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Holocene  •  19 May 2021  •  Non-Fiction

UTS: Fast Fashion at the Expense of Literally Everyone Else

By Vanessa Lim
Content Warning: Racism
UTS: Fast Fashion at the Expense of Literally Everyone Else

Fast fashion is secretly destructive. It enables poverty and sets an unachievable standard that dictates how we look, while devastating the environment at the same time.

Fast fashion produces high volumes of clothing very rapidly by replicating fashion trends, using cheap labor and low quality materials. Personally, I hate how fast fashion made sustainable fashion seem really fucking expensive in comparison. When I buy a $3 no-brand shirt, I know that there’s a sweatshop behind it, but the price is often too good to pass on a tight budget. 

While fast fashion may have cheap price tags, it’s at the expense of everyone. Many workers in these industries are being paid less than 50 cents per hour while working overtime in severely unsafe working conditions. Societies in developed countries are neck-deep in overconsumption and poorly made clothing. Every year, I have to buy the same basics because they don’t last. This wasn’t always the norm. I remember my parents telling me that in the good ol’ days they bought one new set of clothes per year in the 70s; clothing was meant to last years, sometimes decades. Now, cheap jeans get worn out faster and stockings get ripped in no time. 

Slowly, but surely, we have moved towards unsustainable fashion becoming the norm. Within 8 years the market growth of the apparel industry has doubled from 3.5% to 6.16%2, which means the demand of fast fashion has only continued to increase. Both high-end and affordable fashion brands continue to choose the unsustainable route despite being called out by consumers. 

In the past:

  • In 2015, a supplier from Uniqlo violated labor rights in China by expecting their staff to work excessive overtime in dangerous work conditions.3
  • In 2011, a report on Victoria’s Secret found that they used child labour to produce their clothing despite it explicitly being prohibited by their country’s legislations.4 
  • In 2018, Boohoo was named and shamed in the UK Parliament for selling £5 dresses of such poor quality that no charity shops would take them in.5 
  • In 2017, it was found out that Missguided had illegally used fur from animals such as rabbits and cats.6
  • In 2017, Zara churns out 12,000 designs while making claims recently that their ‘fast fashion’ empire can become more sustainable despite potentially benefiting from forced Uighur labour in China.7 

So, why not slow fashion? Because it’s so expensive. Beware, an item’s cost does not reflect how sustainable it is. Brands such as Gucci and Prada still potentially use sweatshop labour, waste the majority of their textiles, and promote a quick fashion cycle.8 It’s a struggle between being unable to afford certain garments, and not knowing how to shop ethically when you can. Also, like many, I was raised in a household where I couldn’t afford many luxuries, so choosing the cheapest option was often the only option. But a good way to mitigate your impact is to just buy less clothes. 

Finally, the contribution of fast fashion to climate change is shocking. Fast fashion alone produces 10% of all global carbon emissions and uses 1.5 trillion litres of water annually, while also polluting existing rivers and streams. Most textile materials in the industry aren’t even used. 85% of all textiles in the fashion industry are being thrown into dumps every year, further polluting the planet.

1. What She Makes: Power and Poverty in the Fashion Industry

2. Global apparel market growth 2012–2020

3. Media reporting on UNIQLO manufacturers.

4. Report alleges Victoria’s Secret linked to child labor.

5. With Allegations Of Slavery And Unsafe Working Conditions, Is Boohoo The Unacceptable Face Of Fast Fashion?

6. “Fake” fur sold on UK high street found to contain cat fur.

7. Uyghurs for sale

8. Prada and Gucci Not Immune To Sweatshop Labour In Their Supply Chains

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