The Truth About Fast Fashion
Fashion is a universal topic. As something that everyone can relate to, fashion provides us with both functionality and expression, and is one of the integral things that set us apart from one another. And in recent years, fast fashion retailers have become shrines to choice — driven by consumer demands for a wider variety of cheap, on-trend clothing at an increasingly faster rate.
What is fast fashion? Put simply, it’s a business model that propagates the mass production of clothing at breakneck speed for sale in mass market retail stores. Forever21, H&M and Zara are some examples of this. These stores churn out shirts that go for as low as $5 and jeans that may only set you back $10.
How do they do this? You may not want to know, but it’s crucial we find out.
Here are 3 big reasons why you might want to rethink your next fast fashion purchase.
1. The garment workers who make these clothes face harrowing conditions daily.
The reason you had to pay only $19.90 for that top you bought is because somewhere else, a garment worker is getting $0.19 for the work they’re doing. And this is how fast fashion retailers push their prices so low. They do so by subcontracting their manufacturing overseas to the lowest bidders.
In turn, garment workers are made to work an estimated 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for a wage that can barely feed them. Many are forced to produce an average of 20 items in a single hour to support a punishing production rate.
You may also have heard of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, in which a 1,000 Bangladeshi garment workers were killed.
On top of the poor remuneration, garment workers often have to work under subpar conditions, facing issues such as overcrowding, insufficient ventilation and an overall lack of proper infrastructure.
Such sweatshops have long been linked to well-known brands such as Gap, Nike and H&M.
2. Fast fashion production is notoriously harmful for the environment and exerts a huge strain on our Earth's resources.
Elizabeth L. Cline who wrote the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, said:” Buying clothing, and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.”
We see this weight in a lot of different ways. For instance, did you know that one cotton shirt takes roughly 2,700 gallons (more than 10,000 litres) of water to produce? That’s equivalent to about 2.5 years of drinking water for a single adult. In contrast, a pair of jeans could take up to 8 years of drinking water to produce. In her book, Cline also stated that fibre production now requires an estimated amount of 145 million tonnes of coal.
These are just some of the more shocking environmental statistics when it comes to fast fashion – rest assured there’s loads more. From clothing dye pollution to deforestation, the industry continues to be one of the most environmentally-damaging industries globally.
3. Cheaper clothes have encouraged a throwaway culture that has led to a mounting textile waste issue — both locally and globally.
Lastly, it’s not just about the environmental costs that come with clothing production — it’s also about the issues that exist at the other end of the clothing lifecycle, when consumers get rid of the items they’ve purchased.
According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, an estimated garbage truck full of textiles (roughly 12 to 14 tonnes) is wasted every second. This is worsened by current production volumes, which are still increasing. However, the rate of clothing utilisation (that is, the number of times a piece of clothing is worn before disposal) for an average consumer continues to drop, resulting in a growing textile waste issue.
To put things into perspective: locally, we created a staggering 217,900 tonnes of textile waste in 2018 alone, which is equivalent to an estimated 277 million items of clothing. Of this, only 6% is recycled. The rest go to our Semakau landfill which (as you may have seen on the news) will only last us till 2035. Yet, a third of Singaporeans admitted to throwing away clothing after wearing it just once.
Something has to change.
One way we can tackle this from the ground up is to consume more consciously by both buying better and discarding better. There are loads of sustainable alternatives to buying fast fashion! Options such as buying second-hand, swapping, donating or reselling are all viable ways to ensure that we get the most out of our clothing.
We hope that some of the statistics you’ve seen so far will inspire you to make more informed fashion choices in the future.