Is that shirt really worth 5$
Updated: Aug 11
By Jessi Calidonio
The average American acquires 64 pieces of clothing a year, 85% of which end up in landfills or 21 billions tons yearly. This forms part of the vicious cycle of fast fashion, a human consumption problem that has astronomical detrimental repercussions on our planet.
The fashion industry has been evolving for almost two centuries and now we are here. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives easier in every aspect including our clothing acquisition. During the Industrial Revolution, with new technology and new jobs people had less time and more money available to spend on clothing, thus, the demand for ready-made garments went up. This was possible in part thanks to American slavery responsible for cotton growing and comprising more than half of US exports for decades until slavery was abolished. Succeeded by cheap labor and the establishment of mass retailers who outsourced manufacturing to developing countries. The reason why apparel companies shifted to developing countries is the large amount of low-skilled, low-cost laborers, vast tax breaks and forgiving laws in these countries.
Technology has also contributed to consumers having a lot more information on fashion trends, celebrity culture, and high fashion creating immediate demand for similar products at a fraction of the cost. This has marked the norm in the industry for cheap products, rapid design, rapid production, rapid distribution, rapid marketing and most importantly rapid disposal. Zara, the biggest fast fashion brand restocks multiple times a week amounting to 24 seasons annually which encourages consumers to massively shop. Characterized by poor quality materials and manufacturing and trends rapidly changing, fast fashion is heavily disposable. Not only that but over half of the apparel products worldwide are made with plastic fibers (e.g. nylon and polyester) which turn into textiles through an energy-intensive process using vast amounts of petroleum and releasing acid gases and producing wastewater that later pollutes local water sources, in fact, textile dyeing is the world’s largest polluter of water. As mentioned before, manufacturing takes place in developing countries where there are little or no regulatory institutions when it comes to pollution and hazardous facilities. Workers, at numerous production levels (including farmers) are vulnerable and exposed to toxic materials like fertilizers, to illustrate, Punjab in India is the world’s largest cotton producer and over the last decades there has been a dramatic increase in cancer, children born with birth defects, etc.
In a world where resources are limited, this issue needs to be addressed, however, in a capitalistic society, industries like the fashion industry are not forced to be environmentally responsible. Consumers’ habits preferences need to change for the industry to transform. There are changes being made but still need improvement like H&M “sustainable” line characterized by their use of organic fabrics, recycling, implemented in 54 countries, and most importantly, those who choose to recycle, receive 15% off future purchases which again, encourages more buying. Influencers in social media are also encouraging ethical clothing from small online businesses. Most people cannot afford or ethical clothing is not available near them, buying less and wearing clothes more is also highly beneficial. This is a start heading to the right direction, the beginning to a shift to slow or ethical fashion where consumers think differently about their buying patterns where short-term and disposability need to be unlinked with fashion. Of course, the easiest way to contribute to ethical fashion is to wear clothes more and to buy less.
You can check out green innovative initiatives in the process of manufacturing like using waste as a raw material.