Here is my dissertation with the complete bibliography added. This is the copy after being reviewed by myself and my supervisor. I started writing after my mid-project review on the 1st of December and had finished my first complete 5000-word draft by the 12th of January. I then time to double-check all of my sources and added the complete bibliography on the 24th of January.
Then I had my final product review meeting with my supervisor. As a result of this discussion, I responded to all the advice I was given by rearranging some of the paragraphs and redrafting the conclusion of my essay. I then took the time to check spelling and grammar and ensured that all the information I used was referenced in the main body of the essay and that the bibliography was up to date and accurate. After I had done this, I read the essay all the way thought to evaluate my line of argument making sure it was well explained and objective. Next, I checked that any of the key ideas I had used were well explained and backed up with appropriate evidence from reliable sources. In Addition, I was careful to use a selection of sources from a wide range of media that were all stated in my bibliography in an alphabetised order. The next steps to finish my project are to complete a detailed evaluation of the sources I have used.
Failures: Recently I have been more focused on writing my dissertation, revising for exams, and on other deadlines. This has meant I haven’t updated my blog as much as I would have liked. But this is something I am going to make my priority to amend.
Things I still needed to do for my EPQ:
- Finalise my 5000-word dissertation, ensuring all parts are clear and detailed.
- Complete my bibliography and checking I have included all my references.
- present my dissertation to my tutor again for further guidance and input.
- make sure my blog is completely up to date.
- Complete a more detailed evaluation of sources.
I had completed all of this by the 19th of February so that there is enough time to prepare for my presentation that will take place in March.
To what extent does fast fashion harm society and the environment, and what will the future look like?
‘Each day, we wake up and pose an elemental question: what am I going to wear today?’ We consider many things: how we feel, what we are doing, and what the weather is like. ‘Clothes are our initial and most basic tool of communication. They convey our social and economic status, our occupation, our ambition, our self-worth’ (Thomas, 2019, pp. 2-3). They have no boundaries. ‘But everyday billions of people buy clothes’ without any thought ‘about the consequences of those purchases.’ (Thomas, 2019, pp. 2-3).
Due to the massive reduction in garment prices and the release of countless micro collections per annum, ‘we now have five times more clothes than our grandparents had’ (Sustain your Style, n.d.). In 2018 alone, 80 billion garments were pumped out of factories. On average the typical garment is worn just seven times as we overconsume to keep up with the everchanging trends. Over time we have mass-produced cheap, low quality, disposable clothing that immediately looks stretched and faded. If our population continues to grow and we do not alter our consumption habits this amount will only increase (Sustain your Style, n.d.).
Before the industrial revolution, textile production was done locally on a much smaller scale. It was a sociable process often involving people you knew personally or through close connections. There were fewer injustices as ‘proximity meant customers could not turn a blind eye’ (Thomas, 2019, p.10). However, now the supply chain is fractured and there is a complete lack of connection between the producer and consumer (Woodyard, 2017). Since the industrial revolution began nearly two and a half centuries ago, the garment industry spiralled into an exploitive and corrupt business. In the late 1980’s a new idea began to take over the industry: ‘’fast fashion’’, the rapid mass production of popular, low-priced garments (Millar, n.d.). In order to achieve such low prices, bands moved production to the most deprived regions, as they offered the cheapest material and labour. Offshoring began with only a few brands, but the success achieved altered how the entire industry functioned. The outcome was remarkable, the industry growing into a £1.8-trillion industry. (Thomas, 2019, p. 5) But the knock-on effects were adverse.
This report will investigate the key impacts fast fashion has had. Labour in developed economies was the first to be damaged. According to the Bureau of Lab our statistics, 1.2 million US jobs were lost, between 1990 and 2012 (Thomas, 2019, p.5). Many industrial towns and factories were abandoned, and many were left in unemployment. Currently in the UK around one hundred thousand are employed by the textile industry, compared to the one million in the 1980s. The effect was widespread across ‘most of western Europe’…’all while textile and apparel jobs globally nearly doubled’ (Thomas, 2019, p.5-6).
Human rights in disadvantaged countries have been the second victim. Around 17 percent of the world’s population is employed by fashion, yet ‘fewer than 2 percent of them earn a living wage’ (Thomas, 2019, pp. 6-7). Most workers are women, some of them children (Common Objective, 2018). Due to low wages workers are trapped in poverty and often children miss out on an education. Some of the factories in which they work are so unstable they catch fire and even collapse. (European Parliamentary Research Service, 2014)
The third casualty has been our planet. The fashion industry is estimated to be the second largest polluter after the petroleum industry ( Daignault-Leclerc, 2020). Research estimates that the sector is responsible for almost 20 percent of all industrial water contamination. (Sustain your Style, n.d.). The industry uses twenty-five percent of all chemicals produced worldwide. While being responsible for 10 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere. (Conca, 2015)
The workers and conditions:
Slavery and child labour have all been part of the supply chain at some point in history, including today. With the spread of globalisation and the relaxation of trade barriers, brands have been able to move production offshore, where there is little to no supervision and regulations and labour laws are far less restrictive (Woodyard, 2017). This system allows brands to change product design, volume, timeframes, and place last-minute orders without recognizing an increase in cost. The stresses of such policies often fall on factory workers (Common Objective, 2018). The vast majority are working extremely long 14-16-hour days, seven days a week when deadlines approach. The factory managers have the power to force mandatory unpaid overtime, as anyone who protests may end up being dismissed and left without any source of income. Also, the exhaustion from the long hours increases the susceptibility of accidents in the workplace.
With the production located in low-income countries, a huge number of workers are not paid enough for a decent standard of living. In Bangladesh alone, of the 168 million citizens, around one quarter are living below the poverty line. (Thomas, 2019, p. 58) Many brands assure us that the workers who make our clothing are paid at least the legal minimum wage. However, minimum wage represents the lowest amount a family needs to afford the essentials such as food and rent, which itself is less than half the living wage. Many factories refuse to provide overtime wages, by setting unrealistic daily targets that cannot be met or by simply manipulating the timesheets (clean clothes, 2014). The poor pay means workers are forced to remove their children from education and send them to the factories to work. When workers fall unwell, they are left unable to afford treatment, impacting upon their ability to work and produce an income (Common Objective, 2018).
Due to the rapid expansion of the industry many residential buildings were transformed into factories, often without the required permits. Other factories had extra floors added, increased the work force, and added machinery to levels beyond a safe capacity (European Parliamentary Research Service, 2014). There is also a lack of appropriate protective equipment such as surgical face masks to prevent the inhalation of fibre dust and toxic substances. Some factories have exposed and damaged wiring that can cause fires, and non-existent or outdated fire extinguishers are often reported. Fire exits are often deliberately blocked by factory owners, and windows are even barred to prevent employee theft, thus increasing the death toll in the event of accidents (Theuws, 2020). In such overcrowded spaces, with little to no ventilation, disease spreads easily. On top of that, textile workers regularly face physical and verbal abuse (Chamberlain, 2012). In 2003, a garment worker named Lydda Eli Gonzalez, recounted the conditions she had to work in at Southeast Textiles, a Honduran sweatshop. She reported that the factory was surrounded by a ‘towering wall’, its entrance locked by a ‘metal gate and guarded by armed’ patrols. In the day temperatures rose so high, workers were ‘sweating all day’. Before entering and leaving they were searched and were often subjected to pregnancy tests – then sacked if the result was positive. They could only use the restroom once in the morning and the afternoon and normally, there was no toilet paper or soap. While she was there, ‘the drinking water reportedly contained faecal matter’ and throughout the days the workers were prohibited to speak. With the brands learning of the conditions, they acted quickly. ‘Within 10 weeks the National Labour Committee announced that the factory’s production chief and the deputy had been let go’, locks were taken off the bathrooms and guards banished (Thomas, 2019, p.57-8). Overtime was now paid and voluntary, and there was now air-conditioning and a water purification system. They also said all workers would be ‘registered for national health care and permitted to establish a union’ (Thomas, 2019, p.58). But pay remained terribly low. You were working for your next meal and not able to save up (TRAIDFilms, 2017).
Even with many Non-Government Organisations warning of awful consequences, the topic only seems to reach the media when major incidents or serious accidents occur.
In December 2010, a fire broke out in a ten-story garment factory outside of Dhaka, ‘despite having just passed an inspection by Gap’ representatives. One hundred were injured in the accident and twenty-nine perished. The incident was not uncommon, as between 2006 and 2012, ‘more than five hundred Bangladeshi workers lost their lives in factory fires’ (Thomas, 2019, p.60). As the factory produced garments for well-known brands, such as Tommy Hilfiger, the issue gained some media attention and there were calls for reforms. This meant the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement was created. However, it affected nothing as it remained unsigned until the end of 2012. Six months after the first acquisition another company signed the agreement. But no one else did, and the agreement could not come into effect until four companies had signed (Thomas, 2019, p.61). On the 24th of November 2012, the Bangladesh Tazreen Fashion Factory caught fire. All factory exits were blocked, and the stairways were narrow, meaning a total of 1100 people were trapped inside. The only exit was through windows on the upper floors as the lower windows were barred. More than 200 people were injured, many by jumping from the third and fourth floors, sustaining serious back and head injuries. At least 117 people died, but due to a lack of records, many of them couldn’t be identified. Investigators found labels, clothes and paperwork verifying ‘Walmart, Disney and Sears all produced there’. All of them claimed ‘Tazreen was an unauthorised supplier’. The families of those killed and injured were left fighting an endless battle for any form of compensation. Even after being widely broadcast around the world, brands still did not feel obliged to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement (Thomas, 2019, p.62). Finally, on the 23rd of April 2013, an explosion shook the Rana Plaza splitting a second-floor wall apart. Petrified employees ran to the streets. ‘Management called in an engineer to inspect the damage, and he condemned the building instantly’ (Thomas, 2019, p.63). The factory owner refused to agree, ordering the workers to return in the morning (Human Rights Watch, 2018). Everyone came to work the next day; having been promised that the infrastructure was safe. They were also threatened with dismissal and no pay if they did not re-enter the building to work, Bangladesh’s minimum wage was $38 a month then, one third of the living wage (Thomas, 2019, p.64). Shortly afterwards, there was a power cut. After the electrical generators were switched on, the building began to quake and all five clothing factories, a bank, and the shops collapsed. It killed 1,138 people and injured over 2500 (European Parliamentary Research Service, 2014). Most brands remained silent. When it became clear who had produced there, most avoided demands for compensation to the victims’ families and survivors. As none of the five factories had a trade union, there was no obligation to pay. But with so much media coverage the brands had to do something. So, by October the same agreement, renamed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety had two hundred members. However, this had no effect on our consumption habits (Thomas, 2019,p.66-7).
Forced and child labour is extremely common in the cotton industry. Due to rural poverty, sometimes children are forced to work long hours to financially support their families. Children as young as five can be involved in the cotton fields for little or no pay. ‘In Gujarat, India, a child working on a cotton farm may receive less than $1 per day’ (worldvision 2012). The working conditions are terrible. With children working up to 12 hours in extreme temperatures, exhaustion, heat stroke and malnutrition are common. Most cotton is grown using toxic pesticides. The children may apply these chemicals themselves or work in the fields after the insecticides have been spread. Many of the chemicals involved contained dangerous nerve agents. The side effects include tremors, nausea, weakness, and in serious cases paralysis and death. Studies show that the children that spray pesticides without protective clothing can experience blurred vision, dizziness, numbness, and headaches. Without masks they are at risk of respiratory problems, from the inhalation of fibre dust, when in the factories (Common Objective, 2018).
There are many forms of child labour in the industry. Bonded child labour occurs when children must work to repay a family debt. This debt can be passed along the generations forcing entire families into a cycle of deprivation (worldvision, 2012). There is also Government sanctioned child labour, 2meaning the government authorizes school closures during annual harvest time. During the estimated three-month period, children gather the cotton. In some circumstances they are given unreachable targets and are threatened with expulsion and negative school results if they are unsuccessful (worldvision 2012). There are also many indirect impacts on children. With many garment employees working long hours, its often the older children that are left with the responsibility of looking after the younger children. This often means they are forced out of education and as an adult end up in a low-paid job, causing a cycle of poverty. With parents also receiving such low wages, unhygienic surroundings and poor access to healthcare is increasing the risk of child sickness and even mortality (Common Objective, 2018). All of this means that companies should have an obligation to trace their supply chain to guarantee they are not complicit in advocating the use of child labour. But, even with so many infractions, change remains slow. For developing countries, the textile industry generates a huge revenue as they have the cheapest production costs. This means many are apprehensive about change as they fear that their customers may move production elsewhere (Thomas, 2019, p.60)
The textile industry is comprised of many highly polluting trades, including the petroleum, agriculture, and transportation industries. On top of this, the whole business model is based on rapid mass production and overconsumption of cheap clothing. We no longer buy clothes on a need basis. It is to keep up with the latest trends (Daignault-Leclerc, 2020, ep.3). Our garments then go on to threaten the environment after acquisition; throwing away clothes causes more waste and destruction than you may appreciate.
On average around 60 billion pounds of cotton are grown every year, India being the leading producer. Cotton is the most utilized natural fibre in the textile industry, used in 60 percent of all women’s clothing ( Thomas, 2019, p.78). Even though only 2.5 percent of the world’s cropland is planted with cotton, it consumes more than 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 20 percent of insecticides (AlterNet, 2019). The extensive use of chemicals causes many workers to fall unwell, and even die prematurely due to exposure. ‘The World Health Organisation has classed eight out of ten of America’s most popular cotton pesticides as harmful’ (Thomas, 2019, p.79).
Conventional cotton uses around 10,000 litres of water for every kilogram produced (Common Objective, 2018). So, to manufacture just one cotton shirt involves roughly three thousand litres of water. Despite this, most cotton is grown in dry arid regions causing the need for additional irrigation and adding pressure to the local water supply. In India it can take up to 22,500 litres of water to produce just one kilogram of cotton: due to ineffective water infrastructure and widespread water pollution (Leahy, 2015). Much of this water is wasted as it either evaporates or is too polluted for reprocessing. With no limits on how much groundwater farmers can extract, at least “100 million people in India do not have access to drinking water.” says Stephen Leahy from The Guardian. In Central Asia, in the 1950s, two rivers were redirected away from the Aral Sea towards Uzbekistan to offer a source of irrigation. Today the sea is almost entirely drained, the communities in the region failing. Over time dust from the lakebed, contaminated with chemicals, drifted onto land poisoning fields (AlterNet, 2019). Even though organic cotton is grown without the use of chemicals, it remains just as water demanding.
The garment industry is also causing soil degradation and a reduction in biodiversity. Topsoil is the layer of earth that allows plants to grow, and estimates suggest we only have around 60 years of this resource left. Soil degradation occurs when soil is stripped of carbon and nutrients. Microorganisms are essential to our ecosystem, they absorb CO2, break down organic materials, and help the land to store water. But without carbon they cannot survive. This means water is wasted, passing straight through the crop into the sea, missing the root system entirely. All this severely threatens water and food security (Forum, 2012).
Soil has become carbon deficient for various reasons. Pressure for high yield cotton fields has meant soil is over-ploughed and saturated with chemicals and fertilizer. There is also the issue of overgrazing, as many animals are either reared for their wool or slaughtered for materials such as leather (Common Objective, 2018). These animals eat vegetation, and photosynthesis is the key process that allows carbon to enter the soil (Forum, 2012). Too much livestock means land clearances: destroying habitats while releasing pollution, reducing biodiversity, and threatening endangered species (Common Objective, 2018).
Wood-based fibres such as rayon and viscose are also popular in the textile industry. The materials used could be sourced using sustainable forestry practices. However, some fabric can be traced back to deforestation. In Indonesia alone, The Global Forest Watch has reported the loss of over 60,000 square miles of rainforest cover in the last 12 years. As these ancient forests are replaced with tree plantations the ecosystem and indigenous communities are threatened (Badore, 2018). On top of this, the production of rayon and viscose are very energy-intensive, wasteful, and require a range of complex chemicals.
Synthetic fibres are just as damaging. Although they are not as water intensive, synthetic textiles are produced from polymers obtained from petrochemicals/crude oil (Common Objective, 2018). The present textile industry is considered to consume seventy million oil barrels annually to produce polyester. While only a small proportion of fossil fuels are used to produce plastic, the petroleum industry remains hugely damaging. The process requires a lot of energy, emitting CO2 and nitrogen oxide which forms acid rain that kills plants, and causes respiratory problems when inhaled (Conca, 2015). Along with that, the production of polyester involves drilling that disturbs the natural ecosystem, oil spills polluting the oceans, the release of toxic chemicals and finally, the release of microfibres.
When synthetic fibres such as acrylic, polyester and nylon are washed, they can release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres. Some of these fibres are removed at treatment facilities but the rest end up pouring into our rivers and oceans (Patterson, 2020). Estimates suggest that the textile industry accounts for one-third of all primary synthetic microplastics in our oceans. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation this suggests roughly half a million tonnes of microfibres are dumped into our oceans per annum. They have been discovered in fresh water sources, agricultural soil, oceanic and freshwater wildlife, and in goods including fish, honey, sea salt and drinking water that we all consume (WhatsInMyWash, 2020). Plastic microfibres could also contaminate the food chain as, synthetic microfibres can absorb persistent organic chemicals and as they are so small, they are easily ingested. This leads to bioaccumulation, meaning that larger animals (further up the food chain) receive a higher concentration of potentially damaging toxins (Messinger, 2016). In the industry, polyester is one of the most popular synthetic fabrics. Unlike microbeads, they cannot be simply removed from the supply chain. We need an alternative.
Roughly 8000 compounds are used in the garment industry. From manufacturing to dying, the processes are all chemically exhaustive. Many of these chemicals are toxic to the people who work with them, and to the environment. The garment industry commonly releases noxious waste into the atmosphere, waterways, and ground, despite many nations imposing regulations (Common Objective, 2018). The Detox Movement, founded by Greenpeace, aims to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from the garment industry. They released a priority list of 11 compounds that should be removed as soon as possible. First on the list are alkylphenols, extensively used to prepare and stain fabric. But they are persistent in the environment and poisonous to marine life. Over time they can build up inside wildlife and bioaccumulate, the concentration of the chemicals increasing up the food chain. Then there are Azo dyes. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of all textile pigments are azo dyes. But some of these dyes release chemicals when a garment meets the skin, and several of these chemicals are carcinogens (Grigorova, 2018). The last to be listed was heavy metals. Cadmium, lead, and mercury have all been involved in a few textile staining agents. All of them can cause lasting damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Around 90 percent of all leather is chrome tanned, which results in waste that is lethal to humans (Greenpeace, 2020). In Indonesia, the Citarum River is believed to be the most contaminated river on earth. Surrounded by hundreds of textile plants, with no waste disposal structure, factories discarded their untreated chemical waste into the waterway. The river was polluted with lead, mercury, and arsenic, along with countless other poisons. In 2013, an investigation led by Greenpeace, tested water and discharge samples along the River Citarum. Some samples were labelled as ‘’highly caustic’’ meaning it was corrosive, able to burn skin, and was most likely fatal to all marine life. They also found huge quantities of nonylphenol, an endocrine disrupter which can also be deadly to aquatic animals. In some cases, the alkalinity of the water was compared to that of drain cleaners (AlterNet, 2019). Dye wastewater is released all around the world passing from rivers into seas (Patterson, 2020). As stated by Yale Environment 360, China is roughly responsible for 40 percent of all chemicals released.
Today, many materials receive treatments so that fabric can be fire resistant and even antimicrobial. Due to strict flammability rules, halogenated flame retardants are regularly incorporated into the finishing process. But in the US flame retardant chemicals have been found in the blood of essentially all people, with children having the highest levels. The overuse of antimicrobials is believed to have aided a rise in antibiotic resistance. Additionally, in 2012 a Swedish Chemical Agency demonstrated that ‘after 10 washes’, half of the antimicrobic chemicals had been removed, entering the water table (Hoguet, 2014). After all this ruin, there’s waste (Common Objective, 2018). Of the billions of new garments, we produce each year, 20 percent are left over. These garments are often buried, shredded, or burnt. In the US, each person is estimated to produce 35 Kg of textile waste each year. Our waste is either exported to Africa, where it devastates the regions ethnic apparel industry or goes to landfill, where in the ‘UK 9,513 garments are unloaded every five minutes’ (Thomas, 2019, p.8-9). If the clothing in landfill is biodegradable, the chemicals leach into the soil, and if synthetic, it will not break down at all.
Developments and Solutions:
Five years on from Rana Plaza, there has been some improvement. In more than 1,600 factories, 97,000 welfare violations have been corrected, including blocked emergency exits. During this period, 900 buildings were closed on government orders (Thomas, 2019, p. 67). Assembled in 2014, the Rizvi Fashions Ltd factory is a key example of development in the industry. Inside the building, there are huge ventilation systems, bright lights, floor to ceiling windows, a canteen, and a day-care centre. With frequent fire practices and access to all the protective equipment required, this Accord compliant factory is a world apart from its previous state, when it adhered to the past Bangladeshi regulations (Thomas, 2019, p.68-9). But with many unmodified sweatshops still existing and the government continuing to oppose unionization, long hours, abuse, and unpaid hours remain common (Thomas, 2019, p.74). Some may argue that fast fashion has provided developing counties with employment, but under current conditions, the situation is unethical. No matter how hard they work, they are deprived of pay and left impoverished.
As manufacturing moved offshore and globalization spread, developed nations lost millions of jobs. Rightshoring is the aim of returning manufacturing back to where it was originally produced. In the UK, the number of textile production jobs rose by 9 percent in five years, to a total of 100,000 in 2016 (Thomas, 2019, p.129). Rightshoring does not mean all the materials are sourced locally, but that the clothing is manufactured close to the end buyer. This allows the supply chain to be more traceable, linking back to how the industry operated before the industrial revolution (Thomas, 2019, p.130). There are also many incentives for businesses to rightshore. Firstly, the label of ‘Made in Britain’ is highly sought after, as it is an indicator of superior quality and tradition in the textiles industry. It is also easier to set up a vacant factory with new technology than modernizing an operational one. It means that there are no periods of time where business is lost, and employees cannot work. There is also no disposal of machinery required (Thomas, 2019, p.132).
Jeans are most likely in everyone’s wardrobe. But to finish a pair involves an average of ‘70 litres of water, 1.5 Kw of power and 150 grams of chemicals’ (Thomas, 2019, p.162). Jeanologia is the three-step process involving new technology that is much greener. Instead of ‘hand-sanding and potassium permanganate bleaching’, lasers are used to distress the jeans. The second step uses a natural gas, called ozone, to fade jeans using less energy, water, and no harsh chemicals. The last step uses nanobubbles to wash the denim, cutting water consumption by ninety percent. As much of this water as possible, is then recycled (Thomas, 2019, p.162-3). This new technology means our clothes are not made by poorly paid workers using archaic equipment, while inhaling fibre and synthetic indigo dust. Production can be done in clean safe factories, located in communities where manufacturing was once lost and moved offshore. Automation does not provide jobs for thousands of people, but the jobs it does create will be well paid, safe, and hygienic (Thomas, 2019, p.131).
Nearly all the denim today is dyed using synthetic indigo, as it is cheaper than paying for the natural crop to be grown and harvested. However, synthetic indigo is made up of many different chemicals, including cyanide, that are either noxious or harmful. In the US, indigo has not been grown on an industrial scale in over a century (Thomas, 2019, p.149-50). Stony Creek Color’s, founded by Sarah Bellos, aims to change that. In the state of Tennessee, the production of tobacco used to be huge, but with the number of people smoking declining, the farming of tobacco has decreaced. Tobacco is a labour intensive and tricky process done by hand. The crop itself requires profuse amounts of both pesticides and fungicides while striping the soil of nutrients. But indigo does not require insecticides as the crop naturally deters pests, this crop also introduces nitrogen to the soil. For this reason, Bellos has encouraged many farmers to plant indigo instead of tobacco. The project has been very successful, the farmers obtaining a stable and greater financial profit, while giving the agricultural economy a jump start (Thomas, 2019, p.154).
Fashion designer, Stella McCartney is entirely devoted to correcting the social and environmental injustices within the textile industry. In all her collections: fur, leather, PVC, unethically sourced rayon, and cashmere are never used. From biological fabrics to ‘regenerated cashmere’ McCartney is doing everything in her power to reduce her impact. Her supply chain is completely transparent, all the workers earning a living wage in a clean safe factory. All her UK stores have LED lighting and are run on wind power. In the London shop, there is a huge air filtration system, the walls are decorated with old documents, and the shelves constructed from salvaged wood (Thomas, 2019, p.179-190). She has proved that a successful business model can be attained without damaging the environment, and that all brands could achieve sustainability if they genuinely cared about their impact.
New Scientific Advancements:
Modern Meadow is a biofabrication company that uses microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria, to produce vegan materials to replace leather (Thomas, 2019, p.196). These biofabric materials are regarded as very sustainable. Unlike animal hide, they do not involve arable land or vast amounts of chemicals and water in their processing. They are ‘petroleum free and biodegradable’, in contrast to Faux leather (Common Objective, 2020). With this technology there is no waste, as you grow no more than what is required. There is no spinning, cutting, or weaving involved, reducing both energy usage and carbon emissions. Bolt threads is another company, that has used similar techniques, to produce Microsilk and Mylo ( another leather substitute made from mycelium – ‘the root structure of wild mushrooms’) (Thomas, 2019, p.206). There has also been the development of ‘biologically engineered’ dyes by Colorifix. This is a Cambridge, UK based company that allows fabrics to be coloured without the use of ‘heavy metals, organic solvent, or acids’ (Thomas, 2019, p.229)
With all of this new technology we have the chance to realize a circular, closed-loop system, where garments are continually recycled and reused, and ideally nothing is wasted (Stanton, 2020). Evrnu is a company that has developed a way for old cotton garments to be recycled into new fibres, allowing the ‘cradle to cradle’ aim to be a reality (Thomas, 2019, p.210). The Evrnu process uses ‘98 percent less water than virgin cotton; releases 80 percent less emissions than polyester’; does not release plastic microfibres; and causes no deforestation (Thomas, 2019, p.211). Another firm named Worn Again, with the help of Dr Adam Walker, has managed to separate polyester and cotton from blended fabrics using polymer chemistry. This means that past non-recyclable materials, could now be turned into new fibres and garments. This process could be repeated over and over again creating a truly circular system (Thomas, 2019, p.221-223). Then there is ECONYL, a type of rejuvenated nylon made from ‘carpets, factory scraps, and fishing nets’ ( of which there are around 640,000 tons of discarded nets in our oceans) ( Thomas, 2020, p.224). But all of these processes are for fabrics that have no other use other than disposal. Until that time, mending and reselling used clothes should be the focus, for this is also a closed loop practice (Thomas, 2019, p.226).
But even with all this progress, to transform a model that is entirely broken, we all have to take responsibility. We need to buy less and educate ourselves. After I carried out a survey of my own, the results showed just under a third were unaware of what fast fashion was, nearly 80 percent had bought an item that they never wear, and 8 percent bought clothing on a weekly basis.
When I interviewed Mathilde Charpail, she expressed how important it was to rethink how we all shop. New sustainable fashion will always be more expensive than fast fashion, as for clothes to be made from eco-friendly high-quality fibres, by decently paid workers, they cannot be cheap. But to shop sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy second hand, organise clothes swaps, and even rent clothing (Charpail, 2020). The main thing is to be mindful, buying clothes that were manufactured locally with greener materials, that you will wear for a long time.
It is also important to take care of the clothes you already have. Such as washing clothes in cooler temperatures, avoiding dry cleaning, and using a guppybag to collect plastic microfibres (guppyfriend, 2021). Even refreshing your clothes by hanging them outside can save energy. Then there’s giving a second life to your clothes, through mending , transforming them into a new design, reselling or donating your clothes (Daignault-Leclerc, 2020).
Throughout this report I have investigated the widespread damage that fast fashion has had. In the process I wanted to assess if ‘fast’ production was really the main issue. Some believe that if we were to establish a truly circular system then high-speed production wouldn’t be an issue. There are also some fast fashion brands that produce clothes made from recycled materials. But even so, I worry that accelerating our consumption habits will mean we are, once again, completely disconnected from the clothes we wear, continuing to see them as disposable.
As a whole the damage to society and the environment has been detrimental. If we do nothing, the impact of fast fashion could be greater, meaning more victims, more pollution, and more waste. But with so many individuals pushing back on a model that is so clearly unsustainable, I hope the future industry will be a circular one. We already have the technology to achieve sustainability, but change is slow. To speed up the process, we need to share our knowledge about the impacts of fast fashion, while changing our own mindsets away from overconsumption. With so many brands greenwashing, where brands spend time and money marketing themselves as environmentally friendly rather than working hard to be sustainable, it can be really hard to figure out which brands to trust (Ethical Consumer, 2021). So, my advice would be to research the brand thoroughly and ultimately do the best you can. I have decided to stop buying fast fashion, aiming to buy clothes on a need basis from small and eco friendly businesses. As in the current situation we as the consumers have the power to demand and create a cleaner industry.
AlterNet, 2019. Fast Fashion Is the Second Dirtiest Industry in the World, Next to Big Oil. EcoWatch. Available at: https://www.ecowatch.com/fast-fashion-is-the-second-dirtiest-industry-in-the-world-next-to-big–1882083445.html [Accessed January 24, 2021].
Badore, M., 2018. How Rainforest Destruction Hides in Our Clothes. Treehugger. Available at: https://www.treehugger.com/how-rainforest-destruction-hides-our-clothes-4855604 [Accessed January 24, 2021].
campaign worldvision, 2012. Forced and Child Labour in the Cotton Industry. campaign.worldvision.com. Available at: https://campaign.worldvision.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Forced-and-child-labour-in-the-cotton-industry-fact-sheet.pdf [Accessed January 24, 2021].
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How do you get the message across and change attitudes when it comes to overconsumption? Especially in the younger generations, some people my age buying a new outfit every week looking for the cheapest option.
Well, you cannot really blame the younger generation for there over consumption as it is how they have been brought up. Style and identity are also very at this age, so it is important that the change to does not limit them. We should encourage reuse, redesign rather buying new cheap clothing. Shopping for cheap clothing is so easy, people need to slow down and evaluate their clothes background. Look at the effort put into the manufacturing processes and the source of the materials.
How do you get the media to raise awareness on the issue?
There is already an increasing amount of awareness with sustainable fashion. There is more and more interest in magazines now what was once never mentioned is now a recurring theme in the articles. But there is a limit to what the media can do.
Where is global leadership coming from? And which countries are being the first to act?
One that truly stands out is the Netherlands when it comes to sustainability. There are many sustainable clothing brands there and lots of research into solutions such as a closed-loop supply of material through recycling and more efficient processes. Many Scandinavian countries also stand out. Change comes with a cost county must accept this in order to follow suit.
Because clothing is so cheap people are not always willing to spend more for a sustainable option, how could we create a sustainable option that is available to everyone?
That is a very tricky question some brands and segments of the industry are trying to make possible to have a cheap price. But I believe it is not possible to have sustainable clothing for a cheap price, the increased cost is required to for the resources and cost of production, is so that the workers receive a decent wage. Sustainability in clothing is not going to be cheap. We will have to rethink how we shop by reusing renting and swapping clothes instead. I doubt that everything can be sustainable because there are so many people involved it’s difficult to know how people and the environment are being treated.
If clothing companies were to increase their prices and source there material sustainably, would this mean those who are employed receive a higher wage and better treatment?
It’s very important that an increase in price is not to make more profit. As a customer’s awareness on the issues increases, they should question a brand. This means brands must be transparent with the cost, treatment of workers, when they source their material, and their environmental impact. If this did not happen, they would risk the loss of customers. There has been a recent scandal with the clothing company BOHO liked to slavery. The effect was a massive drop in their shares. Brands need to be careful or they will lose their credibility.
Finally, at the end of my project I am to make a presentation, what key issues would you highlight when you can only go into brief detail?
The price of clothing is very important. I do not believe that anyone would deliberately want to hurt / exploit people or cause damage to the environment by buying clothes to look good and not outdated. We but the new clothes due to peer pressure to stay on top of the new styles. So, I think it is important to say that cheap prices have a cost tomorrow, if the item of clothing is cheap it is not sustainable and there are issues behind it.
Survey Results: November 22nd, 2020.