A modern existence comes at a modern cost. For quite some time, we’ve become accustomed to trading quality for convenience, ethics for speed, and sustainability for spontaneity.
As we continue to consume at increasingly rapid rates, so does the data portending to the true cost of our current economic condition. This is not a cost to our pocketbooks or our 401ks, but a cost that is far more imminent, far more tangible, and far more deadly. It is a cost to the air we breathe and to the lives that we live. And while we have long heard warnings of the damage of many of our modern world’s industries such as travel, food production, and plastic disposal- there are still many hidden facets of our economy that are wreaking similar if not greater damage on our world at large.
One of the components of our modern existence that is causing considerable damage is the textile industry; a part of the economy that is growing at such a rapid rate that many have come to describe the developments in this field as “fast fashion”.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a term that has come to describe both the state of textile production and the quality of design integration that consists of cheap, trendy clothing, making new styles available to the consumer at breakneck speeds at the cost of quality, innovation, and environmental sustainability.
While it is easy to categorize this phenomenon as a relatively new player in a growing modern economy, the roots of fast fashion date back to the Industrial Revolution as our current state reflects decades upon decades of environmental neglect within the industry.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, modernization and mechanization of the textile industry led to quicker production and lower quality of craftsmanship- grooming a whole generation of consumers to both desire and require more clothing at quicker rates and increasingly cheaper costs.
By the 1960s this concept would see itself blast into full flight as designers sought to match the cultural movement of the decade by integrating a Bohemian “grunge'' style into their designs, inadvertently allowing textile producers an opening to take on even cheaper measures for manufacturing and integration of lower-quality materials.
By the 2000s, the industry had completely transformed itself into a system built on low-quality materials that must be replaced often and therefore acquired by the consumer at a cheaper price point. Cut to today where the effects of fast fashion have not only wreaked havoc on our wallet, but the environment that feeds and nurtures us, and we can see that this trend has born deadly consequences.
The Environmental Effects of Fast Fashion
While much is known about the quality depreciation of fast fashion and the effects on the consumer, we are only just beginning to understand the full picture of the environmental impact this phenomenon has wreaked on our world. From greenhouse gas emission to water depletion to ocean contamination, the environmental effects of fast fashion are innumerable and their effect on the global pollution crisis can not be understated.
Today, the fashion industry constitutes 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, and scientists only expect that number to continue to grow as on average consumers in 2014 purchased 60% more clothing than they did in 2000.
But the damage certainly does not stop there. Each year, over 11 million tons of clothing is thrown out and runoff from the dyeing process enters our waterways, the two effects working together to create a mass contamination of our air, rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans. The World Bank has identified 72 toxins resulting from the dyeing process alone.
Further, approximately 60 percent of all garments contain polyester, a synthetic fiber that is composed of fossil fuels. Emissions from polyester are on average 3 times higher than those stemming from cotton.
The Human Cost
Unfortunately, the human cost of the fast fashion industry does not stop with the air we breathe or the water we drink. It boils down all the way to our very existence as new research and journalism shows that the fast fashion industry itself is directly leading to a humanitarian crisis across the globe.
The demands of production and the reality of the industry’s economic strategy are built off the exploitation of developing countries- making mass production of textiles an abuser of human rights and fair labor practices.
Economics aside, many of the garments popularized by the fast fashion movement also contain large traces of dangerous components such as lead, infecting the very health of the workers, and leading to issues such as infertility and an increased rate of heart attacks.
A Better Way
The antidote for the many issues surrounding the fast fashion industry lies directly in the trend’s name- it’s time for fashion to slow down. We must reduce the pace of manufacturing and recenter our priorities around mindful economic movements, fair labor practices, increased sustainability measures, and a greater sense of community awareness and responsibility within the industry.
The result will be a cleaner environment, a stronger humanity, a better life, and ultimately in economic terms- a greater product. It’s a win across the board for consumers, manufacturers, workers, and the environment alike.