Fast Fashion And Sustainability

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What Is Fast Fashion?

The term fast fashion has become more prominent with time in conversations surrounding fashion, sustainability, and environmental consciousness. Fast fashion describes clothing designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to take advantage of the latest trends.

The fast-fashion business model depends on rapid design, production, distribution, and marketing. This helps retailers pull large quantities of product variety and allow consumers to get different options at a low price.

The term fast fashion was first coined at the beginning of the 1990s when Zara landed in New york. It was Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in the stores. After Zara’s success, many other brands followed suit. Now some of the biggest fast fashion brands in the world rely on this model like Zara, UNIQLO, Forever 21, and H&M.

How Big Is The Fast Fashion Industry

As of 2020 the global fast fashion industry is worth $25.09 billion and is expected to grow to $30.58 billion in 2021. This rate is mainly due to companies resuming their operations and adapting to the new normal. The market is expected to reach $39.84 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CARGR) of 7%.

Worker’s low wages combined with poor working conditions hamper the growth of fast fashion. The workers, especially women who represent 80% of the world’s garment workers. Women also face many workplace cases of abuse like mistreatment, low salaries, and overtime, leading to a lack of efficiency. All this happens because of demand, supply, and market behavior which is manipulated by marketing and media.

Why A More Sustainable Model Is Needed

Environmental Impact

Some Facts as to why this is a big problem.

There are three main drivers which are responsible in the fashion industry

Some facts about how much fast fashion impacts the environment. Some examples of β€˜lead time’ Which means the time it takes for a product to go through the supply chain, from design to be available in stores. Zara’ was able to design, produce and deliver a garment in two weeks; Forever 21 in six weeks, and H&M in eight weeks. All this rapid production creates a lot of waste.

The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water, requiring 2,000 gallons of water to produce one T-shirt and about 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of water for a pair of jeans.

Many brands use synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic which take hundreds of years to biodegrade. As much as 35% of all microplastics end up in the ocean causing massive amounts of damage to sea animals.

The production process of plastic fibers into textile is an energy-intensive process that requires a large amount of petroleum and releases acids like hydrogen chloride and volatile particulate matter. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc. which are used in the majority of fast fashion garments, are made using fossil fuels. The production of these textiles accounts for 70 million barrels of oil used annually and is expected to grow.

Many fast fashion products also use a large amount of cotton, which is not environmentally friendly to manufacture. Many pesticides used to grow cotton are carcinogenic which poses a health risk to farmers. According to fashion for good, conventional cotton production accounts for one-sixth of all pesticides used globally, making it one of the most harmful products for the communities with chemicals. Few substitutes that can replace cotton are organic cotton, linen, hemp, and lyocell.

What Are The Alternatives?

Now that you understand what kind of environmental impact the fast fashion industry has on the planet here are a few of the more sustainable options in the market.

1. Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is one of the most natural fabrics out there. As it’s grown without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and processed with no chemicals it uses 62% less energy and 88% less water compared to conventional cotton.

2. Recycled cotton

Recycled cotton is produced using either post-industrial or post-consumer waste. Many slow fashion brands have adopted this for a good reason.

This means that many of our clothes can be made from industrial fabric scraps or other recycled cotton garments.

3. Organic Hemp

Hemp is one of the most Eco-friendly natural fabrics in the world. It has a high yield, its growth is healthy for the soil and it also requires much less water than cotton.

It is also considered a carbon-negative raw material, as it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. It has many benefits like being naturally sun protective and antimicrobial; it makes hemp one of the best materials for making sustainable fabrics.

4. Organic-Linen

Linen is almost identical to hemp in terms of sustainability. Fabrics made from linen are both super light and breathable the only difference, linen is derived from flax plants.

Growing flax plants requires little to no fertilizer, pesticide, or irrigation. However, like hemp linen isn’t as high-yielding. As you know, Lenin's general popularity and reliability make it a favorite fabric

5. Organic Bamboo (Aka bamboo linen)

The best thing about bamboo is that we can harvest it without killing the plant itself. That means that bamboo can renew itself quickly, as it’s one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet.

Like hemp, bamboo consumes more CO2 than some trees. It doesn't require a lot of inputs and can survive on rainfall alone.

Bamboo can be turned into one of the most sustainable fabrics depending on how it’s processed, as some kinds of processes involve chemicals. Although bamboo is still a small part of the fabric industry there is a huge potential for the future

6. Recycled Polyester

Recycled polyester can be used to make a variety of clothing such as light stretchy activewear to thick and fluffy sustainable fleece. Many brands are looking into the potential of recycled polyester.

As single-use plastics are wreaking havoc on our environment and brands have worked out different ways to give landfill-bound plastic bags, bottles, and textiles a second life. Using recycled polyester is better than using virgin polyester.