Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Fast Fashion?

This summer, numerous centennial meteorological calamities transpired across the globe. Evidently, climate change embodies our impending normalcy. Concurrently, the realm of fashion has undergone a transformation: in response to the climate crisis, the European Union has distinctly advocated for the formulation of regulatory measures to address the colossal waste and carbon emissions engendered by the fast fashion apparel industry.

This EU legislation prompts us to ponder: Is it now time to bid farewell to “fast fashion”? Can we part ways?

Data informs us that clothing waste is a global conundrum of this era: the EU generates 12.6 million tons of textile waste annually. According to statistics from the China Circular Economy Association, in my country, which boasts a population several times larger than that of the European Union, approximately 26 million tons of discarded garments are relinquished each year. It is even asserted that the environmental strain caused by the fashion industry is second only to the petrochemical sector.

Amidst these detritus, the fast fashion paradigm contributes substantially. The contemporary “fast fashion” trend originated in the 1990s. The prevalent global free trade movement and the utilization of inexpensive labor curtailed the expenses for the fashion industry in developed nations. Marginal profits but swift turnover became the prevailing norm. Companies encouraged individuals to procure inexpensive fashionable garments. Buy more and exchange more.

It appears that, at that time, people disregarded the waste and environmental costs associated with the garment industry. Presently, estimates reveal that the complete industrial chain consumes over 2,700 liters of water to manufacture a single T-shirt. This calculation excludes the pollution engendered by various processes and subsequent recycling predicaments. Over the years, it is precisely due to the lack of requisite attention from fashion companies and consumers that cheap and high-quality fast fashion has persisted until present.

However, times have altered, and irrespective of our personal inclinations, the fast fashion industry is unsustainable. Protests in African nations in recent years have sounded the alarm: previously, countries such as Kenya and Ghana have nearly become the final destination for the recycling of used clothing—tens of thousands of tons of apparel have inundated local second-hand markets or been directly discarded in the wilderness. Nowadays, these “victims” have frequently protested, imploring other nations to regulate the export of textile waste and used clothing.

In the past, our response to the drawbacks of fast fashion primarily relied on consumer enlightenment. Yet, consumer movements possess their own limitations, often being easily dismissed by corporate public relations initiatives. For instance, certain merchants have introduced “eco-friendly” alternatives such as “assisting with processing” and “trade-in” programs. Regrettably, many of these endeavors have subsequently been exposed as mere public relations ploys. Nanfengchuang Magazine reported that a substantial quantity of “recycled” clothing from a particular brand has transformed into transnational waste.

The EU’s proposed regulatory scheme encompasses the concept of “extended producer responsibility.” In essence, brands must bear the costs associated with the waste and recycling predicaments brought about by fast fashion. Moreover, due to the protests and struggles of African nations, it is likely that this plan will encompass stringent controls on the export of textile waste and second-hand clothing.

Presently, due to environmental pressures and the protests of individuals in the developing world, governments worldwide will inevitably be compelled to regulate the fast fashion industry. Consequently, we will naturally confront a new predicament: company costs will escalate, thereby impeding the possibility of attaining marginal profits through rapid turnover. Consequently, clothing will become more expensive.

At first glance, it may appear that “sustainable” fashion thus restricts the options available to the impoverished. However, upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that since its inception, fast fashion has been intertwined with reduced wages and amplified corporate profits. The issue lies not in the cost of clothing, but rather in the flaws inherent to the entire profit distribution and industrial model: production and consumption that neglect environmental and social costs effectively hinder the advancement of our technology and labor welfare. The problem with fast fashion extends beyond waste and encompasses the rigidity of the economic model.

Since fast fashion is unsustainable, we must expedite our actions: technologies and industries pertaining to the recycling and reutilization of used clothing deserve our attention and investment. As consumers, we can also adopt a more discerning approach: the practice of wearing garments only once and then discarding them after a photo has been taken is unsustainable. Thus, why not strive to select designs that possess greater durability, are less prone to falling out of fashion, and offer superior comfort? By doing so, we can modify our dressing and purchasing habits. Embracing more long-lasting clothing is not detrimental; it may even foster a captivating “medieval” second-hand clothing industry.

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