Ok, so let's first talk about what fast fashion is. Fast fashion is when clothing is produced quickly and cheaply, often being able to have new designs in store just weeks after being designed. The business model is based on high volume and turnover of stock.
The main problem with the fast fashion industry is the sheer volume of clothing it produces - 1 billion garments annually! Sophisticated marketing and the high turnover of stock drives consumers on to the next trend in order to buy ever more. Considering that fast fashion is predicted toincrease 60% by the year 2030 this is not sustainable when we all need to be buying less (of everything) to save our planet. The truth is we don't actually need any more clothes at all, we have more than enough to go round already, but fast fashion taps in to the desire for the new 'must have' and the affordable 'don't miss it' offer.
Aside from a few small conscious ranges, most fast fashion garments are made with synthetic fabrics which are responsible for 0.6 – 1.7 million tons of microfibres end up in the ocean every year. We all know from The Blue Planet II what the impact of plastics is on our sea life, but the fibres also end up in our drinking water and in our food as they do not biodegrade like natural fibres. The fast fashion industry is also responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater. The dwindling resources on our planet cannot sustain such turnover of 'stuff' driven by company policies based on growth and expansion; new stores, emerging markets, ever more lines. The industry emits1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year which is about 5% of global emissions - more than air travel and international shippingemissions combined. Much of this will come from the thousands of fashion miles that are incurred when the products travel across the world to get to our stores.
Most fast fashion (97%) is produced in far off countries which have extremely low wages. Low price fashion often means unethical practices and little transparency. The prices we pay in a fast fashion store do not reflect the true cost of what someone should have been paid, nor the resources used and the environmental damage done. Large fast fashion brands have incredible power, which puts pressure on developing countries to provide goods at rock bottom prices and cut corners on health and safety in order to keep the orders coming in. The speed of production can also lead to long working hours and extreme pressure to hit impossible deadlines. The Rana Plaza tragedy is a prime example of this.
Some fast fashion brands have sustainability schemes such as H&M's 'Closed loop' and ''recycling' schemes. However, with current technologies, it would take 12 years to recycle what the fast fashion industry creates in 48 hours. It is also unclear about how much of these unwanted garments actually get recycled or reused. This seems to be a marketing idea rather than a solution, as it still takes energy and resources to recycle. What happens to what cannot be recycled? The worry here is that so much low grade fast fashion is going out to African countries that their local textiles industries are collapsing. Clothing recycling as with household recycling makes us believe that it's ok to keep consuming at the rate we are without considering it's impact.
The Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry had one main conclusion and that is we need to value our clothes. And high street and fast fashion does not necessarily mean low quality if you choose good pieces that are classic and look after them. However, the majority of fast fashion is not designed for longevity which is one of the principles of circular fashion.
So, I don't believe that fast fashion can be sustainable because of all these issues. Can the big fast fashion brands change their way of working and become more sustainable? Maybe, but I doubt they would want to jeopardise their bottom line. So don't be fooled by clever initiatives and green-washing or that at least they are trying. There are so many other ethical and sustainable brands that deserve our attention that are doing so much more.
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