Over the past year, the infamous fast fashion brand SHEIN has surpassed other major fast fashion brands, such as H&M and Zara. SHEIN is known for its insanely low prices and variety of clothing options.
Although that sounds tempting enough, the issue is majorly in the low labor wages in China, as well as the extremely unsustainable measures to tailor these items. SHEIN is just one of the many fast fashion brands that has gained popularity. It seems as though everyone acknowledges how unsustainable these brands are, yet no one seems to stop buying from them.
Investopedia describes fast fashion as “A term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of trends. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to purchase the hot new look or the next big thing at an affordable price. “
The idea is to get the latest trends on the marketplace as fast as possible so consumers can keep up with the height of popularity of the item. Sadly, after the trend is finished, those clothes get disregarded.
Now, with online shopping, companies like Zara, TopShop and H&M have dominated fast fashion, making it even easier to order an article of clothing online that arrives on your doorstep a week later.
There are many issues with the idea of fast fashion – the main issues revolving around environmental destruction, labor conditions and exploitations.
There are 92 million tons of textile waste created each year worldwide. By 2030, it is expected that we will discard more than 134 million tons of textiles per year. In 2018, 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills, which can take up to 200 years to decompose. To this day, 84% of clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators.
The fashion industry is also the second biggest consumer of water, producing 20% of wastewater worldwide. The industry is also generating more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Cheap textiles also increase fast fashion’s impact. Polyester, which is derived from fossil fuels, is one of the most popular fabrics. The fabric contributes to global warming, and can shed microfibres that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans when washed.
Even fabrics that are advertised as “natural,” such as cotton, silk or wool, can be a problem at the scale of fast fashion demands. Conventional cotton requires enormous quantities of water and pesticides in developing countries, which results in drought risks and creates extreme stress on water basins and competition for resources between companies and local communities.
Garment workers are often forced to work 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. During peak season changes, they may work until 2 or 3 am to meet the fashion brand’s deadline. Basic wages are often so low that workers would be fired if they refused overtime. In some cases, overtime is not even paid at all.
The minimum wage varies by region, which is between $ 161 and $ 357 per month, falling far short of the estimated living wage of $ 778 per month.
In addition to low pay and long hours, garment workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions and environments on the daily. In 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza killed 1,134 garment workers in Savar, Bangladesh. This tragic accident revealed the unacceptable and upsetting working conditions of the fashion industry to the world of consumers.
Garment workers usually work with no ventilation; they breathe in toxic substances and inhale fiber dust. Accidents, fires, injuries and disease are very frequent occurrences on textile production sites.
Since January 2021, 131 workers have died and 279 were injured in garment and textile factories in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Morocco, China and Cambodia, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign.
Child labor is also very common in the fashion industry because of the low-skill labor requirements. There are 160 million children in the world who are forced to work. In South India, there are over 100,000 girls who work under the Sumangali scheme, which is a practice that sends girls from poor families to work in textile factories for up to five years in exchange for basic wages and money at the end to pay for their dowry, money brought by a bride to her husband. This practice is classified as modern slavery.
So, after all of this horrible and upsetting information, why do we still continue to buy fast fashion? The fact of the matter is: it’s cheap, efficient and stays with the current trends. Not everyone has the funds to drop $ 100 on a pair of jeans or $ 50 on a shirt.
In March 2022, Good For You published an article for its readers on the “41 Most Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Brands from the USA” that features a plethora of different small business brands that focus on sustainability and ethical practices in the fashion industry.
Along with researching brands that focus on sustainability and bettering the fashion world, buying second hand clothing is another great way to recycle clothing and give it a new home.
Kristine Nguyen wrote an article for Brightly on how to sustainability let go of unwanted clothingincluding great solutions like upcycling pieces or composting natural clothing.
There are a ton of great resources out there for people wanting to learn more about the issues surrounding fast fashion and the fashion industries, as well as a lot of solutions and resources available to start shopping ethically.
Problems with the fashion industry and fashion consumers can be linked to so many other issues that result in people continuing to purchase fast fashion and why companies are continuing to produce fast fashion.
Issues like this include heightening clothing prices, the fast-paced changing of trends and social media influencers that encourage consumption of these trends. It is difficult for consumers to justify purchasing a shirt for $ 50 when it is available elsewhere for much cheaper. It is hard to care about the implications of fast fashion when regular clothing prices have skyrocketed.
It’s a huge issue to tackle that won’t go away in a night, or in a decade for that matter. This is a major issue that is going to take patience and time to revert the fashion industry into something that is sustainable, worker-friendly, affordable and durable.
Macy Berendsen can be reached at [email protected]