Consumerism as it stands currently is a dangerous combination of infinite wants which are met be a finite number of resources. As economics shows this has always been the case, with every kind of consumer good provided, however fashion in its current state seems to be plagued most of all. High street brands such as Zara, H&M and Topshop, just to name a few, are at the forefront of a huge attack on our current climate and its slow decline. Fast fashion and high street shops, unlike the more expensive counterparts have only one motto: to dress the masses as cheaply and as quickly as possible, with Zara offering up to 24 collections per annum.
For brands such as Zara, clothes are seen more and more as disposable goods, goods which can easily be thrown out and replaced with whatever meets the newest trends. With more and more clothes being thrown out this has led to a huge build-up of non-recyclable goods within nation-sized landfill sites such as those occupying India.
Not only should we focus on the huge build-up of non-recyclable clothes, the more pressing statistic seems to lie in the production of such goods. With such a large number of collections per year, production of goods for high street brands is labour intensive but, more pressing, puts out huge amounts of toxic gasses into the atmosphere. The pulse fashion report recorded that in 2015 the fashion industry was responsible for the output of nearly 1,715 million tonnes of Co2, with these numbers expected to grow a further 63% by the end of 2030. A UN report further claimed that the fashion industry was responsible for more energy usage than the US aviation and shipping industry combined. With many garments being produced in inefficient and backward factories in China and India due to their cheaper production costs we have seen an astronomical rise in the carbon footprint per garment produced, with many factories still heavily relying on coal and other fossil fuels to power production.
From a consumer side, the price of garments has not risen by nearly as much as production. In this respect, we have seen very cheap, non-recyclable, and polluting goods flooding the market. Due to the price being low, consumers are not discouraged from purchasing them either which has led to an incredibly destructive cycle. Fast fashion in its current state therefore must not be ignored. While many climate activists focus on apparent polluting industries such as energy production or aviation, many still choose to ignore the smaller facets of industry within the international environment. This ignorance cannot go unnoticed, especially as these seemingly ‘’smaller’’ polluters are, in fact, producing more than some of the more apparent polluting industries.
All of these negatives are merely facts of the fashion industry, Kelly Drennan, the founder of ‘Fashion Takes Action’ highlighted the fact that “Unfortunately, fast fashion is not going away, and if we continue to consume as much clothing as we do today, that means we’ll continue to have fashion waste,’.
It is not all bad however, although at its current standing, the fashion industry is producing, and will continue to produce pollution, action can still be taken in order to diminish the effect that fashion will have on the environment. Indeed, many high-end designers have taken up the gauntlet of reducing the waste produced. Notably, Vivienne Westwood has taken a climate positive approach, being notably active in protesting the damage done by fast fashion houses. Earlier this year she shut down all of her stores around the world so that employees could take part in the climate strike. However, her attempts are simply not enough. The changing means of production with which she has created her past collections may be good but are simply on too small a scale. Furthermore, the average consumer will most likely not be able to afford her high-end clothes, as such all these actions are good but are far too small.
Experts have put forward alternative means in order to tackle the problem right at its core- the high street shops. Many have suggested changing the materials to more sustainable textiles, as well as incorporating more environmentally friendly means of production. However, all of these would easily raise the cost of the production and as such would destroy the high profit margins enjoyed by brands such as Zara. This in turn may lead to higher prices charged for the clothes themselves. As such, a single brand would not be able to implement these new techniques without a complete, combined effort. If Zara was to become more environmentally conscious their prices would easily have to rise to meet the higher production costs, and as such it would be unable to compete on price with its competition.
Dana Thomas published an article in the New York Times regarding the effect of fast fashion. Her alternative approaches took the form of ‘Slow fashion’; implementing locally grown materials, often domestically manufactured or sourced on a relatively small scale, basically completely reimagining the entire fashion industry. Furthermore, she placed heavy emphasis on the idea of a ‘circular or closed loop system’ where products are continually recycled, reborn and reused. However, she doesn’t address the problems of cost, efficiency or resource limitations. Furthermore, all of these changes are taking place slowly and sadly at too small a scale. At the current rate of change it may take years before the fashion industry is completely reformed in order to fight back the damage which has been done by the industry over the years.
As such I urge readers to become more aware of the damage caused by their consumption habits. Although it may seem insignificant, a single top bought at Zara may have astronomical effects in the long run. If every consumer still holds this mindset then we will never be able to make a positive difference in fighting back against the slow destruction of our planet. In this way I would encourage everyone to think before they buy. Easily we can all make a difference: perhaps put off that newest purchase simply because of its cost and save up for perhaps more expensive but more environmentally friendly produced goods. Rather, I would highly advocate the buying of second-hand or ‘’thrifted’’ clothes. It is this cycle of repurchase and recycling of clothing which may, in the end save our planet.
Written by Edsard Driessen