Ways that fast fashion is harmful
The Consequences of Fast Fashion: Fashion is an outlet people use to express themselves. People anxiously wait to see what the next trends are as seasons pass by. We buy anything that doesn’t break a bank, people buy a $10 shirt just because it’s cheap and they might not even wear it, but it’s all right, since it wasn’t expensive. As harmless and normal as that scenario sounds, the fashion industry has created the harmful concept that is “fast fashion”, in which stores sell an abundance of extremely cheap trendy clothing and “where deliveries are small and often, with stock delivered twice a week, for instant-access fashion. These stores persuade consumers through the means of television commercials, billboards, newspapers, and more ubiquitously use social media to make it seem as people need materialistic things to be happy.
But what is the true cost of that cheap $15 denim shirt really worth? Well, in Bangladesh, a major exporter of clothing can make it for $3.75 whereas the same shirt would cost $13.22 to make in the United States. Bangladesh workers have low wages and work in dangerous working conditions known as “sweatshops''. These sweatshops have led to thousands of deaths in third world countries. Globalisation has connected the world more than ever before and this integration has been primarily fuelled by the economy. While this process has created access to valuable opportunities, relationships and pathways, it has come at a cost to the environment, culture, human health and wellbeing 1. The fast fashion industry is booming as a result of globalisation, with garment manufacturing primarily found in developing countries, operating in factories of which some are known as sweat shops. Workers in these sweatshops are subjected to forced labour working conditions 2 which are completely unacceptable in any form. In addition, the fashion industry is known to have one of the highest, negative impacts on the environment with its level of affordability constantly increasing production demands. Australia has a responsibility to ensure companies manufacturing their products in developing countries conduct business in a fair and sustainable way and it is the Australian Commonwealth’s role to mandate that any product sold in Australia has been produced ethically. This essay will address that fast fashion is detrimental to the health of the environment and humans, leads to the importance of regulating fairer and more sustainable working conditions and presents a case study explaining how to recognise an ethical brand. It will acknowledge the counter argument presenting the risk of unemployment for workers within developing countries and finally conclude by reinforcing the role the Government has to mandate that any product sold in Australia has been produced ethically, protecting the health of workers as well as the natural environment. Fast fashion is indeed that – fast and often at the expense of the environment and human health. The business model has been described as focusing on high volume, rapid lead times and low prices 4 with leading retailers such as Zara and H&M known to introduce new designs into their stores every three to five weeks 5. The low prices are designed to appeal to the mass market ensuring consumers can afford a new look as often as clothes are rotated and displayed in store windows. Statistics show an emerging disposable culture as a result of these current fashion trends, with Australians throwing 6000kg of clothing into landfill every 10 minutes 6 and many of the discarded items are still in wearable condition 7.
Garment manufacturing is one of the highest polluting industries 8 and landfill is not the only environmental aspect affected. Clothing manufacturing relies on a large amount of resources for example, producing a simple cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water 9 as does the dyeing and printing processes and furthermore, the chemical run off into water streams, as a result of dyeing and printing, are toxic and considered harmful 10. Microfibres, which are shed from the fabric polyester during washing, are also entering waterways adding to the growing amount of plastic accumulating in our oceans 11. Machinery relying on fossil fuels is used for both the farming of cotton right through to transportation to retailers and industrial manufacturing machines that require energy to operate. Behind these negative environmental impacts are people, working extended hours and in immediate contact with these toxic substances. In order to keep up with buyers’ demand, workers in the garment industry are required to work in poor conditions while earning an income considered below the living wage 13, this is modern day slave labour. There are 40.3 million people currently estimated to be held in modern slavery conditions worldwide, including women and children and, 15,000 of those people are within Australia. There are many NGOs and not-for-profit organisations fighting for policy makers to take responsibility, to ensure companies manufacturing their products in developing countries conduct business in a fair and sustainable way 15.
For example, the Walk Free Foundation is “an international human rights organisation with a mission to end modern slavery” and in November 2018, celebrated the success of a major milestone which is, seeing the Australian Modern Slavery Act passed in Federal Parliament. This Act which the Walk Free Foundation explains, is “modelled on the UK Modern Slavery Act, will apply to all businesses with an annual turnover of more than $100 million”. This means businesses operating in Australia are, by law, required to report on operations within their supply chain, both here and internationally. This is a momentous step towards equality. Fashion Revolution is another influential not-for-profit organisation and their manifesto is “We love fashion, but we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet”. Fashion Revolution was established after the tragedy of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013 when, despite safety warnings, the building collapsed killing 1,138 and injuring 2,500 garment workers. Fashion Revolution harness ‘people power’ to raise awareness of social and environmental issues through their annual #whomademyclothes campaign. This campaign runs for one week, during the month of April (the anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse) and encourages consumers to photograph themselves wearing their favourite items of clothing, while asking #whomademyclothes – a hashtag which currently has 353,000 uses on Instagram.
Traceability is an important element required by a company claiming to operate with ethical practises and the Internet provides quick and easy access into policies and procedures made accessible on their websites. One efficient and reliable tool is the Good On You app, designed for the conscious consumer researching ethical and environmentally friendly brands. The app independently rates brands referring to over 50 certification schemes like Fair Trade, OEKO-TEX, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Guide, as well as assessing the public information of each individual company. The issues the Good On You app consider are ‘People’, ‘Planet’ and ‘Animals’ and brands are rated either ‘Great’, ‘Good’, ‘It’s a Start’, ‘Not Good Enough’ or ‘We Avoid’. Global brands such as Patagonia, who are considered an industry leader for ethical outdoor wear, are rated a ‘Great’
for labour and ‘Good’ for environment conditions and animal welfare. Cue, an Australian women’s wear label who has developed environmental policies and traces most of its supply chain, has been rated ‘Good’ for labour and environment and animal welfare has received ‘It’s a Start’. In contrast, Good On You states the brand Nike provides no evidence of paying a living wage for its workers and has been rated overall as ‘Not Good Enough’ and lists luxury fashion house Chanel as ‘We Avoid’, with ‘Very Poor’ ratings across Labour, Environment and Animal welfare. This raises inequity issues within luxury brands as well as those considered fast fashion.
Fast fashion accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions in the world and is the second largest industry when it comes to pollution behind the oil industry. ... Fast fashion is a major factor in the destruction and pollution of the environment. Thus, pollution is just one of the negative effects of fast fashion
- Dipshika Sen