The true cost of Fast Fashion

The true cost of Fast Fashion: who made your clothes?

Did you ever wonder who made your clothes?
Did you ever wonder what’s the true cost of Fast Fashion?

‘Cause, let’s face it, who didn’t give in to the temptation of that one trendy t-shirt for just three euros or those cute little shorts sold for just five? Come on, we can tell each other the truth now that no one is listening: we’re all great deals and special sales-addicted, arent’ we? Truth is as we live submersed in the more for less logic, it’s natural to give in to the temptation of renewing our entire wardrobe and doing it guilt-free as the bill won’t be too bad, after all.

What we tend to often forget is asking ourselves the true cost of what we buy. The hidden one that not everyone is aware of but that makes a huge difference.

That’s why today I’d like to tell you more about the true cost of Fast Fashion and why, in numbers, it’s a matter we can no longer disregard.

Fast Fashion and its impact

The true cost of Fast Fashion

People keep talking about it, now more than ever, but what Fast Fashion really is?
That’s simply fashion the way we know it: big-chain fashion. A few examples? Zara, H&M, Benetton. Sounds familiar?
Fast Fashion translates the latest trends coming from the catwalks into low-cost clothing for the mass market.

Why “Fast”?

But why do we refer to the Fashion world as fast?
Big chain fashion travels super fast at every level: from designing to manufacturing, from distributing to selling. The whole process is fast and that’s it’s strength and the reason for its success. Besides, the only way to lower the costs and the price that hits the stores is pushing the entire production process (design, samples, manufacture and logistics) to the boundaries of its efficiency.

But what does this mean in practice?

This means that when we buy a three-euro-tee we’re doing more than just a trade-off between price and quality.
Of course, it won’t be made of the best fabric and with the best care but it’s not just that.
What we often don’t know is the true cost of Fast Fashion, the big trade-off we must be willing to accept involving environment, security and basic human rights that undermines the more general principles of ethic and sustainability.

The numbers of Fast Fashion

It’s good practice not to believe to everything they say, especially ’cause in the virtual world we live it’s easy for reality to be manipulated to other people’s taste.
So let’s talk numbers, shall we? What are the number of Fast Fashion?

Zara, the Spanish company that has become synonym of fast fashion, has reduced the time between design and manufacturing enabling the production of 30,000 units of products for 20,000 stores in 58 countries with new arrivals delivered twice a week in form of mini-collections (Fast and furious, Margarida O. Pfeifer, 2007).

It is exactly this continuous turnover that brings us back to the stores more often than we would normally do, buying clothes pressed by strong marketing campaigns celebrating what’s low-cost and fashionable.

Fast Fashion and its environmental cost

But what is the true cost of Fast Fashion?

Intuitively it’s easy to understand that the Fast Fashion system must have a downside. ‘Cause there’s a lesson we all learned: nothing’s free, not even when it seems so (or it goes pretty close to it).
The point is: can we quantify what is the true cost of the fashion industry both socially and environmentally?

Blogger and journalist Alden Wicker from EcoCult says that the overly-repeated fact that “fashion is the second most-polluting industry in the world after petrol” has actually no scientific grounds. So even if we intuitively know the socio-environmental impact of fashion industry is bad, having an estimate of its real effects is a whole different story.

In 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda, a non-profit organisation for sustainable fashion, together with the Boston Consulting Group carried out a study on the socio-environmental impact of the fashion industry. In the “Pulse of the Fashion Industry” report they scored the sustainability of fashion with an Higg index of 32/100. Well, we’ve got a number. Now what?

What I found interesting about this study is that it analyses the problem from a different perspective. We know fashion industry is among the most demanding industries in terms of human and natural resources and projections estimate a growth in consumption of 63% in 2030. As we live in a planet with limited resources it becomes clear that, without a more sustainable approach, the fashion industry increasing demand threatens its own growth. In other words, on the long term, sustainability will be the only way for the fashion industry to keep growing. I’ve always thought that being sustainable was only a cost for fashion, don’t you? Apparently we were wrong! Interesting, right?

The cost of Fast Fashion
Fast Fashion has a hidden cost: from growth of raw materials to their processing, from manufacture to transportation, and finally waste due to unsold products and cothes we throw away.

Is Fashion industry truly the second most-polluting industry in the world?

The US Foundation ClimateWorks in 2018 took a step forward releasing a scientific report on the environmental impact of the fashion industry according to which it is only the fourth most-polluting industry (8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions for apparel and footwear) after gas/electricity, agriculture and transportation. 

What’s interesting is that the fashion industry itself uses the other industries for its processes: machines are powered by electricity, cotton is produced in agriculture (and it’s one of the most polluting productions because of pesticides), polyester comes from plastic thus petrol, transportations are intensily used because of the outsourcing in countries with cheap workforce. Thus, if we could reduce the negative impact of fashion industry, we would reduce the impact of three of the most polluting industries at the same time. That’s how powerful fashion is.

And what about the social impact of Fast Fashion?

Unfortunately the environmental impact is only one side of the coin. For the t-shirt to hit the Primark stores with a price of only three euros, the only solution is to exploit cheap labour in developing countries. No big company can afford a final price this low without tapping into this precious resource. In India half the workers employed in the textile industry have a salary lower than the minimum allowed by law (which is anyway not enough to live – Pulse of the Fashion Industry, 2017).

If we really want to understand what’s behing that three-euro-tee, we’ve got to have a look at Machines, a documentary by the indian director Rahul Jain. A glance at a big textile manufacture in Gujarat, India, where workers work in 12-hour shifts for 3 dollars a day, handling toxic chemicals everyday with no protection and safety.

These are voices that have the right to be listened to. Don’t you think?

I think knowledge is the first step towards awareness, and awareness the first step towards change.
Knowing the true cost of fashion industry makes us think about the world we want to live in both our present and future.
It makes us look for alternatives: Slow Fashion, a different way of doing fashion involving qualityethics and sustainability.
I’ll tell you more about Slow Fashion in my next post.

For now, I’d like to thank you for reading this post. Please, share it to spread the word and embrace a more sustainable way of living slowly.

XOXO,

Simona

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