Fashion trends are changing very fast. We easily get bored with what we owned. We want to buy new ones. Last year’s pullover looks old, and we look at recent season’s trendy pullovers. Fast fashion has a significant role in this perspective. Even though shopping often looks normal, consumption wasn’t always this way.
In the past, clothes seasons were changed by yearly. Consumers went to the shop when they need something or to see new products 2 to 4 times a year. Spanish clothing and accessories brand Zara created a new view to improve its sales. If shops have new garments more than 4 times a year, customers have a reason to stop by. Of course, they will buy some products when they look. If the shop pulls the old garments when new ones come, the customer fears losing a chance and s/he buys the garment without second thinking.
In recent years, climate crises bring a sustainable fashion trend. So, fast fashion brands place on market sustainable products. Do you think that garments are produced really sustainable?
Fast Fashion Concept and Sweat Shops
Rana Plaza disaster that happens in 2013 Bangladesh is an important case to understand fast fashion’s damage.
Rana Plaza was a building built for use as offices and shops. It planned as 6 floors, but it built 8 floors with 2 unlicensed floors. 1. floor is used as offices and shops, and the other floors are turned into a factory. More than 3.000 employees, who were mostly children and young women worked in that factory. The building is not an actual factory building, that’s why it’s not durable enough and safe to use for this purpose. Some architects warned the factory owner and politician Sohel Rana about the situation, but profit is more important. He didn’t do anything and kept the factory open.
On April 23, 2013, the building was emptied because it’s not safe, and there was visible cracks on it. Later in the day employees are said to turn back to the building and continue working. Most of them were afraid and didn’t want to keep working, but they were threatened with a 1 month wage cut. They were already working under low wages, they had to turn back to work. One day later on April, 24 employees went to the job in the early morning like every day. The building collapsed soon afterward shift began. 1138 people passed away and 2500 people got injured.
Companies’ reacted as bad as the accident. They gave families $200 indemnity if they can establish with a DNA test that they are relatives of the deceased.
Why these people forced to work at the risk of their life? To produce garments for the fast fashion brands that sell us cheap clothing. Rana Plaza was making production to more than 90 brands including Zara, Gap, Mango, Benetton, etc.
Production Process of Fast Fashion Brands
Why did these brands call as fast fashion brands? Because normally, it takes 4 to 6 months to create an apparel season. It has a long process that includes design, fabric choice, testing, rectification, second testing… In this production process, a brand can prepare only 2 to 4 different seasons. Fast fashion brands have decreased these processes to around 2 weeks. New products come to stores every 2 weeks. Their purpose is to provide fast cycle, so money is made by selling many products at affordable prices. Consumers are required to have a fast consumption process similar to that in production. Consumers get bored from what they own very quickly and they desire new ones. That much fast production can only occur with economic differences between countries and labor exploitation.
If they were produced products in developed countries, it would be impossible to sell them at cheap prices. For example, in the USA, a textile worker earns $12-15 per hour. S/he also has social rights and these are also expense for the employer. The minimum wage of a textile worker in the USA is $1660 per month. Same job costs in China $326 per month, in Bangladesh $95 per month. Because of this cost differentiation, companies are made their production in the countries like China, Bangladesh and Vietnamese. One fast fashion brand’s daily production demand is around 2.500 pieces and manufacturing subcontractors mostly work with more than one brand because they don’t have any guarantee for the future. When brands run into a legal problem, they put responsibility to the manufacturing subcontractor and terminate their agreement with this company to clear their names. An example of this occurred in 2012, in a subcontractor firm that made production for famous US brand Walmart after a big fire.
Textile production is not machine-based, it’s labor-based. Especially with the effect of fast production and consumption, consumers think that machines produce all the apperal products. However, sewing machines are not production machines, they considered as a tool used by the worker. Today lots of niche textile brands sell their product with the label of “handmade”. This also supports the idea of fast fashion products are produced by machines. Actually, even the products that consumers buy without second think are produced hand.
Consequences of Fast Production/Consumption Cycle
While producing so fast, of course, consumers demand to get bored quickly and desire new ones. According to research today, a garment is wore 5 or 6 times and goes to a dumpster or charity. Most of the surplus stock in the shops is going directly to dumpsters.
The textile industry is the second industry in the world that causes the environmental pollution. Textile production has a significant role in both environmental problems and overconsumption of natural resources. According to UNECE 2.700 liters of clean water is needed for one white t-shirt production. This amount corresponds to a person’s 900-day water requirement. In other words, when we wear a t-shirt a few times and throw it aside, we also throw 900 liters of water in the trash. Most of us are careful about the water used at home, but we never think of the water we use indirectly.
The textile industry creates environmental pollution during the production, but clothes worn out a few times and sometimes even not worn out thrown away cause a particular environmental problem. Most of the unworn garments are sent to African countries under the name of help, but people who live there don’t need that many clothes. Even some African countries banned importing these garments and don’t accept them. Eventually, most of these clothes go to the dumpster. This amount is approximately 50 million tons annually. Most of them produce these garments with oil-based fabrics and dyed with color that contains toxic ingredients, can’t biodegrade easily, and cause earth and water pollution..
Is Recycling a Solution?
You may wonder if some of these clothes are not recycled. Textile recycling isn’t an easy process. Recycling clothes made from a single material is relatively easy, but clothes made from hybrid materials need high technology and high cost, that’s why mostly they aren’t recycled. Very few facilities in the world have this technology. Most of the clothes in the market are produced by hybrid fabrics. If you check your wardrobe, you can easily realize that most of the cotton garments contain spandex to flexibility; most of the wool garments contain acrylic to lower the cost. Even recycling one of the best existing options, it’s not a single-handed solution to the fast consumption problem.
Are Fast Fashion Brands Conscious Series Eco-Friendly?
After the Rana Plaza disaster fast fashion brands production process are became more visible. More people realize the situation and protest brands. Both these protests and increasing environmentalism effects, these brands started to release conscious series. Are these series really different from the others and environment friendly?
Unfortunately not, I wish they were. Then it would have been a big step forward in environmental and ethical production because these brands have a big market share. If we examine these garments intently, some of them included sustainable wool, but it contains only 5% of wool, some of them’s only labels recycled. Even they produced these garments completely sustainable raw materials, it doesn’t change the worker abuse and sweatshop reality. In a word, they are marketing non-sustainable garments as sustainable. This called greenwashing.
Getting Away From Fast Fashion
The biggest problem isn’t buying from fast fashion brands. It’s overconsumption. At the first step look your closet and count how many pieces (including bags and shoes) did you buy last year. Calculate how much many do you spent. In this way you will find out your yearly textile garments budget. Then it’s time to look at your closet again and decide what pieces do you need. When you want to buy something as compulsive, look your list. This way will provide you to avoid overconsumption and compulsive buying. Buying the best quality clothes for your budget ensures you to use them longer.
Of course, you don’t have lots of time searching for brands in a busy lifestyle. But it’s better to keep in mind that most fast fashion brands use greenwashing and some other people pay a price for their production.