Slowing Down Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is defined as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers to meet demands of latest trends. The fashion market is constantly changing, and so brands have to keep up by continually producing new products for the mass market. This translates to roughly 80-100 billion items of clothing being produced annually. For all of those items to be homed, every single person in the world would need to buy 10-13 items every year. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot to you, but think about the millions of people in the world who don't have access to clean water, let alone high street fashion. Because of this mass production, the fashion industry generates 4% of all global waste, 92 million tons. Furthermore, a report by the Global Fashion Agenda in 2017 found that the fashion industry is responsible for the emission of 1.715 millions tons of carbon dioxide, roughly 4.3% of global carbon emissions.
The ecological and carbon footprint of the fashion industry has been in the firing line in recent years. Many people were likely unaware of the impact this industry was having, as it is so far removed from your typical environmental discussion. Talks of climate change tend to focus on planes, cars, steaks, and oil, not dresses, labels, fabrics, and blazers. But anything and everything has a carbon footprint, and it just so happens that fashion has a big one.
Many of our favourite high street brands are guilty of cent
ring their business around a model of fast fashion: mass production, quick turnarounds, high waste. H&M is a perfect example. Their business model involves producing high volumes of clothes, and moving them from the production table to the shop floor as quickly as possible. H&M outsources production to factories throughout Asia and Europe. In Bangladesh and Cambodia, they purchased 100% of their factory outputs for 5 years up front, making them the sole customer of those factories. This enables them to have a stronger grip on improving working conditions, but also maximising productivity. H&M also produces 20% of their products based on-present day trends, whereas the other 80% is produced in advance based on expected trends. Using IT technology, they are able to produce that 20% on the go, and ship it out to their stores as and when. This reduces their lead times and posits them ahead of competitors on latest trends. This has been a key strategy for the success of the brand, but highlights how quickly the fashion industry can change. The fact that brands feel the need to be able to produce 20% of their products and have them in stores in real time shows that they believe people will not buy them later down the line. They have to have them now. This now-culture is what makes fast fashion such a problem environmentally.
We live in a consumerist society, where we can buy something we want today, and have it at our front door tomorrow. While these advances have arguably improved our daily lives and economies, they have allowed for a cultural shift in expectations. Living through COVID-19 strict lockdowns, where we can't always get the exact groceries we want, and we can't always have something delivered the next day, and the frustration and damage this is causing demonstrate how accustomed we have become. The carbon footprint of this now-culture is making waves, and more and more articles (like this one) are published expressing concern, and some even attacking industries like the fashion industry for their environmental impact. It's not the fashion industries fault; it's ours.
Successful business has always worked off basic principles of supply and demand. Technological advances have created a world where unreasonable and absurd demands have become the norm. You can consume as many products as you want, have them delivered the next day (or even the same day) without ever leaving your bed. Everything is literally a couple of clicks away. As long as this demand exists, businesses like H&M will supply products to feed it. And, why shouldn't they? Yes you could argue about the moral ramifications of manufacturing products when you know roughly 80% will eventually end up in landfill, or running a business which is polluting the atmosphere with CO2. But, you could make the same moral argument to every single one of their customers. If their business is thriving from their fast fashion now-culture model, how can we expect them to change? Money makes the world go round.
If we truly want to do anything about fast fashion and the wasteful nature of the fashion industry in general, we have to put our money where our mouth is. Stop investing in fast fashion. Don't give a single penny/cent of your money to an industry that knowingly dumps 10 million tons of clothes on landfills, where dyes can leach chemicals into the soil to be washed elsewhere and cause ecological damage.
The slow fashion movement focuses on sustainability, and considers the impact of clothes before buying them, on people, animals, and the environment. Much of the slow fashion movement centres around the environment, but what is so great about it is the incorporation of the humanitarian aspect too. The fashion industry is sometimes known for appalling working conditions and unfair treatment of workers, particularly brands who produce their clothes in lesser developed countries. Their working conditions are often sub-standard (to put it nicely) and they often do not pay their workers anywhere near enough for the hours/work they do. This is often the appeal of locating factories in certain places, and explains why products can be priced so low. We absolutely should not be supporting brands that use such practises. The slow fashion movement takes into account the treatment of staff and thus, often the sustainable choice is the humanly ethical choice too.