When you think of fast fashion, what comes to mind? Cheap, trendy, disposable clothing that allows us to participate in an increasingly apparel-conscious society, where repeating an old outfit is akin to committing fashion suicide. Fast fashion is meant to produce seasonal clothing that you could buy without breaking the bank and not feel bad about discarding the clothing item a couple of months down the line.
It fulfills our desire to be hip and with the times. Fast fashion gives us the feeling of luxury without having to pay full price for it. Basically it’s why Sapphire was super popular when it launched – spearheaded by Khadija Shah, the Lahori queen of couture, Sapphire promised to bring you Elan’s haute feel to an affordable price point. It’s also why textile mills repeatedly partner up with fashion designers to create “bespoke” lawn, an oxymoron we will address later.
In the U.S, women buy over 50 new items of clothing a year – half of which are worn three times or less. Pakistan, with its prolonged summer and weddings obsessed winter, is no different. Each summer must be characterized by new a wardrobe with designer lawn to denote your fashion pedigree, status or even social affiliations while wedding wear is a different ballgame altogether.
The fast fashion business model is based on three major factors: minimal design, material at hand and streamlined distribution. Another important technique that guarantees its success is that the brands only reproduce more of a particular item if it sells well. Fast fashion retailers term this dynamic assortment. It means having a finger on the pulse of the fashion world, metabolizing each trend as soon as it comes out and producing a knock-off version of it fast… in some cases 24 hours fast.
And this entire accelerated process is exacerbated by social media and the need to always have a well-curated Instagram feed. Retailers are now producing new clothes at lightening speed. But the demand is also equal. How can a blogger even be a worth her salt or an influencer if you repeat an outfit? As opposed to the two seasons in traditional clothing manufacturing – summer and winter, fast fashion brands now produce 52 seasons a year – a new shipment for each week.
What’s worse is that we only use what we buy for half a year or less before discarding it and moving on to the next item of clothing.
While we’re all aware of the human cost of fast fashion (collapsed factories in Bangladesh, polluted rivers in Indonesia and destroyed forests all over the world) the effect it has on the environment genuinely leaves one feeling disturbed.
From ancient forests that are turned to pulp to produce viscos or, nylon, polyester, spandex that are produced using oil – 342 million barrels of oil to be exact, the textile industry produces more greenhouse emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Cotton uses 10,330 liters of water; in human terms that’s 24 years of drinking water for a person. That new slogan t-shirt you just bought doesn’t look so good all of sudden, does it?
Apart from the ecological cost of producing this volume of apparel, there’s another cost we tend to overlook. The cost of getting rid of the discarded outfits is obscene. Most of the clothing items that are donated or discarded either end up burned or in landfills across the globe.
Even when brands claim to be eco-friendly they tend to employ jargon that makes their brand look good without really making any major changes to their recycling or waste disposal management programs. One way brands tend to do this is by using misleading language or symbols. The hoodie with the recyclable tag makes you feel more responsible when you’re buying it but more likely than not, the only part of that hoodie that’s actually recyclable is the printed tag and nothing more.
Brands also tend to bandy words such as sustainable around without really explaining or defining sustainability. There is no way of producing sustainable polyurethane, the faux leather like material making up our biker jackets and hot pants. It’s like claiming oil spills are sustainable and poisoned rivers give radioactive super powers to its residents.
Another smart tactic brands employ is to jump on activist bandwagons. We’ve all seen brands that take up different causes, from feminism to climate change and while their campaigns are aesthetically appealing and give their audience a feeling of responsibility, the brands barely put into practice what they truly preach.
So how can we make a difference and can a single person’s buying practices actually bring about a positive change? Turns out, yes! Individuals can make a much greater impact than imagined. Just by wearing your clothing 9 months longer and buying one second hand item instead of all new clothing, you can reduce nearly 6 pounds of CO2 emissions which is equivalent to taking off half a million cars off the roads for a year.
So the next you come across a tantalizing sale and are tempted to buy a new clothing item because it’s so cheap, take a moment and think about the real cost.