Over the past year, the infamous fast fashion brand SHEIN has overtaken other major fast fashion brands, such as H&M and Zara. SHEIN is known for its incredibly low prices and variety of clothing options.
While that sounds tempting enough, the main problem is China’s low labor wages, as well as the extremely unsustainable measures to accommodate these elements. SHEIN is just one of the many fast fashion brands that have grown in popularity. It seems like everyone recognizes how unsustainable these brands are, but nobody seems to stop buying from them.
Investopedia describes fast fashion as “a term used to describe clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalks to the stores to take advantage of trends. Fast fashion allows mainstream consumers to shop for the hot new look or next big thing. at an affordable price.”
The idea is to get the latest trends to market as quickly as possible so that consumers can follow the popularity of the item. Unfortunately, once the trend is over, these garments are ignored.
Today, with online shopping, companies like Zara, TopShop and H&M have dominated fast fashion, making it even easier to order an item of clothing online that arrives at your doorstep a week later.
There are a lot of issues with the idea of fast fashion – the main ones being environmental destruction, working conditions and exploitation.
There are 92 million tons of textile waste created each year in the world. By 2030, we are expected to throw away more than 134 million tons of textiles per year. In 2018, 17 million tonnes of textile waste ended up in landfills, which can take up to 200 years to decompose. To date, 84% of clothes end up in landfills or incinerators.
The fashion industry is also the second largest consumer of water, producing 20% of the world’s wastewater. The industry also generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and shipping combined.
Cheap textiles also increase the impact of fast fashion. Polyester, which is derived from fossil fuels, is one of the most popular fabrics. The fabric contributes to global warming and can shed microfibers which add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans when washed.
Even fabrics advertised as ‘natural’, such as cotton, silk or wool, can be problematic at the scale of fast fashion demands. Conventional cotton requires huge amounts of water and pesticides in developing countries, leading to drought risks and creating extreme pressure on watersheds and competition for resources between companies and local communities.
Garment workers are often forced to work 14 to 16 hour days, 7 days a week. During peak season changes, they may work until 2 or 3 a.m. to meet the brand deadline. fashion. Base wages are often so low that workers would be fired if they refused to work overtime. In some cases, overtime is not even paid at all.
The minimum wage varies by region, which ranges from $161 to $357 per month, well below the estimated living wage of $778 per month.
In addition to low wages and long working hours, garment workers are forced to work daily in hazardous conditions and environments. In 2013, the Rana Plaza collapse killed 1,134 garment workers in Savar, Bangladesh. This tragic accident revealed to the world of consumers the unacceptable and upsetting working conditions in the fashion industry.
Garment workers generally work without ventilation; they breathe in toxic substances and inhale fiber dust. Accidents, fires, injuries and illnesses are very common occurrences at textile production sites.
Since January 2021, 131 workers have died and 279 have been injured in garment and textile factories in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Morocco, China and Cambodia, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign.
Child labor is also very common in the fashion industry due to the need for low-skilled labor. There are 160 million children in the world who are forced to work. In southern India, there are more than 100,000 girls working under the Sumangali scheme, which is a practice that sends girls from poor families to work in textile factories for up to five years in exchange for a basic salary and money at the end to pay their dowries, money brought by a bride to her husband. This practice is referred to as modern slavery.
So after all this horrible and upsetting information, why do we still continue to buy fast fashion? The thing is, it’s cheap, effective, and keeps up with current trends. Not everyone can afford to drop $100 on a pair of jeans or $50 on a shirt.
In March 2022, Good For You published an article for its readers on the “41 Most Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Brands in the United States” which features a plethora of different small business brands that focus on sustainability and best practices. ethics in the fashion industry.
Along with looking for brands that focus on sustainability and improving the fashion world, buying second-hand clothes is another great way to upcycle clothes and give them a new home.
Kristine Nguyen wrote an article for Brightly on how to get rid of unwanted clothes sustainably, including great solutions like recycling parts or composting natural clothes.
There are a ton of great resources for people wanting to learn more about issues related to fast fashion and the fashion industries, as well as plenty of solutions and resources available to start buying ethically.
The issues with the fashion industry and fashion consumers can be linked to so many other issues that keep people buying fast fashion and why companies keep churning out fast fashion.
Issues like this include rising clothing prices, rapidly changing trends, and social media influencers encouraging the consumption of these trends. It’s hard for consumers to justify buying a $50 shirt when it’s available elsewhere for much less. It’s hard to worry about the implications of fast fashion when prices for regular clothes have skyrocketed.
It’s a huge problem to solve that won’t go away overnight, or in a decade for that matter. This is a major issue that is going to take patience and time to transform the fashion industry into something sustainable, worker-friendly, affordable and sustainable.
Macy Berendsen can be reached at [email protected]