Fast fashion is a business model where companies produce as much clothing as possible, for as little money as possible. Despite decades of talk about the model’s human rights and environmental implications, recent online trends where people show off their collection of clothes bought in bulk suggest it’s not going away. Let’s break down what it is and its impact.
While a $10 t-shirt might seem like a bargain, it’s worth considering what it costs to make it.
It’s probably a piece of fast fashion, where companies sell as many clothes as possible at the cheapest price by having them made in countries with more relaxed labor laws.
This can have human rights and environmental impacts at every stage, starting with the farm where the cotton for this shirt was grown.
China produces the largest amount of cotton in the world. Twenty percent of that comes from the Xinjiang region where the Uyghur community is forced to work on farms.
The true extent of this, as well as other human rights and environmental issues, is not known as there is very little transparency within the industry.
Tearfund’s 2021 Ethical Fashion Report found that 87% of companies didn’t know where their fabrics came from, and only 71% even knew where they were made.
What we do know is that garment workers often work 10 to 16 hour days, six days a week, for nearly three times less than their country’s living wage.
In Asia and the Pacific, there are 65 million garment workers, and most of them are women.
In 2019, an estimated 40% of clothing imported into New Zealand was made using forced labor and children.
Tearfund Advocacy Specialist Morgan Theakston traveled to Bangladesh to interview people working in factories for popular brands.
Workers told him that verbal abuse and child labor were common in these factories.
“[They told us] whenever a buyer or compliance officer visited the factory, he kept all the children out of sight and the supervisors yelled at the children if they made mistakes.
Landfills full of $10 t-shirts
As fast fashion has become more mainstream, the amount of clothing has increased dramatically. It is estimated that 80 billion pieces of clothing are now produced worldwide each year.
Fast fashion has created a culture of casualness and wastefulness around clothing, Theakston said.
People keep their clothes half as long as they did two decades ago, and it is estimated that two-thirds of the clothes produced each year end up in landfill.
Nearly 35 million kg of clothing is dumped each year in New Zealand, representing 9% of Auckland’s landfill and this figure is expected to rise to 14% by 2040.
In addition to waste, clothing that decomposes slowly also creates a lot of emissions.
New Zealand collective textile waste emits the equivalent of 144,770 flights between Auckland and London.
Theakston said, “Clothes are expensive to make, so if it’s cheap for you, someone, somewhere pays the real cost.”
So when you are considering whether or not to buy this t-shirt, think about how much you will really appreciate it.
First published on renew.co.nz.
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