Clothing Catastrophe: Consequences of Fast Fashion
Irresistible deals and holiday sales on the latest trends are bound to allure us into the world of fast fashion where stylish clothing is simply cheap. When we explore fast fashion stores such as H&M, ZARA, and Forever 21, chances are clothing made from China, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, etc. are more prevalent. However, the story behind who made these clothes and where they originated from are disregarded due to the obsession and thrill of buying inexpensive clothing. Fast fashion comes with the deadly price of environmental concerns in the form of pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals. This fast fashion frenzy had also led to unjust labor practices and treatment of workers in order for industries to make a profit.
Polyester is immensely prominent among fast fashion industries. However, this synthetic fabric portrays a major role in polluting water due to being composed of non-biodegradable microfibers. These microfibers shed from polyester garments pose as a grave threat to both marine and human life due to the onslaught of plastic in oceans. Hence, marine organisms, such as planktons, are at a higher risk of consuming microfibers found in their natural habitat, which in turn may be exposed to humans as these microfibers progress up the food chain. Microfibers also infiltrate our waterways, thus poisoning drinking water. Also, microfibers host bacteria, thereby exposing humans to diseases and infections, including gastrointestinal infections. In addition to water pollution, the production of polyester contributes to air pollution. Fast fashion industries release substantial emissions of carbon dioxide yearly in order to produce polyester clothing. To elaborate further, the cheap prices of fast fashion creates an environment of consuming and discarding clothes. Thus, microfibers contribute to the overflowing of landfills as numerous clothes are discarded.
Additionally, fast fashion clothing is associated with hazardous chemicals known for their bioaccumulation, hormone disruption, toxicity, and considerable amount of carcinogens. As clothes continue to cast off and accumulate into landfills for several years, toxic chemicals and dyes will contaminate groundwater and soil. Dyes that are used to make leather clothing serve as major polluters of rivers. Some clothes are sprayed with formaldehyde to prevent mildew and wrinkles during shipping. Therefore, an overabundance of clothing with this chemical can engender allergic reactions. This chemical is also linked to cancer, skin ulcerations, heart palpitations, eczema, and asthma.
Cotton production is also highly popular in fast fashion industries with detrimental effects to both humans and the environment. Excessive quantities of water are required to develop cotton clothing, thereby promoting water shortages and droughts in many regions. In fact, the Aral Sea in Central Asia depleted as farmers used the water to make cotton. Large amounts of insecticides and pesticides are also utilized globally in order to prevent crop failure. Hence, for every cotton clothing produced, a small trace of pesticides are used. Traces of these pesticides have also been detected in water used in our everyday lives for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
Clothing factories in various developing countries are not regulated, therefore exposing workers to atrocious labor conditions that often result in major injuries or death. In garment and knitwear factories, workers encounter poor lighting, malfunctioning machines, dust and smoke inhalation, and exposure to electrical wires and poisonous chemicals. For instance, they are exposed to harmful chemicals such as toxic phthalates and amines from specific dyes, thus causing miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, and hormone disruption. Pesticides from cotton are linked with brain tumor, fetal damage, and sterility among these workers.
Factory workers strive to overcome poverty, economic hardships, and provide for themselves and their families by earning a decent pay, having safe working conditions, and basic security. Instead, they confront low salaries for working lengthy hours in a hazardous atmosphere as labor industries become more cheaper and workers become expendable. Child labor is also exploited in these factories as underage workers as young as 10. These workers have long shifts of approximately 10-12 hours, sometimes even for 16-18 hours on a daily basis. In turn, workers are cheated of overtime pay as they acquire low wages for doing grueling tasks for long hours, thus being unable to maintain a living and possess basic needs. In addition to this, breaks are denied to workers and their health and safety are neglected. These factories are also composed of faulty machinery that pose as a threat to workers. In fact, the notorious Rana Plaza collapse of 2013 in Bangladesh is due to advanced machinery being situated in a building constructed out of cheap and unsturdy material. Also, the poor condition of this building, such as cracks in walls, were being ignored, thus leading to this collapse.
Furthermore, fast fashion is also infamous disempowering women as garment factories are composed of approximately 80% women on a global scale. These women typically range from 18 to 26 years old and a majority of them earns less than $2 a day for working in this arduous environment. Women encounter discrimination within this workforce as they tend to get paid less compared to men, thus limiting their access to only low paid jobs with inadequate chances of obtaining a promotion. They are also at the risk of being fired due to not being prepared to meet the demands of their employers as the tasks are proven to be too difficult and dangerous. The lack of security also place women in a series of unfortunate predicaments as they become vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.
There are numerous ethical alternatives one can take to resolve and reduce the destructive effects of fast fashion. For instance, checking out ethical brands such as Dorsu, Krochet Kids, Alternative Apparel, and Reformation enables us to make a huge difference in the fashion industry. Companies like these use sustainable fabrics and processes in the form of recyclable materials and organic fibers instead of dyes and harmful chemicals. Ethical brands also ensure a safe, fair, and clean work environment along with helping individuals conquer poverty. Although this method of slow fashion is expensive, these high quality clothes are long lasting and these companies value the interests of their workers. If more people invest in slow fashion, then the fast fashion industry will experience a major decline in profit, thus compelling this industry to manage better and partake in fair practices in order to appease their customers.
Donating serves as an ultimatum to both the high-priced slow fashion apparel and the disposable low-quality fast fashion products. These clothing items can be donated to thrift stores, consignment stores, and local recycling centers to prevent landfill excess. The thrift shop staff examines the donations in order to determine what to resell and what to recycle. These clothes are donated to charity by non-profit thrift stores. Consignment stores abide by the same process, except when your clothing is resold you receive part of the earnings. They also return pieces of clothing that they don’t desire back to ensure that the clothing does not waste in landfills. Textile recycling centers tend to break down your clothing into textile fibers to create new garments through yarn and carpet padding. You can also shop at certain thrift stores such as Swap.com and Beacon’s Closet in addition to consignment stores such as ThredUP and Buffalo Exchange to buy sustainable clothing at an affordable price. In addition to second-hand shopping, vintage shopping enables you to recycle clothes and obtain high quality clothing at a lower price. Therefore, you can sport a unique and retro look that is not found in typical stores.
Overall, as consumers, we are responsible for encouraging this appalling and addicting environment of fast fashion as we continue to demand for cheap clothing. Thus, we need to be more conscious of who made our clothes and how the danger of death looms over them everyday as they try to fulfill our greedy demands. We also need to be mindful of many suffering from environmental issues caused by the production of these vile clothing. By spreading awareness to the cruelty behind fast fashion, we can fashion forward by saving our environment and people through a sustainable mindset and approach.