.com/blog-article/how-the-fast-fashion-industry-destroys-the-environment (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Davis, N. (2020) Fast fashion speeding toward environmental disaster, report warns, The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/apr/07/fast-fashion-speeding-toward-environmental-disaster-report-warns (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Gokkon, B. (2022) Three-fourths of waste in Jakarta’s notoriously polluted rivers is plastic, Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: https://news.mongabay.com/2022/08/three-fourths-of-waste-in-jakartas-notoriously-polluted-rivers-is-plastic/ (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Maiti, R. (2023) Fast fashion: Its detrimental effect on the environment, Earth.Org. Available at: https://earth.org/fast-fashions-detrimental-effect-on-the-environment/ (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
McFall-Johnsen, M. (2019) The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet., Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10?r=US&IR=T (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Marquis, C. (2023) What fast fashion can and should learn from fast food’s sustainable evolution, Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/christophermarquis/2023/04/25/what-fast-fashion-can-and-should-learn-from-fast-foods-sustainable-evolution/ (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Pinnock, O. (2019) How sustainable is Primark’s Sustainable Cotton Program?, Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/oliviapinnock/2019/09/10/how-sustainable-is-primarks-sustainable-cotton-programme (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Reports, S. (2023) Living along a ‘dead’ river in Bangladesh, Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/earth-day-bangladesh-river/ (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Ro, C. (2020) Can fashion ever be sustainable?, BBC Future. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothes-good-for-the-climate (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Sakib, S.N. (2023) Garment industry in Bangladesh struggles to contain pollution, Eco. Available at: https://www.eco-business.com/news/garment-industry-in-bangladesh-struggles-to-contain-pollution/ (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Santi, A. (2023) How to make your wardrobe sustainable, BBC Future. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20230502-how-to-make-your-wardrobe-sustainable (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Thomas , C. (2022) How sustainable initiatives are shaping the fashion world, UAL. Available at: https://www.arts.ac.uk/study-at-ual/short-courses/stories/how-sustainable-initiatives-are-shaping-the-fashion-world (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Verderosa, F. (2022) Ripple effect: How fashion is contributing to water pollution, Fashion Takes Action. Available at: https://fashiontakesaction.com/articles/ripple-effect-how-fashion-is-contributing-to-water-pollution/ (Accessed: 04 June 2023).
Webber, K. (2022) How fast fashion is killing rivers worldwide, EcoWatch. Available at: https://www.ecowatch.com/fast-fashion-riverblue-2318389169.html (Accessed: 04 June 2023).