Hello, for my English 102 class, I have been asked to post here and to ask for 3 areas of weakness on my draft of my research paper. Thank you!
Due to throwaway culture and fast fashion, only about 15 percent of our textiles are being recycled (Shirvanimoghaddam). As the human population grows, the amount of clothing that is simply thrown away will increase as well. As of 2017, 11.15 million tonnes of clothing were thrown away(Cline 54). The environmental and social impacts that come from this excess of wastefulness are detrimental to society. At the rate that the world is consuming clothing, the world left to future generations will suffer the consequences. With the growing industry of fast fashion, consumers should think about the social and environmental impact their spending habits create when purchasing clothing.
What and Why Fast Fashion
To understand the detriment that is the fast fashion industry, one needs to understand to what extent this industry produces textile goods. When shopping at your local fast fashion store, you may notice there is a new product every time you visit. Most retail industries have shipments arrive at least once to twice a week to many being every day. To deal with the high demand fashion brands produce about 52 "micro-seasons" a year. This means at least one new "collection" every week (Cline 54). That is a new collection for every week of the year. A collection usually consists of at least 12 or 13 different pieces. By adding the numbers up, each fashion house is creating up to a thousand different pieces a year. These all come in different sizes, multiplying the amount of clothing each collection has. At the end of the day, countless thousands of pieces are created for each fashion house.
This type of demand is something that sprouted and grew in popularity in the late 1900s and early 2000s. While innovations in the production of textile goods were incrementally making progress, clothing slowly became more affordable (Idacavage). This turning point in the 2000s came with American consumerism and a thirst for an individual identity. Some of the first large fast fashion industries saw this market and trained their consumers to look out for new products and styles for each and every occasion. This came from heavy marketing and the accessibility everyone eventually had to these products.
What are the Social Burdens Resulting from Fast Fashion?
To begin, the benefits that the fast fashion industry provides are outweighed drastically by the social burdens that come to the less fortunate people that make these textile products. Unbeknownst to most people, clothing from the fast fashion industry creates terrible social conditions for many less fortunate countries. Especially in the United States, the business model is to optimize the profit margin from sales at all costs. Since the business model for fast fashion industries cut costs at all costs, the only choice these companies have is cheap labor. This cheap labor comes from countries that are called LMICs, which means "low and middle-income countries"(Bick). The United States has laws against pollution and low wages to protect its citizens like minimum wage and worker regulations. These standards and regulations do not extend to other countries like the LMICs that produce textile goods. It is pretty hypocritical to have laws and regulations that protect the United States but also accept that these regulations can be disregarded to maximize profits when dealing with these victimized countries.
To add, the profits that do come from the fast fashion industry are always partitioned very unfairly. For example, from the amount that an Australian spends on clothing, only 4% of it goes to the garment workers (Shirvanimoghaddam). If one were to rank the difficulty of the jobs down the supply chain of fast fashion industries, one can argue that physically creating the garments is one if not the most difficult part in the process. The fact that only 4% of profits go to the garment workers, shows that the whole industry has no regard for the health of these less fortunate societies. This predatory business model creates mass poverty for the people that have no other choice.
Another example of the social strain that fast fashion creates is in the working conditions created in these factories. The workers suffer from respiratory hazards due to poor ventilation and musculoskeletal hazards from repetitive motion tasks (Bick). A powerful anecdote is one of how "washed out" or "distressed" jeans are made. A person usually has a sanding machine placed on a pair of jeans, rubbing out the color and in turn spraying micro-particles of denim into the air. While most workers wear a light face mask, this is not enough to avoid long term respiratory complications. With all the profits that do come from the success of fast fashion, one usually does not see the profits be invested in the garment workers. Another example of the social consequences of the poor working conditions in fast fashion companies is the tragic event that occurred in Bangladesh in 2013. A factory by the name of Rana Plaza provided European and American companies with cheap textile labor. The building collapsed killing at least 142 people (Manik). This was a testament to the poor infrastructure that the fast fashion industry provides for the LMICs. This is just one example that can be given about poor working conditions that cost lives.
What are the Ecological Costs?
Moving on from the social issues, we have the grand environmental consequences that come from the fast fashion industry. Due to the high demand for different styles, companies create an abundance of clothing every year. It is estimated that 100 billion pieces of clothing are created each year. More than two-thirds of textile goes to landfills at the end of their use and just around 15% is recycled (Shirvanimoghaddam). A helpful thought experiment would be to imagine that, on average, each garment of clothing is afoot in length. If one were to tie each piece together it would be 100 billion feet long. The average distance to the moon is 382,500 kilometers. This translates to 1.261 billion feet. With that amount of distance, one can go back and forth from the moon almost 100 times. This example shows the enormous amount of clothes that are consumed worldwide. As stated earlier, more than two-thirds of the textiles find themselves discarded at the end of their use. As the years go by, textile waste will accumulate and become too much for landfills to handle.
Another point to touch on would be the waste that comes from producing textile goods. In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped directly into the rivers("Environmental Impacts of the Fashion Industry"). This runoff of pollution usually happens in countries that have fewer environmental regulations. These countries are of course those that are usually lower-income countries. Since they lack infrastructure one can infer that pollution directly destroys the environment around them. This is significant because it affects their agricultural ecosystem. These toxic pollutants are introduced to their food cycle and have effects that span generations.
Besides the pollution of the environment with toxic waste, the production of clothing takes up too much water. According to the CDC, 11 percent of the world's population does not have access to clean drinking water. The amount of water that is used to make the material used to make clothing is immense. It can take up to 200 tons of freshwater per ton to dye fabric. It also takes up to 200,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton. While there are droughts and people without access to clean drinking water, it is irresponsible and unethical to be so wasteful with water. For example, 85 % of the daily needs for water of the entire population of India would be covered by the water used to grow cotton in the country (Leahy). Meanwhile, about 100 million people in the country of India also do not have access to clean drinking water (Leahy). The demand for textile goods for trade in the county of India is so strong that the country has to prioritize the industry instead of providing water to those that need it.
Unbeknownst to most people, pollution that comes from textiles and fast fashion does not only come from making the clothing but afterward as well. The first example would be from the washing of clothing. Many textiles from fast fashion companies use synthetic materials that break down very quickly. Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester, nylon, etc), about 1,900 individual microfibers are released into the water("Project Findings"). Even if you choose to wear and use the textiles you purchase from these fast fashion industries for as long as possible you are contributing to the pollution of the environment. The more times you wash it the more microfibers are released into the water. These microfibres are so small that they eventually end up in the ocean and are consumed by small fish. This introduces more pollution in the food chain harming the fish population for generations.
What are Companies Trying to do
Many larger fast fashion companies are trying to contribute to the solution to a problem they have created by recycling. While recycling, in general, does help the environment in many instances, this solution is not enough for these companies to do. Recycling clothing may seem like an easy solution many companies claim to do, in actuality, it is an illusion. More than two-thirds of the textile goes to landfills at the end of their use and just around 15% is recycled(Annamma). Even though companies collect clothing to be recycled, very few do get recycled. While regarding their consumers when they recycle at their locations, this is just a ploy to get consumers to spend more. Many companies are providing discounts for people to come recycle their clothing like denim. Companies like Levi provide an additional discount when you recycle denim at their location. Many people would take advantage of the discount and would purchase more than one garment, creating a net increase in their consumption. As explored earlier, using recycled materials can release more microfibres to the ecosystem since they are worn-out garments. Recycling clothing is like putting a bandaid on a larger wound, only covering the issue instead of resolving it.
The Solution to the Problem.
An actual solution would have to involve many different aspects and points. A change that should be made should be to create a more efficient recycling system. A closed-loop of clothing consumption can reduce textile waste significantly. If more clothing is recycled instead of just 15 percent. The environmental strain would decrease significantly. This would help slow production in 3rd world countries and improve working conditions as well. This would alleviate the working hazards that arise from working in clothing factories. There would be less of a strain on the social and environmental integrity of the LMCI countries.
Another point of change would be to have fast fashion companies to be regulated and held accountable equally across the globe. While there are regulations that are in place in higher-income countries, the same standards need to exist in lower-income countries where most textiles are made. By fining these companies and socially shaming them to create a healthier ecosystem, we can find them making the change to become responsible.
The last and most important change would be to change human behavior with awareness. While in today's day and age more people are socially and environmentally aware, a point many are missing is the awareness of where their clothing comes from. Having education campaigns in the likes of the campaign against smoking or global warming, social awareness can make people more conscious of the changes they need to make in their consumption. There should even be education for the youth on where their clothing comes from. By starting at a young age, the most valuable consumers, children will be more inclined to be conscious of the purchasing decisions they make. Companies like Goodwill or thrift stores can be even more socially accepted.
The fast fashion industry has created ecological and social problems that need to garner more attention. If these issues are not addressed in a more serious matter, the consequences will only continue. By being able to make these changes, the waste in textiles will significantly change and the working conditions of the vulnerable workers will significantly improve. If these changes are not made, the growing population will create a world where our future generations will have to suffer the consequences of a polluted and inequitable world.