As consumers become more aware of the detrimental effects of the fashion industry, terms like fast fashion and sustainable fashion are becoming part of our daily vocabulary.
But what do they really mean? And why should it matter to you?
Good on You (the world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings) defines fast fashion as “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.”
Find Good on You's full article here: 'What is Fast Fashion'.
Clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, with the purchase habits of the average consumer rising by 60%. While there are only four climatic seasons, huge fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara offer between 12 to 24 new clothing collections every year.
The ability to constantly update your wardrobe with the latest trends at extremely low prices is definitely too good to be true.
This is where sustainable fashion comes in.
Sustainable fashion generally refers to the environmental impacts of a piece of clothing. It asks the questions of “How is it taken from the earth and how will it return to the earth?”
Often used alongside the term sustainable fashion, ethical fashion refers to the treatment of the people involved in the garment industry. It asks you to consider the wages, conditions, and treatment of the workers involved throughout the entire supply chain.
As brands are starting to label their clothes as eco-friendly, green, sustainable, and ethical, it is important to understand what this means to them and research how transparent and truly sustainable and ethical they are being.
As Viola Wohlgemuth, textiles expert at Greenpeace, explains, “Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing*.”
* Greenwashing can be defined as using “deceptive eco-friendly jargon without full transparency as a lucrative strategy to appease do-good consumers.”
Why It Matters
As clothing consumption continues to rise, the negative effects of the fashion industry will continue to grow.
The production of clothing is doing irreparable damage on the planet.
The production of clothing releases 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, doing more damage than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The textile industry also uses 98 million tons of non-renewable resources every year, including oil, fertilizers, and chemicals.
Textile production is also incredibly water-intensive, using around 93 billion cubic metres of water annually.
The production of activewear is especially harmful, read more about sustainable activewear in our previous post.
And it’s not just the production of clothing that’s damaging - our habit of buying low-quality, event-specific clothing leads us to discard most of the clothes we buy. With not enough resources to successfully donate or recycle clothing, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is sent to landfill or burned every second.
Employing at least 300 million people along the value chain, the fashion industry impacts a great number of people worldwide.
When discussing the wages of garment workers, especially those in developing countries, it is important to understand the difference between minimum wage and living wage.
While minimum wage is a guideline set by the government of a country, living wage refers to a wage that is enough to meet the basic needs of a worker, while also providing a level of discretionary income. Even if a brand can promise that their workers are being paid minimum wage, in India and Bangladesh for example, wages are often two to five times less than living wage.
This is definitely due to the insanely low prices available from fast fashion brands, but it is also due to the uneven distribution of profits within the supply chain. While a brand makes around a 12% profit from every garment sold, only 0.6% makes it back to the garment worker.
Awareness about the unsafe working conditions of the fast fashion industry really came to light in 2013, when the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed. Some of the biggest global fashion brands were having their garments manufactured at Rana Plaza, and the building collapse cost the lives of 1,100 people (with a further 2,500 being injured).
Workers complained of cracks in the building in the weeks leading up to the collapse, but without workers’ rights or unions, garment workers in developing countries can’t afford to take days off or quit jobs with unsafe working conditions.
Garment workers are also predominantly female, and experience a high level of sexual harassment in the workplace.
A 2017 survey conducted on female garment workers in Cambodia revealed that one in three garment workers had experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months.
“Sometimes, of course I think about not going to work anymore because of this. But then I think about my family condition and I know I cannot quit.” said one of the surveyed garment workers.
The Good News
It’s not all bad news though.
With searches for “ethical and sustainable fashion”, “vegan leather”, “organic cotton”, and “recycled plastic” rising between 2019 and 2020, it’s clear that consumers are becoming more informed about the problems in the fast fashion industry, and are looking to brands to provide more sustainable and ethical choices.
This is why we at Movemetica are dedicated to bringing you a thoughtfully curated selection of active and lifestyle products that will empower you to drive change and to help others do the same.
- About the author -
"Amber is a writer who is passionate about leading a more sustainable life and helping others to do the same. She loves reading, watching movies, and travelling. On the weekend you’ll find her checking out the latest vegan restaurants and cafes."