The fashion industry represents an integral part of the world economies, valuing over USD 2.5 trillion and employing over 75 million people worldwide. The sector has seen exponential growth over the past decades, as clothing production increased by almost 60% in 2014 than what was produced in 2000. The industry has expanded due to the fast fashion trend that made the spectacular growth possible and people are buying a lot more clothes than ever before but keeping them for half the time they did formerly.
While the fashion sector is booming, recently increasing attention has been brought to the range of negative environmental impacts of the changing trends. Fashion production makes up almost 10% of carbon emissions, using up to around 93 billion cubic metres of water and releasing approximately 500,000 tons of microfibers annually into the oceans. This trend of express fashion has led to water resources drying up, increased water pollution, clearing of forest land for cultivation and land degradation due to exploitative practices. What’s more disturbing is that about 85% of all textiles are dumped each year as fashion changes frequently in today’s time, making the mountains of clothes from the previous trend ‘unusable’.
This trend of fast fashion also has many human costs. Textile workers, primarily women in the countries of the Global South, are forced to work long hours in appalling conditions while being paid derisory wages. Since they do not have any alternative work available, they accept these conditions, which often infringe on their human rights. Harmful chemicals are used in the factories without proper care and protective gear available for the workers, which presents additional health risks. Moreover, the chemicals used are sometimes unsafe for consumers as well.
The environmental and social cost of the industry compels us to rethink fast fashion and insists on the need for more sustainable business models and practices. Thrifting as a fashion statement recently is catching on, which could be a viable option at the moment while more alternatives are explored.