Why is Fast Fashion a problem?
Global clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, with clothes on average being worn much less and discarded quicker than ever before. Globally, we now consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than we were consuming just two decades ago. Jane Milburn of Textile Beat says,
“Australia is the second-largest consumer of new textiles after the US, averaging 27 kilograms of new textiles every year.”
It’s a 2.5 trillion dollar industry, and it’s not slowing down.
Poverty and human rights abuses
When the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, the world was horrified—for a moment.
Over 2500 of the factory workers were injured, and 1135 were killed. 80% of the garment workers caught inside that day were women. They were mostly young, 18 – 20 years old, and forced by poverty to work in the factory for around 22 cents an hour.
It was supposed to be a wakeup call for the fashion industry but six years on, has anything really changed?
Based on hundreds of interviews with garment workers in Bangladesh and Vietnam for Oxfam’s’ Made in Poverty Report, the research shows appallingly low wages in the garment sector are trapping workers and their families in a cycle of poverty.
Nine out of ten workers interviewed in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families, forcing them to regularly skip meals and eat inadequately, or go into debt. Australian fashion brands are an integral part of the system that keeps these women trapped in poverty.
Global Labour Justice found female garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, suffer harassment and physical and sexual abuse daily. Most of these cases are not reported due to fear of retaliation in the workplace or losing their jobs.
Residents along Tullahan river have noted a multi-coloured effluent in the river water, rocks and banks. Several industries, such as paper, pen and dye factories, are located upstream from this site. © Gigie Cruz-Sy / Greenpeace
The environmental impact of fast fashion is enormous.
The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Synthetic materials, toxic dyes, hazardous chemicals, pesticides, wastewater, and textile waste. Cheap clothes come at a high environmental cost. In 2011 Greenpeace launched its “Detox My Fashion” campaign to address this problem, asking the fashion industry to take responsibility urgently.
- Fast fashion garments, which we wear less than five times and keep for 35 days, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.
- Twenty thousand litres is the amount of water needed to produce one kilo of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.
- Cotton represents nearly half of the total fiber used to make clothing today. More than 90% of that cotton is now genetically modified, using vast amounts of water as well as chemicals. Cotton production is now responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
- Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.
- 85% of the plastic pollution in the ocean is due to microfibers from synthetic clothing.
Ultimately, fast fashion a consumer-driven market, and while there’s still a demand for fast, cheap clothing, fashion brands will continue to make it.