Column: What Is The Cost Of Fast Fashion?

September 2, 2022

[Column written by Bermuda Is Love]

Bermuda Is Love has launched a campaign titled #NoNewClothes where we are challenging the public to purchase #NoNewClothes for the month of September. As part of the campaign, we will be publishing weekly articles highlighting the problem of fast fashion and what we as consumers can do about it. Please read our first article titled ‘What is the cost of fast fashion?’ and take the #NoNewClothes pledge.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is a business model that uses cheap materials and labour to churn out clothing at a rapid pace that can be summed up as cheap, trendy clothing. It reflects the growing consumer desire for speed and value within the retail industry. It means that instead of waiting for new seasonal collections [i.e., spring/summer], consumers can get their hands on a continuous cycle of trend-led clothing all year round. The speed at which garments are produced also means that more and more clothes are disposed of by consumers, creating a huge amount of textile waste.

Overall, it is estimated that the amount of garments produced annually has doubled since the early 2000s reaching up to 100 billion pieces per year in 2014. That’s nearly 14 items of clothing for every person on earth. Fast fashion brands like Shein can get a new product from design to the shelf within 5-7 days and drop between 700-1,000 new products every day. Other fast fashion brands include H&M, Fashionova, Topshop, Primark, Pretty Little Thing, Boohoo, Zara, Misguided, Nike, Adidas, Old Navy, Gap, etc.

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Fast fashion’s impact on the environment

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on earth, behind oil, and produces 10% of world’s global greenhouse gas emissions. The speed at which new clothing is produced is problematic because it encourages a disposable society, where people constantly buy new clothes – some they may never wear – and then throw them away to buy more. As a result, a lot of clothes find their way into landfills around the world. In Bermuda, any clothes thrown away are sent to Tyne’s Bay incinerator and burned for energy, contributing further to carbon dioxide pollution.

The shear amount of available clothing has created a culture where the average family in the Western world throws away an average of 30 kilograms of clothing each year. 73% percent of that will be burned or buried in a landfill. This is problematic as it costs, on average $45 per ton, to dispose of waste in a landfill and takes over 80 years for clothes to break down. What does get collected for recycling—around 12% will likely end up being shredded and used to stuff mattresses or made into insulation or cleaning cloths. Less than 1% of what is collected will be used to make new clothing; a missed opportunity both economically and for the planet.

Cotton is the most water-intensive crop

The fashion industry’s pressure to reduce costs and speed up production time means that environmental corners are cut in the name of profit. This has caused the fashion industry to become the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture and responsible for 20% of the world’s wastewater.

When it comes to the raw materials used by the textile industry, the two main categories are natural and synthetic. While about 58% of fibres use synthetic materials, cotton is still the most used fibre among naturally produced, non-synthetic materials. But while it’s understandable that shoppers might think it’s eco-friendly, it definitely isn’t.

Cotton production relies heavily on pesticides. While only 2.4% of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton, 24% of the world’s insecticides and 11% of pesticides are used to grow it. Cotton is also the most water-intensive crop. Between 7,000 to 29,000 litres of water are required to produce one kilogram of cotton. This comes at a heavy price for the environment, and the communities living near cotton production facilities.

Billions of microplastics end up in the ocean

The fashion industry is a major source of microplastic pollution in our oceans. This is largely due to the consumption of synthetic fibres – namely polyester, which is the world’s most frequently used plastic material in textile production. The popularity of this plastic blend is directly related to fast fashion, as its demand is born directly out of the need to speed up the rapid manufacturing of products that are cheap to make.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 35% of microplastics that enter the ocean come from synthetic fibres. Every time we wash clothing made of these fibres; they shred. Up to 728,000 fibres can come off at once, spilling into waterways and contributing to the pollution of our ocean and environment. Overall, microplastics from fashion could be even more damaging than plastics from the food or packaging industry.

Fast fashion’s impact on garment workers

In order to rapidly mass-produce cheap clothes, workers in the Global South are forced to work in unsafe conditions for low wages, long hours, and without fundamental human rights. This problem is profound as 1 in 6 of the world’s workers are employed in the fashion industry. Around 80% of all garment workers are women, and only around 2% earn a living wage. In addition, workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals, dyes, and leads which is underlined in the documentary The True Cost. The True Cost will be screened on Wednesday [September 7] at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute [BUEI] at 7:00pm.

Furthermore, the disaster at Rana Plaza in 2013, highlights the unsafe working conditions that garment workers face. On 24th April 2013, 1,134 people died and 2,500 people were injured when an eight-story commercial building, that included sweatshop workers, called Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed due to structural failure. The building’s owners ignored warnings to avoid using the building after cracks had appeared the day before. Garment workers were ordered to return the following day and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.

Fast fashion’s impact on animals

The fashion industry uses toxic dyes that are released in waterways while microplastics are ingested by ocean life. When animal products, such as leather and fur, are used animal welfare is put at risk. Numerous scandals reveal that real fur, including cat and dog fur, is often being passed off as faux fur to unknowing shoppers. The truth is that there is so much real fur being produced under terrible conditions in fur farms that it’s become cheaper to produce and buy than faux fur.

Fast fashion’s impact on consumers

The fast fashion industry encourages a throw away culture because the clothes are cheap and not built to last. The rapid production of new clothes and trends encourage consumers to stay on top of trends, creating a constant sense of need and ultimate dissatisfaction. Therefore, as consumers, we must be aware of the problem of fast fashion, and we must fight against the negative effects of fashion by changing the way we shop.

What can you do as a consumer?

  • 1. Participate in #NoNewClothes: Pledge that you will not buy any new clothes for the month of September.
  • 2. Buy less: Reduce your consumption by buying only what you truly need and what you know you will wear.
  • 3. Buy ethically and sustainably: Buy from local small brands that focus on creating a culture of sustainability by producing less from the onset.
  • 4. Buy secondhand or from thrift stores, and donate whatever you do not wear: Secondhand stores in Bermuda include Orange Bay Company, The Barn, Bermuda Red Cross Thrift Shop, Second Look Thrift Shop, Restart Thrift Store, PALS Thrift Shop, Twice Treasured Thrift Shop, Salvation Army Thrift Store, Bargain Box Bermuda, Thrifty Saturdays, Designer Vintage Bermuda, Second Hand Rose, etc.
  • 5. Exchange clothes between friends and family.
  • 6. Upcycle your clothes: Repurpose your clothes to extend their life so that they are not thrown away quickly.
  • 7. Treat your clothes with care to extend their life: Wash your clothing less and according to the label. This not only reduces your carbon footprint but washing your clothes less will also make them last longer.

No longer business as usual

While sustainable fashion, secondhand clothing, and other alternatives are becoming increasingly available, the burden shouldn’t just lie with consumers. Businesses must take responsibility and Governments need to provide regulations that hold the industry accountable for the harm it is causing. Tackling those global and complex issues requires more than a shift in an individual’s shopping habits, it requires a system change. As a result, Bermuda Is Love demands that businesses in Bermuda start by importing and selling clothing brands that are sustainable, that do not contribute to climate change, or exploit garment workers, and that provide fair wages.


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