Analysis of fast fashion industry, its social and environmental impacts from Boğaziçi University Sustainable Development Goals Student Hub
by Meryem Hifa Keskin
Almost all of us care about how we look. Especially for the last few years, with the rise of the social media and its influencers, how we look and what we wear started to occupy a great place in our lives. We have Youtubers who share with us their hauls, seasonal lookbooks, and their monthly favorites. We have instagram feeds full of amazingly styled people who are never wearing the same clothes again. We also have clothing brands that offer us new products every week if not two times a week! Then, considering all those factors, it seems very natural for us to join this endless cycle of; seeing influencers in their pretty, cool, out of this world outfits, aspiring to be like them (‘cause please have you seen how amazing they look in that sweater!), buying clothes that look similar to theirs (that’s what we call a “trend” right?), wearing them once (or twice if we are desperate), and seeing that what you already have in your closet are out of the season, not trending anymore etc. (what a bummer!), seeing influencers in their “new”, pretty, cool, out of the world outfits and you know the drill. But at what cost?
The term fast fashion is used to describe the fashion items that are inexpensively made and readily available today. The increasing demands for new clothes almost every week require an industry that produces fast and does that without high costs since the demands are coming mostly from middle-income consumers. Fast fashion companies usually imitate the designs that are seen on runways every season and they deliver cheaper versions of the designs to average consumers. While those companies make latest styles available to all class of consumers, this growing demand-supply chain comes with many environmental and social issues.
Today, I want to focus on the social issues and take you all to a journey with me to see the actual cost of fast fashion and our increasing demand and consumption of clothes. It should not be a surprise that if you want to produce something incredibly fast but also make it cheap to attract many consumers as possible, you should cut down on your spendings while producing. There are two main ways you, or fast fashion companies in this case, can do that: cheap labor, and cheap textile. Then where do you find many people who are willing to work for low wages? That’s right, countries that have low or middle income since there are not many job opportunities and people have no choice but to work for the “big companies of the world” for low wages. And when we say low and middle-income countries, we get poor political infrastructure and organizational management which result in these countries not having any regulations or enforcements that can ensure the workers’ safety and well-being. Surely, this causes those workers to be forced to work under poor working conditions which causes many health hazards like respiratory issues (lung disease and cancer) due to the poor ventilation of the workspaces, musculoskeletal hazards, accidental injuries, overuse injuries, or death. These workers are also forced to work for long hours without having any breaks since there should be constant production to feed the constant demands. Now, imagine a person (man, woman, or a child) having to work for many hours a day without any breaks and without proper ventilation, constantly inhaling synthetic air particulates (coming from cheap textile), and having injuries because of the repetitive motion tasks just to earn money so little that can barely help feeding their family. It sure sounds disturbing, almost like modern slavery, right? Now, imagine that the person in question has to go through all these because another person somewhere in the world wants to buy that new cool “trending” sweater which looks nothing like the other three sweaters they have. Not to mention that this person (the worker) doesn’t have the opportunity to buy/wear any of the clothes they are making since they don’t have enough money. It doesn’t sound right, does it? Yet, we are so good at ignoring what we don’t see as we are at ignoring injustice not to compromise on our comfort.
After this short journey, if you feel the urge to do something, want to take action, or wonder if there is a way to help those workers, it’s rather simple: don’t buy from fast fashion companies and help us break this demand-supply chain. “How?” you may ask. First of all, you should be aware that it doesn’t matter if you wear something out of season or not trending as it is us, the people, that decide what is trendy and what is not. You should also know that those pretty instagram feeds are constructed that way to promote certain designs and make sure you buy them (that’s their job as influencers anyway) so you don’t have to feel bad or left out if you don’t have every single amazing outfit they show on their feeds. If you keep those in mind you will see that your desire to buy new clothes will start to fade away. You will still get bored of the clothes you already have, even if you reduce the influence of the social media on you. Upcycling is a great way to turn your old boring clothes into unique and cool ones. But if you really have to or want to buy new outfits, try second-hand shopping. That way you can help the workers, and you can reduce your carbon footprint by preventing more textile to enter the cycle. Don’t forget, the change starts with you!
- Bick, R., Halsey, E., & Ekenga, C. (2018, December 27). The global environmental injustice of fast fashion. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7