With the fast fashion industry forecasted to be valued at 40 billion US dollars by 2025 Statista (2018), it is evident that the fast fashion model has been very successful.
In recent years, however, there has been an increasing concern about the impact of fast fashion, ranging from environmental concerns to ethical issues. What are these problems, and how can we solve them?
What Are Fast Fashion Problems?
Fast Fashion Is Unsustainable
Textile waste exploded by 37% year-over-year in Singapore based on National Environmental Agency (137,000 tonnes in 2020 to 189,000 tonnes in 2021). The EU also contributed to a million tonnes of textile waste in a study published by Lab fresh and also found that 57.1% of fashion waste ended up in landfills. (globalcitizen.org)
With fashion trends constantly changing, new trends are often brought even before old trends go out of style. Coupled with the fact that these clothes are rather inexpensive, it can often lead to an unsustainable business model of throwing away cheap clothes that are still in good condition, in favor of new trendy clothing.
Fast Fashion harms our environment
Considering the large amounts of textile waste generated, it is hardly surprising that fast fashion contributes significantly to environmental impact by accelerating the typical 20 years of the fashion life cycle.
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions (McFall-Johnsen, 2020).
- Cotton farming is also responsible for 24 percent of insecticides and 11 percent of pesticides despite using only 3 percent of the world’s arable land.
- 17 to 20% of industrial water pollution is from textile dyeing and treatment. (bluehouseworld.nl)
- This eventually contributes to global warming, which triggers issues such as rising sea levels and the urban heat island effects (National Climate Change Secretariat, 2021).
- A record high temperature of 36.7 degrees Celsius was recorded in May 2022 in Singapore, which is not a good sign, considering how unbearable the heat can be (CNA, 2022).
Fast fashion accelerates the entire supply chain and clothes are rejected earlier than usual, generating a larger amount of textile waste than predicted.
Fast Fashion leads to the adoption of unethical practices
- Most clothes are often mass-produced in factories, where workers are often paid below the minimum wage (Ross, 2021).
- Not only that, these workers are often subject to long working hours, working up to 60-70 hours a week with a pay of 300 dollars (Get Informed, n.d.).
- Workers are exposed to poor working conditions with harmful synthetic chemicals due to cheap materials that cause cancer (Ross, 2021), with little to no protection against them.
- A 2019 report from Oxfam based on interviews with more than 470 garment workers across Bangladesh and Vietnam also found that less than 1% of people interviewed reported adequate working conditions and living wages.
While fast fashion is coveted for its low and affordable prices for the average consumer, it is easy to forget that this comes at the cost of others.
What can we do to solve Fast Fashion?
The truth is that, despite fast fashion having its problems, we cannot deny that it is often one of the most affordable options for the general masses. From university students on a budget to working adults, fast fashion caters to consumer demands. As conscious consumers, you must be wondering how we can solve the problems that come with fast fashion while getting the most of it.
Reduce the number of clothes we buy
With fast fashion brands often carrying clothes at attractive prices, we tend to buy clothes on impulse. Instead of this, one can adopt a need versus want approach, evaluating whether they truly require new clothing. Trends come and go, so it would be wiser for one to invest in more timeless pieces that never go out of style to reduce the need to buy new clothes and focus on quality over quantity.
One example would be going for a capsule wardrobe. According to Wei-Lin Hsiao and Kristen Grauman, the capsule wardrobe consists of a fixed number of clothes that can be styled into various outfits. These pieces are often versatile, as they can be used to style for different occasions as well. This also solves the age-old problem of “I have nothing to wear” while being cost-friendly at the same time.
Give your clothes a new lease of life
H&M had introduced an initiative where one can drop off their clothing and textiles in any condition in exchange for a 15% off voucher (H&M, 2018). For ill-fitting clothes, you can always pass them on to family members, or even get them tailored for a better fit.
Sometimes, our style might have changed over the years, or we simply do not fit into these clothes anymore. Instead of throwing them away, there are many ways to ensure that your clothes are still put to good use. For clothes that are still in good condition, you can always donate them to charities, or even sell them on platforms such as Carousell to make some money.
Invest in sustainable clothing options
Admittedly one of the pricier options, but is more worthwhile in the long run. With more fashion brands focusing on producing sustainable clothing, these pieces of clothing can very well last you for a long time.
Yes, the price may be on the higher side, but think of it as an investment. Would you rather buy 1 item that is expensive but can last you for a long time or 10 affordable pieces that easily wear out?
For a more budget-friendly option, you can even consider thrifting as well. Many thrift stores have popped up in the city-state in recent years, with familiar ones such as the Salvation Army, or trendier thrift stores boasting vintage fashion pieces such as Dustbunny Vintage and Loop Garms.