Updated: Jul 28, 2022
Polluted rivers, oceans filled with plastic, mountains of waste, climate change, shortages in water supply, labour exploitation, child labour, discrimination and inequality - that’s the silent price the human race and the planet are paying for the prosperity of fast fashion and overproduction. Scientists say we will soon reach the point of no return and suffocate on our own waste. How did we come to this state and how do we get out of it? Continue reading to find that out.
Overproduction: Too Much of a Good Thing
A few decades ago, the world was exhausted by countless wars, struggling to make ends meet. At the time, having access to most goods was a luxury, let alone having the opportunity to choose among several options. Fast-forward to 2020, more and more people are joining the war on waste, there is a growing problem of consumerism and overproduction, and the UN has sent a ‘point of no return’ warning on climate change.
What is overproduction then, one might wonder? Overproduction refers to the excess of supply over demand. In simple terms, this means that there are more things than people can buy. In the fashion industry, the items that do not get purchased end up either in the landfill or in the incinerator (they get burnt). For example, in 2018, Burberry revealed some troubling truth: it had burnt $37 million worth of unsold clothing and cosmetics. But what about all the materials, labour, expenses, and pollution that went into producing those items?
Fashion Overproduction: The Real Picture
According to the Australasian Circular Textile Association, 30% of apparel items never get sold. What’s more, retailers sell only 20-30% of their clothing at full price, while the remaining share is put on sale with screamers like “70% off only 24 hours”, “50% off on Valentine’s day”, and other stimulants that create a sense of urgency and make consumers give in to impulsive purchases. It takes virgin materials, cheap foreign labour, and environmental pollution to produce clothing that will bring retailers revenue even if they sell their goods at “70% off”. However, the fact that this overproduction and fast fashion are triggering climate change and social inequality remains unnoticed.
The Environmental Protection Agency warns that because of overproduction in the fashion industry, 12.8 million tons of clothing go to landfills every year. To encourage and keep up with all of that overproduction, rising competition, growing demand for clothing, and a distorted sense of value in customers, the fashion industry uses 98 million tons of natural resources and produces 92 million tons of solid waste every year. Unfortunately, an overwhelming amount of that waste does not get repurposed or properly handled. Instead, it pollutes oceans and soil, causing deaths and extinction of hundreds of species. Overall, there are a lot of ecological, sociological, and environmental implications going hand in hand with overproduction in the fashion sector. All of them make one thing is clear: there is an urgent need for change.
Slow Fashion to the Rescue
Slow fashion, also known as sustainable fashion, is a concept and an approach that appeared as an eco-friendly and sociologically safe alternative to fast fashion. A recent peer-reviewed article “The environmental price of fast fashion” states that for the fashion industry to survive and for the environmental price to be lower, it is imperative that there be a “total abandonment of the fast-fashion model, linked to a decline in overproduction and overconsumption, and a corresponding decrease in material.”
How is slow fashion a solution to current problems in the fashion sector, overproduction, and climate change?
Slow fashion encourages people to be more considerate when they buy clothing. Instead of being impulsive, they should be mindful about the garments they want to buy, think twice whether they actually need it, and consider how long their purchase will last. Most items people buy at fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Zara have a very short lifespan not only because of their low quality but also because the turnover is very fast - new clothes get supplied stores almost every week, making people believe that they need to keep up with the “trends”.
Slow fashion guides fashion designers to be responsible when producing clothing: using natural materials and safe fabric dyes, giving fair pay to factory employees, choosing designs that produce less fabric waste, developing timeless and seasonless styles, going for quality rather than quantity, even if that means that the end product will be five times more expensive.
Recycling, repurposing, reusing, reselling are some of the rules that define slow fashion. It is all about creating clothing that lasts and finding ways to make it last, instead of fueling the non-stop wheel of mass production. This type of fashion encourages people to consider secondhand clothing. Buying secondhand pieces instead of new garments not only prevents garments from becoming waste, but it also decreases the demand for new garments. In time, such an approach might influence the volume of clothing fast fashion brands produce.
This article is created by guest author Anastasiia Andriiuk