Do you know in which country and under what circumstances your T-shirt was made? Do you know how much energy and labour it took to produce your jeans? Frankly, the answer to these questions is no for most of us. This is a manifestation of ‘fast fashion’ and it is a topic worth talking about.
Fast fashion refers to inexpensive clothing, produced rapidly in response to the latest trends, encouraging repurchasing (Fashion Revolution). In the 1950s, it took two to three months to produce, ship, and retail a piece of clothing, while today it takes only 15 days. Moreover, 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year (M. Eyskoot, 2017).
So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that both social and environmental sustainability are heavily violated within the current fashion industry. Examples of social violations are: firstly, the extremely low wages of factory workers. For example, the minimum wage in the textile industry in Bangladesh is 60 euros while calculations state that 294 euros are needed for basic necessities of life. Secondly, child-labour is still very common despite various international treaties promising to end it. Furthermore, social and physical conditions are very poor: an example of this is the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013 (check out the 5-minute documentary of the New York Times on it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Fkhzdc4ybw).
Moreover, the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters of the environment, since it is responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions (to compare, the flying industry is responsible for 2,5%). It is also responsible for more than 800 chemicals flowing into the environment every day (mainly through polluted wastewater). Additionally, the fashion industry produces billions of kilos of waste that are being sent to landfills, both by producers and retailers (e.g. unsold clothes are being thrown away or even burned) and by consumers.
On a positive note, consumers are starting to become aware of these issues (KPMG, 2019). However, how can you buy more ethically if you don’t know where your clothing is coming from? This brings us to the essential problem within fast fashion: transparency (or rather, the lack of it). Almost all major fashion brands refuse to be transparent about their production chain up to today. Without transparency, it is difficult if not impossible to hold retailers accountable for their practices (Fashion Revolution, 2019). Thanks to many citizen initiatives, progressive businesses, and pressure from consumers, things are moving (slowly) in the right direction.
With that being said, here you can find 5 effective steps to help improve the sustainability of your every-day wearables:
- Repair instead of repurchase: do you really need that new item or can you still fix the current one? Not buying stuff you don’t really need is the most effective strategy to reduce emissions. Plus, it saves you money!
- Choose quality over quantity. This also saves you money and it makes you love your wardrobe more.
- Find brands that produce more ethically at www.rankabrand.org , or check out the book ‘This is a Good Guide – for a Sustainable Lifestyle’ by Marieke Eyskoot for golden tips.
- Buy second-hand items. This, again, saves you money and results in a unique wardrobe!
- Give a workshop on this matter within your AEGEE-local. Ask the Society & Environment Interest Group for the workshop material on ‘Fashion Industry’ or ask us to send a trainer to your event. Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.