Actually, we all know that a T-shirt that costs as much as a coffee to go cannot be made under fair conditions. Especially when you sew yourself, you know how many individual steps are required for the production of a garment. Nevertheless, we keep repressing our guilty conscience and still go for fast fashion items from time to time. The low prices ultimately tempt you to make impulse purchases and you don’t think about it for long, you just grab it.
It was the same for me for a long time, but the pandemic not only messed up our lives, it also revealed the broken system of fast fashion that is based on exploitation and benefits from the unequal distribution of power between big brands and developing countries. While we were struggling with lockdown, short-time work, job loss and childcare, the factories in Bangladesh alone, one of the poorest countries in the world, had to deal with the cancellation of ongoing orders valued at over $ 1.5 billion. Since it is customary in the clothing industry to pay for deliveries weeks or months after receipt, the factories were left with mountains of materials and finished goods. As a result, millions of workers in the clothing industry have lost their jobs and, unlike us, cannot rely on a social or financial network to take care of them.
Here are even more reasons why we should all quit fast fashion:
- Pollution – The fashion industry is one of the dirtiest industries in the world. In textile finishing alone, 20-25% of all chemicals produced are used. Textile dyeing is the second largest water polluter in the world and the colors of the rivers indicate the colors of the season. It also produces 10% of global CO2 emissions – more than all aviation and shipping combined. The fashion industry produces a particularly large amount of greenhouse gases due to the high energy consumption during production and transport. The production of synthetic fibers in particular is very energy intensive. In addition, the majority of our clothing is made in China, India and Bangladesh, where the main energy source is coal, arguably the dirtiest type of energy in terms of CO2 emissions. Not to forget the masses of water that are used in cultivation alone. Over 2,000 liters of water are needed to produce a single T-shirt, which may end up in the garbage after a short period of time.
- Working conditions – It is all too well known that the majority of clothing is made in countries where workers’ rights are severely restricted or non-existent. In addition, the fashion industry is always on the lookout for new production countries where work is even cheaper. The wages paid with as much overtime as possible are so low that even the EU Parliament speaks of “slave labor” in this context. In addition, working conditions are far from safe, as the Rana Plaza accident has shown. Not to forget child labor and forced labor, which are present in both cultivation and production. Especially in cotton production, it is almost impossible to rule out that it was produced without child labor and/or forced labor. After all in Uzbekistan it is common for schools to close at harvest time and pupils to work in the fields. And it was only recently that the revelations surrounding the oppression of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China caused a stir, as this means that the majority of Chinese cotton (second largest producer in the world) is produced with the help of forced labor.
- Garbage – Due to the sharp drop in prices in recent years, clothing has lost its value to us and has mutated into disposable goods. It used to be quite normal to save several months on one item of clothing. Today you can buy several new clothes a month. In reality, this continuous accumulation of cheap clothes is only possible because of a constant reduction in production costs. This in turn has an impact on quality and garments do not last as long as they used to. In addition, new trends are constantly fueling this vicious cycle. As a result, almost 3/5 of all items of clothing are disposed of today within the first year after production on landfills or in incineration plants. That’s a complete garbage truck full of textiles every second! Every year every family in the western world throws away 30 kg of clothing. Only 15% of it is recycled or donated. On top of that there are tons of unsold goods, which the manufacturers prefer to destroy rather than donate.
- Trends & Overconsumption – The business model of the fashion industry is based on the fact that turnover is generated through the steadily increasing sale of clothing items. In a completely saturated market (because let’s be honest, who still “needs” new clothes today) are only able to do so with increasingly cheaper prices. Prices that are so low that we don’t think about it, after all, we already spend more on our daily coffee. During the last 15 years the fashion industry has doubled its production and at the same time the useful life has decreased by 40%. The constantly changing fashion trends tempt us to spend more money than necessary. After all, they persuade us that our clothes are out of date, even though they are still wearable, and we only belong when we “treat” ourselves to the newest item. However, this also leads to the fact that we are constantly dissatisfied with ourselves and try to cover up this dissatisfaction with new pieces. But that only works for a short time, until the next trend …
- Racism – Apart from the racist expressions of well-known designers such as John Galliano and Dolce & Gabbana, from the underrepresented models of other skin colors and from cultural appropriation, especially women of color are exploited in the production countries. Because if we are honest, it takes a high degree of racism to treat people in the production countries in such an inhuman way. The “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts, which are produced quickly and cheaply, cannot hide this fact.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot and will no longer turn a blind eye to this exploitative system. That’s why I decided in the middle of last year that I would no longer buy any new clothes or new fabrics. After all, we know even less about the origin of our fabrics. It does require a bit more creativity, but it’s actually not that difficult to find everything second hand. And how do you feel about this topic?
Books about this topic:
Sources: Fashion Revolution, New York Times, UN Environment, Sustain Your Style, World Economic Forum, The Cut, Europa.blog, Süddeutsche
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