Fashion may dazzle us with its glamorous designs, but beneath the surface lies darker realities.
The industry thrives on the exploitation of garment workers, wreaks havoc on the environment, engages in unsustainable material production, and cultivates overconsumption and disposable culture.
Read on to uncover fashion’s unethical and unsustainable practices, and what we can do about them.
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Garment workers face underpayment, unsafe conditions, and even child labour, violating human rights and trapping workers in poverty. Tragic incidents like the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh stand as reminders of the devastating consequences. Also, the International Labour Organization has conducted extensive research that highlights the prevalence of child labour in various stages of garment production.
These happen no thanks to fast fashion brands prioritising profit and quick production, often at the expense of worker welfare. And with global supply chains and a lack of regulations, these unethical practices go unnoticed and unpunished.
To combat this, consumers can make a difference by supporting ethical and sustainable brands and educating themselves about the origins of the clothes. Businesses must ensure fair wages, safe working conditions, and workers’ rights across their supply chains, implementing audits and supporting fair trade textile initiatives.
From the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of clothing, every step of the fast fashion supply chain leaves a detrimental footprint on the environment. Studies reveal that the fashion industry is a major contributor to carbon emissions, water pollution due to the use of toxic chemicals in textile production, and waste accumulation.
The fast fashion industry’s environmental impact is driven by a desire for rapid production, constant trend turnover, and consumer demand for low-priced clothing. Brands adopt a “take-make-dispose” model, focusing on short product lifecycles and encouraging a culture of disposability which then results in excessive resource consumption, pollution, and waste.
Consumers can make a change by prioritising quality over quantity, opting for durable and seasonless clothing, and embracing secondhand shopping and responsible disposal. Businesses should adopt eco-friendly production processes, reduce waste, use organic and recycled materials, and embrace circular economy principles.
Unsustainable material production exacerbates water scarcity, deforestation, chemical pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Cultivating cotton alone consumes massive amounts of water often in regions already facing water scarcity, and dyeing textiles release toxic chemicals into water bodies.
Again, the demand for cheap and fast fashion leads to the preference for low-cost materials that are often environmentally damaging. Trends and quick turnover encourages the use of resource-intensive materials without considering their long-term impact.
Consumers can choose sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled fibres or natural dyes and support brands that prioritise responsible sourcing and transparency. Businesses can invest in sustainable material research, source from certified suppliers, and collaborate with organizations such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to implement ethical guidelines.
The urge to stay up-to-date with fashion leads to excessive buying and discarding of clothing. These cultures are visible in the staggering amount of clothing ending up in landfills or incineration. Studies estimate that a significant portion of clothes is discarded after just a few uses. The social and psychological impacts of this culture are also evident, as it promotes a sense of dissatisfaction and fosters a consumerist mindset.
Fast fashion brands constantly release new collections, creating a sense of urgency and trend-driven consumption. Social media and advertising also play a role in shaping consumer behaviour, perpetuating the notion that clothing should be quickly replaced. Plus, the low cost of fast fashion further reinforces the disposable mindset.
Sustainable consumers can break this cycle by adopting mindful consumption habits, buying fewer but higher-quality items, and embracing repair, upcycling, and clothing swaps. Businesses can promote durability, discourage disposable trends, and offer repair and recycling services while investing in a versatile and timeless fashion.
While the journey towards an ethical and sustainable fashion industry may be challenging, it is a journey worth taking.
The fashion industry itself holds immense power to shape a better world, where worker rights are respected, regulations are stricter, sustainable alternatives are prioritised, and clothing is valued for its longevity and positive impact.
And as consumers, we have the collective responsibility to demand transparency, support ethical practices, and choose sustainable fashion brands. We can all create a fashion industry that values both style and sustainability.