Fast Fashion 2022 - Why We Need to Rethink Where Clothes Come From

Fast Fashion 2022 - Why We Need to Rethink Where Clothes Come From

We talk a lot on THTC about fast fashion vs sustainable fashion, but in reality what does that mean?

Simply put, an infatuation with fast fashion has led to a demand for clothing to be produced in a way that prioritises cost and speed over quality, environmental impact and the impact on the lives of those that produce it.

Cheap fashion encourages a throwaway culture which is simply not sustainable. Consider that the fashion industry is responsible for more CO2 emissions annually than aviation and maritime shipping combined, producing over 100 billion items of new clothing each year.

Of this staggering figure, 73% of the clothes produced go to landfill, with only 1% being recycled into new garments. Much of these products are made from synthetics - bi-products of petroleum such as polyester, which can take over 100 years to degrade.

The high street and internet are full of fast fashion brands. Their retail price is ridiculously low, their production costs staggeringly low. They produce cheap products from low grade cotton, polyester, nylon and other synthetic fabrics which are not built to last, and they actively encourage over consumption.

While the cost to the consumer may be low, the cost to the planet is high. Here are a few reasons why we need to rethink where our clothes come from.

A Waste of Water

The true scale of water consumption involved in garment production is staggering. This study puts it at 93 billion cubic meters of water a year. The production and trade of cheaper textiles cause massive pollution, spewing bleaching agents, heavy dyes and other pollutants directly into the air and water streams.

Almost all of these garments are made with polyester or cotton. And while polyester is synthetic and needs oil to produce, cotton is one of the thirstiest plants in the world. it takes on average 10,000-20,000 litres of water to cultivate just one kilogram of raw cotton depending on where it is grown.

Here’s a stat (because who doesn’t love a good stat?), 20% of the earth’s wasted water comes directly from fabric treatment. The toxic water is pumped back into water systems, contaminating it. This doesn’t just impact the health of fish and other river dwelling creatures. It affects the health of the animals that drink it, including us.

A Disregard of Human Life

High street fashion brands realise that the consumers are becoming increasingly aware about the pay and working conditions of the people who make their garments. Fast fashion manufacturers are particularly guilty here due to their business model of cheaper prices and the sheer scale of demand for their products. While some brands genuinely do make an effort to improve pay and labour standards for their workers, too many prefer to spend money on PR campaigns or capsule collections within their range, in a cynical attempt to portray themselves as running ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ supply chains.

In the past, a high street retailer’s range may have taken between 6-12 months to get from design concept to being available in store.

This type of brand can introduce a new range every week. They subcontract manufacturing to the lowest bidder, usually in Pakistan, Bangladesh or central Africa.

There’s no loyalty to the factories and no long-term supplier contracts. The factory that can offer the lowest price usually wins the business, meaning the health and wellbeing of the factory workers is not the priority - price and lead times are.

Next time you’re in your favourite high street retailer, have a look at the label. Google where those jeans were made. It’s incredible in 2022 that these practises are still commonplace where much of the world operates essentially using modern day slavery.

“Made in China” used to be a punchline. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find any fast fashion made there. Rising wages for Chinese workers has meant the vast production of fast fashion textiles is now in Bangladesh, where they’re a bit more forgiving on the amount a factory worker can earn.

One household name brand recently moved their production to Ethiopia, and another recently moved to Myanmar - purely because production is cheaper. Production costs are cheaper because the people making the clothes are usually paid next to nothing and have limited or no employment rights, no healthcare, no paid holidays and often no days off at all.

Sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are paid an official minimum of just 24 US dollars per month. The 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse was a structural failure that occurred on 24 April 2013 in the Dhaka District, Bangladesh, where an eight-story commercial building called Rana Plaza collapsed. This disaster raised awareness across the globe, and many of the usual suspects that produce under these conditions pledged to improve conditions for their workers, but in reality, very little has changed.

Sweatshops exist all across the world, from India to the UK, where the pandemic exposed factories in Leicester where workers were paid as little as £3 an hour and have no contracts and health and safety practises are non-existent.

A Waste of Resources

By 2030, we’re on track to discard more than 134 million tonnes of textiles a year. Almost all of this material could be reused, but it isn’t. It’s a more productive business model to encourage customers to throw away their clothes every year rather than to produce garments that go the distance. However, brands such as Nudie Jeans offer a lifetime guarantee of free repairs! Such initiatives as this are rare but are gradually becoming more commonplace as consumers wise-up to the amount of waste generated by this most toxic industry.

Synthetic textiles such as polyester do not decompose or, if they do, it takes over 100 years. As I write this, more than 80% of all clothing ends up in a landfill or an incinerator. Fast fashion pollutes, there are no two ways about it. All across the world, unsold clothing is sent overseas to be sorted, resized, and sold back to developing economies in local street markets.

However, clothes made cheaply in the first place aren’t fit for repurposing. They end up as solid waste, unable to decompose, clogging up waterways or poisoning the soil.

We Can do Better

During no point in human history has modern fashion been so accessible and so affordable. Lower prices, however, have led to an excess of production and unrealistic expectations. Clothing is made not to last, just to fill a gap, to be disposed of and moved on from.

The industry is unsustainable. We have to consider how encouraging competitive consumption creates an environment of persistent demand. Demand that’s destroying the planet.

Hemp can play a massive part in changing the industry.

THTC prioritises quality, durability and the welfare of the planet and the people that make our clothes over cheap prices and shorter lead times. This means the clothes you see on our website may be a little more expensive than the ones you find on Shein, but you very much get what you pay for. They may seem expensive compared to the industry norm, but that norm is what needs to change, and we should, perhaps, ask ourselves how high street fashion has become so cheap.

Our products are sustainable. Not fast.

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