Worse for Wear
February 7, 2020
Let me guess what you’re wearing right now. Is it a t-shirt from Zara? Or maybe a sweater from H&M? It looks nice, doesn’t it? But how long can you wear the same t-shirt? Once, twice? There’s also another problem… The tops from Brandy Melville stretch out and the hoodies look saggy after washing them… But that’s ok! The shops are close by, prices are low and you can just go and buy another t-shirt. On top of that, maybe you’ll see something new you’ll like! The old clothes will end up in the bin, that’s not the end of the world, is it?
Although clothing production hasn’t been associated with a negative impact on the environment in the past, nowadays a conversation about the sustainability of fashion is continuously more prominent, especially in regards to fast fashion brands, whose clothing is the one we usually reach for while shopping. Fast fashion brands aim to capture the latest trends, releasing a number of new, cheap and quickly created products on a weekly basis. Their clothes are fashionable and because trends come and go, it’s easier to chase them without it hurting our wallets. The fast fashion business model sounds like a great deal to customers, nevertheless, it’s not an amazing “deal” for the environment.
With low prices of the clothing comes the low quality of the products. How overwhelming is the sorrow that engulfs us when our new favorite 10 chf t-shirt is destroyed after we wash it? The destroyed clothing is quickly dumped in a bin and the customer heads up to shop again without wondering what will happen with the disposed item.
It comes as a surprise to many when they find out that the fashion industry remains one of the most polluting industries in the world and is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of global water waste. Fashion is an enormous business, estimated to be worth $1.2 trillion. With the amount of cloth produced every day the disposal is gigantic and exceeds the availability of places to put the waste. Countries continuously look for ways to get rid of used clothing. Some of them export it to developing countries, yet, sorting companies often decline to transport clothing coming from fast fashion brands, as it gets easily destroyed and won’t last long for people in need. As a result, 80% of the produced clothing ends up in the landfill where it takes up to 200 years to decompose. During that time the clothing releases methane, harmful for the environment greenhouse gas. Above that, the vibrant and bright colours of clothing are achieved by using toxic chemicals, which will pollute clean water as well as the ground. Even commonly used clothing materials, such as polyester harm the environment. When put into a domestic washing machine the polyester clothing sheds microfibers which end up in the ocean, increasing the level of plastic there. The microfibers are not biodegradable, thus they pose a danger to marine life.
Aside from the environmental impact, the fast fashion industry affects people who produce the clothing. Most of the clothes that we wear are produced in Asia, due to the low labour costs. Workers earn miserable wages, work for up to 16 hours a day and are usually forbidden from forming unions in order to prevent them from protesting for their rights. Furthermore, the working conditions of the employees are scandalous. They are exposed to toxic substances and work in unsafe buildings, with no ventilation. In textile factories there is also a problem with child labour and abuse. Although fast fashion brands are partially right when arguing that they provide jobs for people living in poverty, it is important to consider the conditions in which our sparkly tops and fashionable jeans are produced.
But what can you, as a student, do about the fast fashion industry? In the past year climate awareness has been raised and the conversation about the climate crisis is more prominent. About 80% out of 108 ISL students I surveyed claimed that they want to lead a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Nevertheless, 63% of the people who answered the survey said that the majority of the items they own come from fast fashion brands. In order to help the environment we ought to become more aware of the environmental and social impacts that the fashion which we purchase has on our planet.
Instead of buying fast fashion pieces, it is worth considering purchasing items that are more expensive, however of better quality. There are a number of sustainable brands as well as high fashion brands that produce clothing that will last you for years. Even though in the moment it may seem like a waste of money, in the long run it is an investment and with time the item will pay its price. Another way to make your shopping environmentally friendly is to buy clothes from friends or online retailers. We all have clothes that we no longer wear, but someone else might, so why not sell them? Above that, it is worth going to a thrift or vintage store. The second-hand shops are very cheap and prevent clothes from ending up in a bin. Even though thrift and vintage shopping requires patience and searching for items, it is an opportunity to find unique clothing pieces that no one else except you will have.
Becoming more conscious of our consumption is the first big step we need to take in order to live a more sustainable life. With social media constantly trying to persuade us that we need to have more it is easy to get caught in a vicious cycle of constantly buying more and feeling like it’s never enough. It is important to become a reasonable shopper who doesn’t get carried away with new fast fashion trends and offers. Just remember, next time when you’re at the mall and want to buy that white shirt, think twice and make a conscious decision.