More rips than wear in the fashion industry: The Cowl

H&M is one of the leading brands contributing to fast fashion. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Of: Olivia Coletti ’24

Consumer interest in sustainability and the desire to buy recycled goods has never been higher, yet global waste tells a different story. With the increasingly harmful environmental costs of waste, shoppers should take their power as consumers and use conscious decision making when purchasing items.

What is the fashion rush and why is it a problem? The speed of production of companies in the apparel industry has never been seen before. With the rapid recovery of the US economy after the pandemic, there is a foreboding tendency to rush into modern consumerism. Fashion plays an important role in our climate crisis: “Today, in fact, fashion represents up to 10% of global carbon dioxide production, more than international flights and shipments combined”, according to the United Nations Program for environment.

Estimates from consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the World Economic Forum suggest that the number of garments produced each year has doubled since 2000. This speaks directly to large companies and their revenue. Do you have room for seventy new pairs of jeans in your closet? According to a Bloomberg study, “The United States throws out the equivalent of about 70 pairs of trousers per person in the garbage and footwear waste every year.” But are we all really buying 70 pairs of jeans? Surely not. This increase in production indicates large amounts of excess inventory.

When most people think of fast fashion, they think of companies like Shein. Interestingly, Sheng Lu, assistant professor of clothing studies at the University of Delaware, says, “Fast fashion companies like Shein can actually cut down on unwanted clothing, if made efficiently.” According to sales, Shein claims to produce minimal batches of clothes in some sort of “Just in Time” inventory method. This means that they produce on a sale basis in the best possible way to avoid waste.

But even with these ideals of production leading to lower inventory turnover, there is no way to defend their simultaneous misuse of fossil fuels. According to the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, fast fashion is “the second largest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and shipping combined. “. Shein is one of the largest polyester apparel manufacturers in the world; 95.2% of Shein clothes contain new plastic. Polyester is produced directly from fossil fuel plants; these clothes are not recyclable and pollute our air and oceans with microfibres. According to some studies, these microfibers even distort the DNA of marine animals.

Shein has a terrible percentage, but is he alone? Shein is not the only culprit. Almost all the stores in the mall, almost all brands, including some luxury ones, are also guilty.

But should the company not shop? There are so many pressures and trends in such a consumer-driven world, with so many direct access possibilities. Plus, more sustainable shopping is comparatively more expensive than the many more affordable options just around the corner.

Aja Barber’s book Worn out sums up this problem with a nice point: fast fashion is a moral issue that cares little about the environmental and human costs of its production. These stressful rapid changes in mass production do not reflect well on the environment or the individuality of the customers. Barber states how, as a consumer, making a more sustainable purchase makes you more aware if you really want the item, which in turn leads the consumer to identify and express a truly personal and authentic style. The systematic rush to fast fashion has an impact on our climate, our consumers and our identity.

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