This question has been everywhere lately. But the real subtext to this is- Was fashion ever sustainable?
The answer to that is yes…and a no. Back in the age of hand-spun yarns and hand-stitched clothes, when polyester was an exotic new material, fashion used to be a healthy industry. But as the Spinning Jenny arrived and the industrial revolution began, we started getting access to more and more clothes.
It was sustainable back in the day because there weren’t many clothes owned by the general population. But it wasn’t the best still.
Worker’s rights were not a thing and you would find little kids working in many tailoring salons, dress shops, and jewelry stores. That’s because they had small hands and could work on fine details effortlessly. No matter how ‘clean’ an industry is, the true metric of its ethics can be judged by how it treats its employees.
While it is a good thing that today’s fashion is accessible to everyone regardless of class or status (excluding luxury fashion of course), there are some major cons to it. Let’s have a good look.
This name has become synonymous with accessible and cheap clothing. While the brands themselves portray a glamorous front, it is not all rainbows and unicorns behind the general manufacturing of these clothes.
Because these trendy clothes are so surprisingly cheap, the manufacturer decides to maintain a profit margin by lowering the making cost of the clothing. This is done by setting up sweatshops in countries like Bangladesh, China, and India where there isn’t a concept of minimum wage.
Because of this, they get away with making these workers work inhumane hours while paying them measly wages.
2. Water Usage
A study reported that it takes roughly 1800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. With the current ongoing water crisis, this is bad news. In a world where we are depleting clean water day by day, using up so much water to make jeans isn’t the best move.
3. Harmful Dyes
According to a recent study, synthetic textile dyes are some of the biggest water pollutants right now. The presence of toxic chemicals like arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, etc, makes water bodies inhabitable. This has major effects on the aquatic ecosystem and turns the natural food chain upside-down by eliminating some key species that keep the ecosystem healthy.
Not only that, but these chemicals are also seeping into our ground-water reserves. They are contaminating our drink water and leading to large populations developing water-borne diseases.
4. Landfill Dumping
Most of our clothes today are made of polyester, because of its cheap making costs and stretchy fabric. But this polyester is made of a kind of plastic that takes a very long time to decompose. This means that the shirt you discarded because it went out of style in the 1980s is still intact in a landfill.
It’s a very concerning issue because we are only increasing our waste outputs every year without doing anything about the way they are broken down by the soil.
5. Inceration Pollution
The fashion waste that is not buried in the landfills gets burned in various waste facilities. This is also bad because it releases all these toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. Burning clothes let out gases like methane and carbon dioxide, which are the major causes of the greenhouse effect and climate change.
Indeed, many problems are caused by the clothing manufacturers who do not give any attention to the kind of fabrics and dyes that go into the clothing. But consumers are equally at fault.
1. Class-based Problems
Fashion, like in the medieval ages, is still a metric of class. A person wearing Chanel will be termed more ‘stylish’ than someone wearing a non-designer piece of clothing. This might not necessarily be because of the actual fashion-forwardness of the dress, but its price tag.
Because of this issue, we have now birthed a ‘flex’ culture in our society. People take pride in being able to afford luxury brands and hence flaunt them everywhere they go. Even the brands have caught up with this and made their logos increasingly bigger and more obnoxious. This has led to a new issue: knock-offs.
According to statistics, the knock-off or fake-luxury industry is worth 450 billion dollars. This is outrageous. This is because the people who cannot afford the luxury brands themselves, opt for knock-offs. As a result, we have countless more sweatshops that make the same stuff way cheaper by using non-decomposable fabrics, synthetics dyes, and bizarre working conditions.
2. The Thrift Market
The second-hand fashion market has always been a savior when it comes to sustainable fashion. But with the advent of social media and thrifting ‘hauls’, it is also slowly becoming a toxic subculture on its own.
As the popularity of thrift stores and online re-selling sites grows, so is the price of these items. Many people choose to resell these second-hand clothes for a higher price than at which they bought them (at thrift stores) to make a quick buck. This means that these clothes are now out of the reach of the only audience that could afford them- the middle class. As a result, we see a new influx of clothes at landfills.
As fashion is a huge industry, the onus of making sure it is sustainable for our planet to manufacture and consume clothes is on the manufacturer. But since manufacturers are ultimately making these clothes for consumers, a grass-root level change is required on the consumer front.