Do you consider yourself a fashionable individual or can you not even remember the last time you stepped foot in a department store? No matter the answer, clothing is essential to our lives. People are always wearing clothing. However, the production of clothing has created numerous environmental and societal issues in recent years, especially with the rapid growth of the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” As a Fashion Merchandising major, the sustainability, or lack-there-of, within the fashion industry is a personal concern of mine. By informing others about fast fashion’s harsh environmental impact, the use of cruel and punitive labor tactics in producing garments and the obstacles to consuming ethically, I hope to shed light on the fashion industry’s growing issue.
According to Michael Shank and Maxine Bedat, “There are few industries fickler than fashion, changing annually and swapping seasonally.” With the fashion industry focused on a disposable model, the mass amounts of textile waste have surfaced many concerns relating to our planet and sustainability. With new trends emerging constantly, fashion retailers are pressured to regularly turn over their products, resulting in leftover product. In fact, the United States generates an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles per year of which only 15% is donated or recycled, and the remaining 85% goes to landfills, according to the Council for Textile Recycling. Additionally, the issue of textile waste has become more and more disastrous in recent years. For example, between 1999 and 2009 the volume of post-consumer textile waste generated grew by 40%, as reported by the Council for Textile Recycling.
Clearly, the fast fashion industry causes issues for the environment, but problems also persist in the societal aspect of the industry, especially in the production stage of clothing. To keep up with the rapid pace of fast fashion, the industry is relying on cheap labor, which causes problems in many developing countries Because the apparel industry has shifted to offering affordable garments, laborers in the lowest end of the wage spectrum must produce these pieces. According to Michael Shank and Maxine Bedat of MSNBC, “The industry has created jobs and lifted some people out of poverty,” but “the hard truth remains that low wages, forced labor, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and child labor are now rampant throughout apparel supply chains.” Often poor working conditions are overlooked, but they pose a fatal threat to lives of many. Specifically, the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza (a garment factory) in Bangladesh left hundreds injured or even dead. According to Julfikar Ali Manik and Jim Yardley of The New York Times, “An initial investigation found that the Rana Plaza building violated codes, with the four upper floors having been constructed illegally without permits.” Additionally, child labor is a rampant issue in many developing countries. Often, young girls are exploited in the production of cotton seed because of their agile fingers. Particularly, “In 2007, more than 400,000 children under the age of 18 were found to be employed in cotton seed farms” in India, as reported by The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). Overall, there is a blatant disregard for the humanity and quality of life of many individuals in the production stage of fashion industry.
After identifying the issues within the environmental and societal aspects of the fashion industry, it is important to recognize the consumer’s attitude toward fast fashion. One major conundrum that is often coupled with the fast fashion industry is the public’s perceived obstacles to consume sustainable garments. First of all, various people define “sustainability” very differently within the context of the fashion industry. Also, most consumers are not willing to consciously purchase a sustainable or ethical garment, unless it is convenient for them. Lisa McNeill and Rebecca Moore claim that “With regard to fashion purchasing, the majority of participants in the study tended to favor consumption options which meant they did not have to compromise their own desire for fashion.” Additionally, because fast fashion has overtaken the fashion industry, more ethical options are often limited. For example, on a local level, there are over two-dozen boutiques in downtown Athens. Of the numerous retailers, only a Community, Dynamite and Atomic offer sustainable options, either through the “up-cycling” of garments or the sale of vintage pieces. Therefore, purchasing sustainable clothing comes with a conscious effort; the consumer must be aware and passionate about these purchases. On the other hand, fast fashion purchases are often quick and affordable.
Clearly, the fast fashion industry puts strain on both the environment and society and makes it difficult for the consumer to make ethical purchases. First of all, the exponential growth of post-consumer textile waste poses a major threat to the environment, as billions of textiles are added to landfills each year. Also, the demand for cheap clothing requires cheap labor. This labor, often performed in terrible conditions and by children, creates threats the individual peoples involved in clothing production. Lastly, the ambiguity and limited amounts of sustainable clothing options make it difficult for consumers to easily purchase in an ethical manner. Although fast fashion may be cheap for the consumer, it comes at a steep price to the environment and society.
“The Facts About Textile Waste.” Council for Textile Recycling, 2017, http://www.weardonaterecycle.org. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.
“Fact Sheet: Child labour in the textile & garment industry.” SOMO (Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations), SOMO, Mar. 2014, www.somo.nl. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.
“Fast Fashion.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Inc., www.merriam-webster.com. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.
Manik, Julfikar Ali, and Jim Yardley. “Building Collapse in Bangladesh Leaves Scores Dead.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 24 Apr. 2013, www.nytimes.com. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.
McNeill, Lisa, and Rebecca Moore. “Sustainable fashion consumption and the fast fashion conundrum: fashionable consumers and attitudes to sustainability in clothing choice.” International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 39, 1 May 2015, pp. 212-22, eds.b.ebscohost.com. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.
Shank, Michael, and Maxine Bedat. “Analysis: Fast fashion comes at a steep price for the environment.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal Media, LLC, 21 May 2016, www.msnbc.com. Accessed 12 Feb. 2017.