by Deeti Shrotriya
Fashion and clothes are an important part of everyone’s lives today. In fact, the global apparel market is worth 3 trillion dollars hence, accounting for 2% of the global GDP. This statistic clearly indicates that the fashion and clothing industry is not a small one. People find it necessary to keep up with the latest trends and feel the never-ending need to frequently purchase new clothes; this is referred to as fast fashion. Fast fashion mainly involves trendy clothes being produced on a frequent basis, in bulk, and hence, available for cheap. This benefits customers by providing them with the latest, new and updated choices and also benefits the companies as it promotes more customers to come in with more frequent visits. However, this all comes at the cost of the environment.
The fashion and apparel industry as a whole is largely unsustainable. Beginning from the production process to the waste generation and disposal. At the moment, the industry is responsible for a total of 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This figure is larger than GHG emissions produced from the airline and maritime shipping industry combined. Additionally, with an increase in population and consumer demand, sector emissions are estimated to increase by more than 50% by 2030. The textile industry is also largely water-dependent and given the growing global water scarcity, it poses a huge concern. In the process of garment making and textile dyeing, a lot of toxic chemicals are involved. These toxins are usually mixed and disposed of in the rivers, polluting our water system. With this buy-and-throw attitude, customers throw away perfectly good clothes that are disposed of in the least sustainable practices. All of these environmental impacts indicate that the textile industry is extremely non-sustainable and necessitates a shift in this industry driven by consumer demand in the long run.
With the production of such large amounts of textiles, fabrics and clothes, there is a need for a proper waste management system to be employed. As mentioned, this is an industry that utilizes a heavy amount of resources and has a degrading impact on the environment. Waste generation is one thing that we as consumers should ensure is happening in the right way for products we use and dispose of. Statistics show that, annually, consumers dispose of approximately 70 pounds of shoes and clothing per person. These items could easily be recycled and reused for making new clothing items, increasing the lifespan of the material.
The problem of fast fashion is not a local, but a global one. The production of garments takes place in a different country than the one it is sold in and the waste produced in one country is disposed of in another. Hence, it is important to view this problem from a geopolitical standpoint as well. While most fast fashion brands have a “green policy” or a “sustainable” range of clothing, the reality is far from what it displays. Most of the fast fashion companies emerge from the Global North, however, most of the production and disposal of these products occurs in the Global South. This pushes the Global South (mainly Kenya and Tanzania) to deal with the implications of fast fashion despite their lack of infrastructure. Global fashion brands must drastically alter their linear business models and begin producing fewer clothes that are higher quality, longer lasting, repairable, and reusable. Although we as consumers need to make a change, producers need to be more conscious of their supply chains as well. The progress toward eliminating hazardous chemicals has been mostly positive and game-changing, demonstrating that coordinated action and transparency in supply chains are the keys to industry transformation, but this progress is restricted to the brands that are taking action.
One major thing that all of us consumers are aware of but do not realize is that we should only buy things we need. Buying unnecessary things promotes waste production and increases demand, hence, negatively impacting the environment and the industry. We should encourage shopping at brands that are more sustainable and practice upcycling. Upcycling is a growing fashion trend practiced by designers that helps to preserve resources while reducing textile waste. An increasing number of brands and fashion houses are recognizing and implementing the method as they seek solutions to the industry’s environmental impact and to provide options to their customers. Implementing upcycling on an industrial scale necessitates transparency in order to understand the waste generated in large-scale production and creating designs that are compatible with the production system yet less wasteful. India’s sustainable fashion industry is becoming highly successful with some of the most prominent brands including No Nasties, Doodlage and 11.11. However, the simplest and easiest step we could all take is to calculate our fashion footprint which would help us identify that we are a part of the problem and that fast fashion is an emerging global environmental concern.
Deeti Shrotriya, a second-year undergraduate student pursuing a B.A Hons. Environmental Studies at O.P. Jindal Global University