The fashion industry is blooming with the rise in trends and fashion demands. Brands are eager to capitalize on the consumer’s desire for instant and affordable fashion. That’s where fast fashion comes in. According to Merriam Webster, fast fashion is defined as an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. Some of these brands include Zara, Primark, H&M, Topshop, Mango among many others.
Usually it takes around weeks if not months for designers to come up with a design and then sell it to the retailers who will then provide it to the consumers. But with fast fashion brands, it only takes around 2-4 weeks for the clothes to hit the shelf from the actual designing process. The industry of fast fashion tend to control everything including the designing process to the process where it comes to us, the consumers. Since they need to do it in such a short amount of time, they depend on mass production of clothing.
If an item of clothing sells out, they don’t have the time to reproduce it in two weeks’ time hence they tend to produce clothing in quantities more than they intend to sell. This also works to their benefit as producing high quantities of clothes brings down the unit cost. But the clothes that don’t sell out ends up in the landfill. And even if the clothes do sell out, since they produce clothes every two weeks, and since they tend to be cheap and trendy there is almost an urge to buy more from these brands so people keep buying more than necessary and things that are in trend only for the season which will again make it to the landfill after being worn once or twice. Globally, 80% of discarded textiles are doomed for the landfills and incineration. Only 20% are actually reused or recycled. This is a huge environmental hazard as it takes more than 200 years for the clothes to decompose and as they do, they release a gas called methane which is a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon.
As the fast fashion outlets are all about providing the latest fashion trends in a cheaper value, the cost of sourcing of the fabric, designing and the manufacture of the clothes need to be as minimum as possible. So the production of their clothes are usually done in countries that provide very cheap labor. They tend to work with countries like China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh, to name a few, that provides them with cheap labor. But this comes at a price.
Cheap labor usually means that the workers are underpaid. Most of the workers in these industries tend to be women and children. They want the cost of manufacture to be so low that even if there are no safety requirements or labor laws that protect these workers, the company will still go through with it.
The famous Dhaka factory collapse that happened in 2013 was the deadliest garment-factory disaster in history. And this was the building where many of the clothes were being made for shops like Gap, Mango, Primark and other brands. Even though there was structural deformity in the building, the workers were forced to come to work the next day when the building collapsed. More than 700 people died at the cost of fashion. And even though it would be unfair to solely blame the fashion industry for the collapse, it would be foolish not to note that they did have a major play in it. What they wanted was the cheapest labor possible but it ended up costing more than 700 workers their lives. Not only that but many of these companies hire children for cheaper labor and even though there are child labor laws, children in these countries are exploited. But the industry of fast fashion is so big that they don’t seem to care about issues surrounding human rights and labor rights. For example a new accord on factory and building safety in Bangladesh was created just after the Dhaka building collapse incident but most North American retailers did not sign the accord.
Since designing takes process and time, these fast fashion brands usually copy from actual designers who put the time and effort into their design. And even though you can trademark logos in your clothes, you cannot trademark a certain design of clothes. And for big designers, it won’t affect them much but for an independent designer, a copied piece from their collection could put them out of business. We see something designed by a designer but we cannot afford it. Hence it becomes easier to fall into the trap of fast fashion since they provide us with the designs we like at a much cheaper value. But in the end if we don’t know who are making our clothes and if the process was even ethical, is it worth it? For a piece of clothing to compared to the sufferings of people who made it.
What can we do about it?
We should stop looking for trendy things that we know are going to be out of trend next month. These are usually the clothes we get at a fast fashion store. Even if we buy from fast fashion brands, we should buy something that we intend to wear for a longer period of time so it does not end up in the landfill. Downsize your closet. Don’t overbuy. Buy things you intend to wear a lot or things that you know you will be comfortable wearing for a long time. Consider thrift shops and second hand stores. Most importantly, buy from local designers. There are different Nepali designers and stores such as Bora studio, Chuplag studio that make beautiful clothing. We intend to dismiss this idea scared or the cost. It is cheaper to buy at a fast fashion store. But if we really calculate properly then is it even worth it to spend 800 on a tshirt and maybe the color fades away or it gets ripped from the middle or it’s not trendy anymore and we end up buying another one. Only to keep buying more. Or to spend 2000 on a shirt that we know will last us years which is of much better quality. Local brands are not as expensive as people make it to be. A shirt at H&M could cost us 30$-50$. And at Zara, probably a 100$. So we spend this money on bad quality clothing that was made unethically. But by buying local, it usually costs us around 2000 to 5000 rupees on an outfit. So we not only will be supporting our local designers but also will know the sources of clothes, where it comes from and if it was made ethically or not.
Lastly as the scope of fashion is very wide and consumers jump from one fashion trend to the other, the rapid expansion in the business of fashion is only inevitable. Fashion has always been a form of expression and in this globalized world fashion not only is mark of diversity but also passion in an art form, so it is our duty as, companies to follow an ethical route in creation of clothing, government to build more strict labor laws and for us consumers to choose what we buy and where we buy them from wisely and not to overbuy.
Words by Prozendra Bikram Rana