the true cost of fast fashion

When you go out, or now, get on Zoom or video call, when you know photographs will be clicked, you take a double-take at your outfit, making sure the outfit doesn’t add any extra kilos or the colour doesn’t wash you out. Now, the next time you upload a photograph, you make sure that it’s not the same outfit.

While you click and shop at every other online sale while quarantining in your H&M jammies, the planet cries another tear. The cost of clothing is not just the upfront cost you pay but the damage to the environment, which is far worse than you can imagine. It’s not ‘a steal’ or ‘cheap’ afterall.

According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, in the year 2019, we wasted 82,782,000,000 kgs of clothing, and this only seems to keep increasing. That is enough to fill up the entire Sydney harbour. That is a lot of wastage generated for an Instagram photo, no? The total value of the clothing discarded per year is over $400 billion. For context, that’s a lot.

Now that’s the global impact, let’s think about what a plain t-shirt does? Research says that it takes 2700 litres to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. That’s 2.5 years of drinking water just for you. Additionally, caring for the t-shirt, if you use a washing machine, that is over 180 litres of water per cycle. 

Going back to the t-shirt, there’s the environmental damage of the production, maintenance and disposal. There is also an ethical conundrum the t-shirt leaves you in. According to US labour report, the fast fashion industry indulges in forced and child labour in countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Turkey, Argentina and Brazil. They are paid as little as Rs. 4500 per month. However, to live a life with basic facilities, one needs at least Rs.13,500. 

The constant consumption of clothing has changed the fashion seasons from three a year, to 52 a year. The likes of Zara replace their collection every week stressing production resources wherein the production chains put the demand of the product higher than human welfare. According to a report by the Guardian, women working in factories in Asia supplying to Gap & H&M (sigh) are sexually and physically abused to meet fast-fashion deadlines according to unions & rights groups. Women report being hit on their breasts and being pushed around while being abused for not meeting unrealistic targets. While Gap and H&M released statements about investigating these allegations, there is little they can do while across continents knowing very well that women in lower-income communities in countries will endure the abuse because they need the money.  

In 2013, a government factory in Dhaka collapsed due to structural damage. The building housed a bank, clothing factories, apartments and several shops. While the bank and shops were closed as soon as the cracks were discovered, the garment workers were expected to continue working and the building collapsed killing 1134 people and injuring 2500. 

More recently, in June of 2020, H&M’s factory in Bengaluru fired 1200 women citing the pandemic, not paying previous dues. Shockingly though, H&M made $1.8 billion in profits last year. 

What now? 

  • Reduce

Stop mindless consumption. Don’t get lured by sales. My rule of thumb is if I don’t see myself using this 2 years down the line, don’t buy it.

  • Rent

For your special events, why drop a couple thousand for an outfit you barely wear? Rent it. There are many start-ups like The Clothing Rental that allow you to rent an outfit for a few days and return it.

  • Upcycle 

This is something that the Indian culture has grown up with, a top goes from the ‘outside’ outfit to ‘home clothes’ to holi outfit to finally becoming the rag in your kitchen. I recently took a scrunchie that had lost its elasticity and now use it as a cloth to apply my skincare.

  • Swap 

Bring back old school swapping with friends. A lot of start-ups hold swap meets in India as well, where you can go with your old clothes and swap them for clothes if you’re not comfortable with that – swap clothes with your cousins or your friends.

  • Shop Sustainably 

And if you really need a new outfit, shop from an ethical, sustainable brand. Firstly, shop local, reach out to your local tailor, or boutiques in your city. Secondly, don’t get carried away with the greenwashing of huge corporate brands, the words ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ can have vague meanings. Ask the brand what their policy is. Usually, a brand will specify it on their website. Thirdly, below are a few of our tried and tested brands. You don’t have to go for every bleached jean trend or off-shoulder top, stick to the classics, they will last you longer.

  • Ikkivi
    A curation of slow and sustainable fashion for men and women across different styles.
  • Antar Agni
    Casual and Indian classic, simple pieces for men and women. 
  • The Summer House
    Casual, summery classic everyday clothing. 
  • Seamsfriendly
    All-natural, designer clothing for Women of with a wide range of sizes.
  • Ogaan
    A curation of mostly ethnic pieces for women. 
  • Notch Above Creations
    Casual, everyday, women’s wear. 
  • Markkah | Studio
    Casual, everyday, women’s wear. 
  • Sézane
    A parisian brand with all the women’s pieces you’re looking for from jeans to t-shirts.  
  • House Of Sohn
    Modern bohemian clothing for women. 
  • Dvaa Tales Untold
    Casual simple everyday clothes for women. 

Shikha Shah

Partly quirky, partly peaceful, seasoned with compassion.