Deadly costs of ‘fast fashion’

MM Uddin       
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When the western world is suffering from solid waste impact of ‘fast fashion, many other countries like Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam are suffering various problems for ‘fast fashion’ concept, philosophy of quick manufacturing at an affordable price, which is used in large retailers such as H&M, Zara, Adidas, Peacocks, Primark, Xcel Brands, and Topshop. These brands are speeding up trends and shortening fashion seasons, giving clothing shorter lives in our closets and setting a mindset of needing more, more, more. As a result, we are consuming too much in too little time and overflowing landfills with clothing.

Only for maximizing profit, the prominent brands are promoting fast fashion concept, which is destroying our planet and creating obstacles to produce our items more ethically and sustainably regarding both nature and people.

Figure 1: Some latest collections of Fast Fashion brand ‘Zara’. Inditex, the owner of Zara is one of the leaders in ‘Fast Fashion’.
Figure 1: Some latest collections of fast fashion brand ‘Zara’. Inditex, the owner of Zara is one of the leaders in ‘fast fashion’.

“It used to be four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11 or 15 or more,” says Tasha Lewis, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design. To meet the demand of fast fashion retailers, suppliers’ countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia are producing garment items within a short time using labour in cheap rate. Most of the cases, these countries cannot maintain workers and factory safety properly as they have an urgency to provide the products in low price. That price is not enough for a sustainable business situation and does not ensure better life of the workers. Tazreen Fashion Fire and Rana Plaza building collapse, these two incidents

and a string of other disasters in garment factories across South Asia exposed the deadly cost of “fast fashion” to workers who produce clothes under strict deadlines for very low wages.

Figure 2: Activists protest in Brussels on the first anniversary in 2014 of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapse. (Credit: Francois Lenoir/Reuters)
Figure 2: Activists protest in Brussels on the first anniversary in 2014 of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapse. (Credit: Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

However, the retailers ultimately are doing huge profit.  The top fast fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, topping the 6.8 percent of the growth of traditional apparel companies, according to financial holding company CIT. Fashion is big business, estimates vary, but one report puts the global industry at $1.2 trillion, with more than $250 billion spent in the U.S. alone. In 2014, the average household spent an average $1,786 on apparel and related services.

A campaign of H&M to promote fast fashion is really very appealing. They said, “We believe fashion is far too precious to end up in landfills. That is why in 2013, we launched our garment collecting initiative worldwide. You can drop off your unwanted garments – no matter what brand and what condition – in all our H&M stores across the globe.” This campaign attracts millions of consumers to buy more and more products to adopt new trends. However, how many consumers give back their used products to the brands-it is a question.

Real future of the old cloths

A report on Guardian said, a recent survey by Sainsbury’s suggested three quarters of householders in Britain chuck old clothes out with their household waste. On the other hand, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded. In 2012, 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States went into either a landfill or an incinerator. Most of the American’s next step is likely to throw their old clothes in the trash.

According to Bloomberg, H&M’s products are helping a Swedish power plant reduce the use of coal by burning clothes instead. The Vasteras plant burned about 15 tons of discarded clothes from H&M so far in 2017, compared with about 400,000 tons of trash. Bestseller (the parent company of Vero Moda and Jack & Jones) burned even more clothing than H&M last year in Denmark, and luxury labels are known to destroy unsold clothes. These brands have shown the world that damaged clothes do not deserve to be fixed, rather, that they should be thrown onto the flames because recycling would be too expensive and time-consuming. Burning of old cloth and unsold cloth shows us that the logic behind the fast fashion concept is not working, rather, real reason behind the concept to maximize profit is being successful. However, who is paying for making the brands successful? Of course, they are the labour and millers of supplying countries.

Retailers and brands like H&M, Zara cannot avoid the responsibility of poor conditions in their manufacturing factories as fast fashion directly affects workers in third world countries in regards to poor work wages and conditions. It is deliberately affecting the living environment as well. Natural fibers sitting in landfills create greenhouse gases, just like food waste. On the other hand, synthetic fibers would take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to biodegrade.

A report titled ‘Transcript of Fast Fashion and the Environmental Crisis’ published on Prezi suggested closed-loop technology is a method where a product is recycled into an almost identical product. It mimics the natural process of life, and there is virtually no waste. But it would only work with pure cotton, meaning none of the clothing manufactured currently would be suitable for this method.

Actually, it is a demand of time to create awareness and being more conscious of our consumption. If more consumers go for ‘sustainable fashion’ instead of ‘fast fashion’, the world could have been a better place.

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