From Trendy to Trashy: How Fashion Travels

Changing trends lead to clothes ending up from being on dummies to dumpsters.

Have you ever wondered why a fast-fashion outlet looks completely different when it has only been a couple of months since you last stepped inside it? The advent of seasonal trends along with the transition to businesses’ operating online has lead to fast fashion houses racing to produce up-to-date items at rocket speed and selling them at a crowd-appeasing cost. Because of this every few months, outlets are stocked with new trends making fast fashion turn into “disposable” fashion. From an economical standpoint, this model increases a brand’s growth but from an environmental perspective, the consequences of such practices are detrimental.

New trends becoming attainable at a cheaper cost is elating for fashion enthusiasts but ironically it comes at a high cost, environmental degradation. Whether it colloquial exchange or researched literature backed by evidence, the conversation surrounding fast fashion being unsustainable has been doing circles ever since the global warming movement took momentum. More people are gaining environmental consciousness which is why reasonable questions have been raised regarding how fast fashion houses are becoming one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution.

Producing clothes at a fast rate and low cost is a result of unethical labour practices. Some of the biggest named fashions have set up workshops in developing countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan where they pay workers below minimum wages to work 100+ hours a week to be able to keep up with evolving trends. Their unethical labour practices aren’t the only issue associated with these fashion houses. Production and disposing of materials is where the matter of environment comes into play.

Researches conducted on this topic have shown astounding results. According to a paper published in ‘Nature Reviews Earth and Environment’ which reviewed the environmental impacts of the fashion industry from production to consumption, the fast fashion industry produces over 92 million tonnes of waste per year and consumes 1.5 trillion litres of water, along with emissions of high levels of CO2 adding to chemical pollution.

Globally, the fashion industry generates more than 100 billion garments annually out of which $450 billion worth of textiles is thrown away. An economy that was once circular has now transitioned into producing only 1% of textile waste to be recycled into new clothing. This is due to the materials used for production. The main component in most clothing is polyester, essentially a plastic, that takes up to 200 years to breakdown in a landfill. Cotton and wool which are natural fibres might be biodegradable and compostable but even then, a landfill is not the right place for composting them either and can lead to leaks of chemicals like ammonia. Regardless, most clothes don’t even end up in landfills. Rivers and waterways around the world are being used as dumping grounds by textile factories and industries servicing the fast-fashion supply chain.

These are the stats but what can be done to mitigate these numbers? The solution lies on an individual level. Holding big corporations accountable does not lead to major change because of deep-rooted capitalism. Companies are not made to be fully transparent even if they claim to be but change can begin at home.

Through learning about brand practices and making a conscious effort to buy purposefully and through thrift stores, each individual can make a difference. From ridding ourselves of the notion of disposable fashion to purchasing slowly and sustainably, transformation is possible. It will be slow, requiring immense patience, but not unattainable. Everything boils down to a collective effort made towards becoming environmentally friendly through education and creating awareness.

By Maha Saeed Khan 
Last year university student doing a double major in Economics and International Relations
with a minor in Law.

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