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From Runway to Landfill: Unraveling the Consequences of Fast Fashion

Polluted water and chemicals coming out of a hoard of clothes

Image credits- kawan.kontinentalist


summary

This article delves into the deceptive facade of fashion, exposing the dark underbelly of fast fashion. It traces the industry's evolution, highlighting detrimental practices like waste and environmental impact. Examining marketing strategies and the Rana Plaza tragedy, it urges collective action for sustainable choices and ethical practices in the fashion industry, emphasizing readers' roles in shaping a healthier future.

 

In the glamourous world of fashion, the trends are evolving at the speed of a runway strut but behind this glamor remains the dark reality of fast fashion. Characterized by rapid transitions from fashion shows to stores, fast fashion has become an essential part of the wardrobes of millions worldwide. But beneath the seemingly endless options lie the complex and concerning issues that go far beyond fabric and sewing. From labor to environmental degradation, fast fashion’s challenges are woven into customers' fabric worldwide.


Fashion’s Trillion-Dollar Landscape

The fast fashion industry was valued at USD 93.6 billion in 2023 and is projected to reach USD 167.50 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 7.70% from 2023 to 2030. The world’s second richest person, Bernard Arnault, a French billionaire, owns fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon, and Hennessy. He is also the CEO of luxury conglomerate LVMH. The apparel market size was valued at $2,005 billion in 2022. The apparel market will grow at a CAGR of more than 4% during 2022-2027. The global market value of the fast fashion market worldwide is forecasted to reach a value of approximately 185 billion U.S. dollars. The fashion industry accounts for 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The United States fashion industry alone is valued at approximately 343.70 billion dollars.


The Fast Lane: Unraveling the History and Evolution of Fast Fashion

Charles Fredrick Worth was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments that he created in the late 1800’s. So, was this the beginning of fast fashion? Certainly not. The fast fashion hype came around the 2000’s. That was when the companies started increasing their sales, perhaps for the betterment of industry but the decay of the environment. But how can clothes be the root cause of the decay of the environment? We will get there soon as we continue the study. The clothes in the initial stages of fashion were made from plants, animal skins, and bones. The concept of fast fashion can be traced back to the post-World War II era when economic recovery led to an increase in consumer demand for affordable clothing. Mass production techniques were adopted to meet this demand and the fashion industry began its transition from exclusive, high-end designs to more accessible, ready-to-wear clothing.


From Catwalk to Closet: The Fast Fashion Phenomenon and its Environmental Toll

Fast fashion is a model of quickly producing and distributing inexpensive, trendy clothing, often associated with negative environmental and ethical impacts. The collections are frequently grounded on styles presented at Fashion Week runway shows or those worn by celebrities. The traditional apparel assistant model operates seasonally with the fall fashion week displaying styles for the forthcoming spring/summer and the spring fashion week showcasing aesthetics for the following fall/ downtime. There are also often pre-fall and pre-spring or resort collections. In contrast to these four seasons, fast-fashion labels produce about fifty-two “micro-seasons'' a year—or one new “collection” a week - of clothes meant to be worn immediately instead of months later. This was done to ensure customers bought clothes more often, ensuring profits for these companies. This concept of fast fashion may be deceptive. According to Watson & Wolfe in  Europe, back in the 2000s fashion companies would launch two fashion collections each year. In 2011, this changed to five collections per year. Nowadays, H&M offers between 12 to 16 collections annually, whilst Zara puts out 24 collections every year. In 2014, consumers purchased around 60% more garments than in 2000, but only kept the clothes for half as long. To make this plan a success, it was important for the producers to manufacture clothes speedily and for the customers to discard the clothes as fast. On average, an American discards about 30 kgs of clothes per year. Another study also says that an American buys about 68 garments per year. Every year, 92 million tonnes of textile waste is generated which can fill about 1700 Titanic ships. These clothes are not being discarded or thrown away because they are defective. They are being discarded because they “aren’t in fashion anymore”.


A man stitching garment from earth as a stitching machine

Image credits- Pinterest


Disturbing Reality of Unsold Clothes and Corporate Insecurity

The companies who make designs are so insecure that they don’t want their designs to reach the hands of their competitors. So, what do they do with these? They BURN the unsold clothes. According to research, H&M has been burning up to 12 tonnes of clothes yearly since 2013 to maintain exclusivity. The companies burn their old collection clothes to ensure future profits and encourage the customers to buy from the new collection or else that'd be out of stock too. Many clothes come to India just to be shredded. These are then converted into thread. This heavy amount of textile waste is either thrown away or burned. In 2018,  Burberry, a British luxury brand, earned revenue of 3.6 billion dollars and destroyed 36.8 million dollars worth of its own merchandise. In the Atacama Desert in North Chile, so many clothes are dumped that it is visible even from space. This is also known as “the giant pile of used clothes”. The site contains more than 60,000 tons of clothes from Europe, Asia, and North America.


 Marketing Tactics Shaping Trends and Consumer Behaviour

You might have noticed in recent times - the quality of clothes is declining. The fast fashion companies know that they must make fast clothes, not durable ones. If they make durable clothes, it will affect the sales of the companies. Money is not the only resource being depleted, the environment is adversely affected as well. The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest water-consuming industry. As of 2020, the fast fashion industry uses over seventy-nine trillion liters of water every year. And it does not stop at water use. The creation of clothing also produces influential levels of pollution, which has severe and far-reaching consequences. It costs 2,700 liters of water to make one t-shirt. This is the amount of water consumed by a person in about nine hundred days. And it takes more than 6,000 liters of water to make a pair of jeans. The fashion industry produces about 20% of the global water waste. According to the United Nations, the fashion industry contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chain and energy-intensive production. If we have 40 shirts and 30 pairs of jeans in our closet, that will make about 2,88,000 liters of water in the closet.


Put this in human perspective - if we drink three liters of water a day, it means that we have about 240 years of freshwater in the closet (taking the average life expectancy to be 80 years). The Rana Plaza collapse was a disaster that took place on 24th April 2013. An eight-story structure, the Rana Plaza, collapsed in Savar Upazila, a sub-district near Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1134 people were killed and about 2,500 others were injured. The structure contained apparel manufacturers, other shops, and a bank. It collapsed during the morning rush hour. Warnings were issued to avoid using the structure due to the potential for cracking appearing the day ahead. Unfortunately, these warnings were ignored, and the disregard led to a tragic outcome. This proved to be the worst artificial accident in the history of Bangladesh.


Earth between a bunch of clothing

A Call for Action

To conclude, we can say that the fast fashion industry has become a global force that significantly impacts both the environment and society. While it offers consumers trendy and affordable clothing rapidly, the hidden costs are substantial. The environmental toll of excessive resource consumption, pollution, and waste generation is alarming. Additionally, the exploitation of cheap labor in developing countries raises ethical concerns.


By embracing sustainable and ethical alternatives, supporting transparent supply chains, and promoting a culture of mindful consumption, we, the consumers, can push the fashion industry towards a more responsible and environment-friendly future.


Governments, industry leaders, and consumers must collaborate to implement and endorse policies promoting sustainable practices, fair labor conditions, and circular economies. Only through collective efforts can we mitigate the negative impacts of fast fashion and pave the way for a more conscious and equitable fashion industry.


In pursuing a sustainable and ethical fashion landscape, individuals must reconsider their purchasing habits, demand accountability from fashion brands, and actively participate in the broader dialogue surrounding the true cost of fast fashion. By doing so, we can strive towards a fashion industry that not only reflects our aesthetic preferences but also aligns with our values of environmental stewardship and social responsibility. 

 

By Priyanshi Parashar

Priyanshi Parashar is an aspiring article writer passionate about creative expression and vision for the future. Currently pursuing her studies in 12th standard at Amity International School, she is eagerly preparing for her next academic pursuit: a degree in B.com hons. from Hindu College. She has a keen interest in creative writing and finance-related cool stuff. If not indulging in any such activity, she'll be petting random cats and dogs she finds down the street.

 

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