The current COVID-19 Pandemic has cast some more light on the dark realities of the fast fashion industry. Labels are growing bigger and the supply chain is shrinking and suffering fastly. “Fast fashion” is a term used by fashion retailers to describe inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. As a result of this trend, the tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is being challenged. Today, it is not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in a single week to stay on-trend.”
If you saw yourself waiting in long queues at the Zara or H&M stores for trying on clothes and then billing for them before COVID-19, it was because you were actively drawn towards consuming fast fashion. ‘Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year; H&M offers 12 to 16 and refreshes them weekly.’ But why is fast fashion a trouble? And for whom? Let’s discuss that.
Down the Context Lane
Fast fashion always pawed the labor intensely with very little capital. Mass marketing has been its ally. And where do they make this formula work is no surprise- The developing countries! The affluent countries mobilize laborers in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, and so on at cheap wages, (so the production cost is really really low) and sell these clothes in the affluent countries at really really low prices. This mesh of low-cost production and heavy consumption makes the fast fashion industry ‘the most labor-dependent industry’ (Ross & Morgan 2015). (14)
The fast-fashion model is a “streamlined system involving rapid design, production, distribution, and marketing” (Cohen 2011) The ‘fast’ supply was a need to meet the growing and swiftly changing consumer demands and expectations. Fast fashion disrupted the fashion pyramid to provide consumers new fashions rapidly and at cheap prices. (15)
Impact on the environment
‘Each year, the clothing that is simply thrown away amounts to about 11 million tons in the US alone.’
Now the danger is not only in the discard but the emission of the harmful chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides (to grow cotton) used in making these apparel into the air, land, and water. The production of these clothes leads to overconsumption of water and the emission of greenhouse gases. ‘0.6 – 1.7 million tons of microfibres end up in the ocean every year (IUCN).
The microfibres used to produce the synthetic fast fashion apparel eventually enter the seas and oceans, harming the marine ecosystem magnanimously. Furthermore, microplastics are dangerous for the food chain resulting in bioaccumulation.
Exploitation of humans
Tansy E. Hoskins has discussed the poor conditions in which laborers work in the factories set up by the big fast fashion labels. The countries these companies outsource the production of clothes to have a low standard of living, thereby proving very little or no unemployment support, health insurance, and decent safety measures. They pay these workers (bound by contracts) at the last, when the collection has provided them has fetched the companies their revenues.
The rising influencer culture on social media is somewhere fueling the dangerous impact of fast fashion on our planet. Haul videos, getting your hands on dupes of luxury brand (a way to satiate the aspiration gap for luxury fashion brands), affiliate marketing, discounts, and intensive e-commerce growth are affecting the consumer behaviors.
The COVID-19 threats
Many labels have stopped paying their contractual laborers their agreed wages because the pandemic has halted their sales growth. If companies keep from paying the workers in the less rich countries, they may lose out on their production hosts post-pandemic. Further, using masks every day will require fabrics to be skin-friendly. The only way out is the production and consumption of sustainable fashion.
Why chose sustainable and fashionable?
The global community at some point has to swim in the recent currents of sustainable and eco-friendly fashion to protect themselves, the environment, and the workers who produce apparel.
‘People also tend to prioritize ease of purchase and price of an item over sustainability, according to a 2018 report that surveyed nearly 700 shoppers ages 18 to 37.’
The responsibility to sustainability is a collective one.
‘The production of polyester textiles alone emits about 706 million tons of greenhouse gases a year, and hundreds of gallons of water go into making a cotton garment.’ Many companies have been turning their blind eye towards sustainability. For instance, ‘H&M and Levi’s have each partnered with I:CO to collect clothing and footwear for reuse and recycling.’ The report- Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula has listed some steps that companies can take to magnify their actions towards sustainable production of clothes.