For many years the global demand for fast fashion has been at the expense of people, wildlife and ecosystems. Many consumers would steer clear of several high street retailers if they had the choice, but we simply aren’t given the information to make an informed decision. We have no idea what’s really happening until something goes horribly wrong. So, what has gone wrong? Sadly, quite a lot.
Image courtesy of Rikans
Factory workers denied safe working conditions
Fast Fashion manufacturing processes are all about reducing costs and because of this, retailers often use factories that do not provide safe working conditions.
What happened at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh was not a tragedy without warning. Workers had been complaining about cracks in the building for weeks. The day before it collapsed there was even a formal safety inspection. Western fashion brands such as UK company Primark and US retailer J.C. Penney (to name but a few) were shamed for producing their clothes in a factory with such shocking safety standards.
Whilst most major fashion retailers and factories have now signed up to the Bangladesh Accord, to ensure building safety violations are rectified, many are still not part of the agreement. Sadly, this means it is only a matter of time before more casualties occur.
Water consumption and pollution
It’s not just garment workers that suffer. Regular cotton uses a tremendous amount of water in every stage of the production process—from growing the plants to dying the material—often in areas threatened by water shortages. In India, over 100 million people don’t have access to safe water, but in 2013, the water used to grow India’s cotton exports would have been enough to supply 85% of the country’s people with 100 litres of water a day for a year.
The cotton industry also pollutes waterways with harmful chemicals: around only 1% of the World’s cotton is organic, and the rest is often genetically modified, sprayed with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides to improve crop yields. This regular exposure to chemicals is terrible for the farmers and the environment. Couple this with the non-treated waste water from factories feeding directly back into rivers and oceans and we have a nightmarish situation on our hands.
Synthetic fabrics pollute at every stage of their lifecycle
Some synthetic fabrics like polyester can pollute at every stage of their lifecycle; they are manufactured from petroleum in fossil fuel powered factories, and once they have been purchased and worn, they go on to shed microfibres when washed. Around 700,000 of these microfibres are released in a single domestic wash, causing even more problems for our waterways, eventually finding their way back into our bodies through the fish we eat.
So what happens after our garments have been made, sold and worn? Well, they are often just thrown away. In the case of synthetic fabrics like polyester, spandex and nylon, the biodegradation process might take between 20 to 200 years. That jumper you bought from H&M might just be around longer than you!
Well that was depressing. So, what's the answer?
Thankfully, people are slowly starting to become more aware of their impact on the World. Generally, more people are recycling, and people are beginning to limit their consumption of single use plastic. Food waste is something to be frowned upon—but not fashion waste. Not yet, anyway. Soon it will be fashion’s time to have the spotlight firmly on it. If consumers stop buying non-ethical and un-environmentally friendly clothing, it’ll pressure the industry into making big changes that consumers want.
But change in large companies takes time, so we’ve set up our company to challenge the industry. Our customers will know from day one, that our products are built to last, whilst minimising the strain placed on the environment at every step of production.
Want to find out what we're doing differently to fast fashion retailers? Read our blog post Sustainable e-commerce - is it really possible?