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In the last 50 years, the way we produce and consume fashion has dramatically changed. Fast fashion retailers have made the case that they have democratised the fashion experience – no longer reserved for the elite, fashion is available and accessible to all. Everyone can afford to wear the latest trends, and to regularly experience the short-lived high of a new fashion purchase, and the pleasure of wearing something new.
For large fashion retailers “fashion democracy” has happily coincided with burgeoning sales, revenues, and profits. This has become the model that dominates High Streets, certainly in the UK and the US, and increasingly elsewhere. On the surface it seems to suit everyone – certainly those who have buying power and thus influence in a market-driven business model.
A Divided Industry
In my ten years of growing the Ethical Fashion Forum, I have seen a movement gather pace against fast fashion as the status quo. This has coincided, particularly in the last 5 years, with several of the most established High St retailers outwardly and publicly committing to sustainability targets and goals, and investing in innovation to solve sustainability challenges.
Especially for independent brands for whom sustainability is part of their DNA, this development is an uneasy one. Competition with the High St, and consumer perceptions of what fashion “should” cost, are already probably the biggest challenges they face. Now they face competition on their sustainability values too – from companies with the ability to allocate, in relative terms, enormous budgets towards the communication of their sustainability commitments.
In many ways, we have reached a stand-off between these two fashion industry camps – a stand-off that drives heated debate in every fashion industry forum, and much frustration. Yet, the challenges of sustainability are common to all of us, to every fashion consumer and to every business owner. Fast fashion is not going any where fast, so how can we unite the most creative minds of this industry, the pioneering thinkers and actors, towards positive solutions that unite rather than divide us?
I recently had the opportunity to join the brilliant Catarina Midby, Sustainability Manager at H&M, for a discussion on fast fashion on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. It inspired me to write this article – sharing my latest thinking on fast fashion from the unique position that the Ethical Fashion Forum has given me, as the “eyes and ears” of our industry.
What Is “Fast Fashion”?
Initially “fast fashion” was about increasing the speed of production, reducing the time it takes to go from fashion design to final product on shelves. Rather than two collections annually, this made it possible to have new product in store in multiple drops throughout the year. The ultimate goal being to sell more product and decrease the trend cycle – and to have something new that consumers need to get in their wardrobes every few weeks in order to be in line with latest trends.
This went hand in hand with reduced prices; it is psychologically easier to make a purchase at a lower price point. There is evidence that consumers will spend more over a year with regular low cost “fashion fixes” than on more exclusive pieces that they fall in love with and will treasure. With a higher cost item, it is so much easier to see what is going out of the bank. In addition, there is that trait many of us have of feeling guilty about indulging – spending on ourselves (or at least, admitting to it). As a result, we’ve developed a “bargain boast” culture – where we boast about how great a bargain we got, and how little we paid. Bargains make it feel okay to buy a new dress (or 3…) every week, if each one only cost £24.99. (or £4.99…)
Now fast fashion is less about fast production – regular drops, rather than seasonal collections have become the standard on the High St – and more about sales – how much product can be shifted, and how quickly. Shifting product quickly means producing a lot of stuff at as low a price as possible, which puts pressure on suppliers to make huge volumes at a low price to tight deadlines. That pressure caused Rana Plaza in 2013.
Sustainable Fast Fashion
At the Ethical Fashion Forum, we define sustainable fashion as an approach to fashion that maximises benefits to people, and minimises impact on the environment.
Can fast fashion be sustainable? At the Ethical Fashion Forum, we define sustainable fashion as an approach to fashion that maximises benefits to people, and minimises impact on the environment.
We believe that the social and environmental aspects of sustainability are inherently linked; one does not come without the other.
Let’s start with the environment. The single most effective thing we could do tomorrow to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment would be to buy a lot less. Every garment has an environmental footprint at every stage in its production. That is why there is an inherent contradiction between the fast fashion business model – a model driven by selling lots of stuff fast – and the concept of environmental sustainability.
I’ve seen as much passion and dedication from individuals working within fast fashion retailers, championing more sustainable practices, as amongst smaller business pioneers. The difference being that the fast fashion insiders have, in many ways, a tougher challenge because the commercial drivers of the businesses they work within are in conflict with reducing environmental impact. For me, this conflict represents the heart of the problem we need to address as an industry – it is the “elephant in the room”. It cannot be resolved by any business working alone, and it will not be resolved through stand-off. If all parties truly acknowledge this elephant in the room, here lies an opportunity for constructive debate.
When it comes to benefits to people, the case for fast fashion is easier to defend. Take Bangladesh as an example – a primary production hub for fast fashion retailers globally. In the last 30 years we have seen huge gains, especially for women in Bangladesh, who have been able to exit a cycle of poverty for themselves and their families, largely through the mass manufacture of clothing. By 2013 about 4 million people, mostly women, worked in Bangladesh’s $19 billion-a-year, export-oriented, ready-made garment (RMG) industry. Several pioneering fast fashion retailers have developed exemplary initiatives in their supply chains to improve working conditions, support communities, and empower their workers, in Bangladesh and beyond.
Despite this, from the observer standpoint, we see more column inches and campaign focus from large retailers on the environmental message, even though there is an inherent contradiction in it. I see great value in more promotional space being given by large retailers to the benefits to people through more sustainable and conscious fashion.
Quality of Life, Fulfilling Work, and Society Values
Historically, the production of textiles and clothes has been highly creative, highly skilled, and offered opportunities for fulfilling and meaningful work.
‘Maximising benefits to people’ through sustainable fashion business has strategic implications that go beyond whether a factory is clean and safe, and even whether workers are paid a living wage.
From the silk route in China to the sought-after textiles and embroidery of Thailand, Indonesia, and India, for thousands of years this industry and its products have inspired wonder and driven global trade. The process of consuming textiles and fashion, right into the 1960s and 70s, was also a creative one – people would often sew their own clothes, or pay a seamstress to create something unique to them that would be treasured and passed on (supplying the growing market for vintage fashion today).
In contrast, the majority of work in garment factories supplying fast fashion retailers is repetitive, tedious, low-skilled, and the opposite of fulfilling.
The process of buying fashion consumes hundreds of hours, and often, most Saturdays (and Sundays) especially for teenagers and young people, wherever they have disposable income and access to a High St (or computer). All this, so we can have wardrobes full of cheap clothes, most of which ends in landfill? If we were to step back and strategically plan our industry to maximise benefits for people on both sides of the supply chain, I am sure we would come up with something very different.
Fast Fashion Culture
Shifting a lot of fashion product fast – and making high margins as a result – means it makes sense to invest a lot of money in advertising, which pervades every part of our media from print, to billboard, TV, and alongside everything we browse online. As members of a consumer society, we are presented with two big messages: what we need to aspire to look like, and that we can all afford to do so. So go shopping!
As the mother of two girls I see the effects of this first hand. At 9 years old my daughter is already concerned about body image; despite her perfect proportions, she does not conform with what she is told to aspire to. Already, her thoughts are occupied with what she could and should wear, with when she can next go shopping. She has brilliant intelligence and spirit, and her creativity from the age of 9 could be addressing much more fulfilling and meaningful tasks than what to wear.
We as a society – and as a business community – can change this.
Is Closed Loop The Antidote to Fast Fashion?
Closed Loop – or a “circular production model” – is an exciting and innovative concept, and one which illustrates the opportunities for collaboration between small and larger business in the fashion sector. A circular production model means that the end product is entirely recycled and transformed back into the original fibres and other components so that it can be recreated again, as good as new. The vision of a circular model is that it will be almost entirely zero waste, massively reducing the environmental footprint of a mass production model.
Can a circular model then “fix” the environmental challenges with fast fashion – the elephant in the room – and let us get on with business as usual? There is no question that this is a fundamental component to a more sustainable industry. However, I would argue that this is not an antidote. A circular model, within a fast fashion context, addresses the symptoms of the problem – waste and burgeoning energy consumption – rather than the cause (our addiction to buying and selling vast quantities of low cost products).
Circular Fashion, launched by Swedish Consultancy firm Green Strategy, sets out an excellent synopsis of Key Principles associated with a Circular Fashion Model. At the top of this list are “Design with a Purpose” and “Design for Longevity” – both principles which do not sit easily with our low-cost, fashion-fix culture.
Positive Steps Towards A More Sustainable Industry
I’ve sat through countless industry events and round tables where the challenges of our industry are discussed. In the last 5 years, the “elephant in the room” is being increasingly exposed. However, I am sure that if you have been to an industry forum on fashion and sustainability, you will share my frustration. There is far more discussion of problems than focus on solutions.
Yet, it is the solutions that need the full focus of the great thinkers in our industry – from both sides of the fast fashion divide. If we are to address the root of the problems with our industry – and go beyond treating the symptoms – we need to see more New Leadership.
John Kenneth Galbraith defined great leadership as “The willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.” If Climate change is the greatest anxiety of our time, confronting it will require a radical change in the way we produce and consume fashion.
Doing Fast Fashion Better
We have seen leadership amongst fast fashion retailers which can, and is, significantly increasing benefits to people and reducing impact on the environment. Doing fast fashion better is a fundamental first step towards change.
I see 4 ways in which meaningful impact can be achieved:
1. Acknowledging The Elephant in The Room
I have been a part of too many industry forums where percentage reduction in water or energy use are discussed in the same breath as expansion plans to open 3 new stores during the same period – and increase production and sales to match. A combined strategy which results in a considerably increased environmental footprint overall, rendering the percentage reductions almost pointless. For me, doing fast fashion better means sharing the full picture – evaluating sustainability proposals, and planning and reporting on impact in the context of a growth model. It’s time to stop ignoring the elephant.
2. Operating in 3 Dimensions
Too often, professionals within fashion businesses are incentivised against improving social or environmental standards. Their commercial Key Performance Indicators are in opposition to the recommendations of the CSR department and CSR does not have representation at board level. Wherever we see sustainability targets being taken seriously in High Street Fashion, sustainability management sits alongside financial management and this approach filters across the business so that each department is empowered rather than being frustrated by its impact targets. (Hats off to H&M on this point). I would like to see this leadership and commitment strengthened through more fashion businesses following the leadership of Patagonia and registering as B Corporations. The B Corp movement can and will move our industry towards a 3-Dimensional model (We’re talking to you, H&M and Kering!).
3. Following Circular Fashion Principles
Say no more.
4. Sharing and Building Social Impact
From an observer’s perspective, we hear more about the environmental initiatives of large fashion retailers, even though this doesn’t sit easily within a fast fashion model. I would like to see and hear much more from leading retailers on what fashion, made well, can do for people behind the product. I would like to see more real commitment to paying living wages and empowering workers. I would like to see advertising budgets raising awareness about the value of skills and craftsmanship, and how consumers can positively influence the well-being of the people behind fashion by buying well.
#buyethical, Change, consumerism, eco fashion, eco-friendly, ecological impact, Environment, environmentalism, environmentally-friendly, ethical consumerism, ethical fashion, ethically-made, fair trade, fair wages, fast fashion, Garment lifecycle, Recycled Fashion, social change, Social consumerism, social impact, socially-made, sustainability, sustainable, sustainable fashion, sustainable lifestyle, sustainably-made
What do you know about the clothes in your wardrobe? About the clothes that you’re wearing right now? Clara Vuletich works with some of the biggest brands in the world to help them ask the right questions about where the clothes that we wear come from.
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By Edward A. Gribbin for https://www.apparelnews.net
The social and environmental issues within the fashion industry are well documented. The industry knows it needs to act responsibly and work sustainably for the sake of the millions of workers it employs, not to mention the future of the business itself. We tend to think that fashion is all about change, and yet we are one of the most change-resistant industries in the world.
Research shows that looks come first for ethical fashionistas, who tend to buy sustainable fashion. While consumers might have a clearer picture of the not-so-glamorous reality behind fashion production, especially after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, not much has changed in regard to their shopping habits. This reaction doesn’t really come as a surprise. Fashion and sustainable fashion must meet and mingle. They can no longer be two separate categories and movements. If ethical fashion wants to find a place, it’s going to have to look pretty similar, if not better, than its fast-fashion alternative.
Two key themes emerging in the retail market today are the need for more continual and impactful customer engagement and the increasing impact of sustainability and social-responsibility issues on business decision-making.
To more intimately and continually attract and engage customers, retailers are focusing on getting faster at developing product. Speed-to-market seems to be the No. 1 topic across all segments of the apparel/fashion world. While traditional new-product development cycles stretch out to 18 months—many retailers have already launched development of their collections for Spring 2018—retailers are finding that customers are gravitating toward stores, sites or apps that are always launching new, fresh, “of-the-moment” products.
What we need to do is encourage consumers to seek out sustainable products in the same way they seek out trendy new items. This is a challenge. Consider smokers and how often anti-smoking campaigns fail; when threatened with frightening consequences, we go into denial, continuing with our bad habits. The best way to promote behavior change is to make an alternative behavior seem more appealing; it’s got to be cool! Brands can no longer rely on having two big seasons a year and keeping their customers’ attention. New and frequent capsule collections have been proven to attract and keep consumer attention. Whether it’s the success of fast-fashion brands or the “see-now-buy-now” movement sweeping the luxury segment, traditional retail is threatened and slowly responding. Similarly, we need to respond to our sustainability challenges in ways that appeal to consumers.
A global perspective
As labor prices continue to explode in China, the No. 1 exporter of apparel to the U.S., and more Chinese manufacturers are finding that selling to the rapidly growing number of middle-class Chinese can be more lucrative than exporting, retailers have been forced to search for other sources of cheap labor. This has created a ripple effect of additional issues, from significant negative environmental impacts in countries with fewer rules and infrastructure capabilities than China to slave or child labor and numerous other human-rights issues.
Most major brands and retailers have joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in recent years, and some of the largest formed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Both organizations are having a positive impact, but progress is slow and fraught with challenges. As a result, more and more retailers are deciding to source products closer to home even though the costs are higher. Greater supply-chain transparency is not only critical to a brand’s reputation and top of mind with more industry leadership, it is being demanded by more and more consumers.
This consumer demand may be an area where our industry can make headway with sustainability issues. Consumers are far more empowered today than ever before. The retailer once owned us, the consumer. If you wanted a piece of apparel, you had to go to a store when that store was open, look at the selection of merchandise that some merchant decided you would want to buy and, if you found something you liked, hopefully they had it in your size.
Technology has turned that around. Today, the consumer is the center of everything, and they hold control of the retailer in their hand or in their pocket. Many of our retail business models are broken today and some beyond repair. We take far too long to design and develop product, too long to source it and too long to ship it back in a boat from halfway around the world.
There are “disrupters” today who are finding different and better ways to serve the customer. They are developing product “virtually” in 3-D to cut time to market, they are sourcing locally, and they are personalizing product in ways that most retailers could not imagine. New technologies—ranging from waterless dyeing to 3-D printing and supply-chain mapping tools—have the potential to help fashion make smarter sustainable choices. But technology without people and a plan will get us nowhere fast.
#buyethical, Change, consumerism, eco fashion, eco-friendly, environmentalism, environmentally-friendly, ethical consumerism, ethical fashion, ethically-made, Fairtrade Fashion, Fashion, social change, Social consumerism, social impact, Social Innovation, socially-made, sustainable, sustainable fashion, sustainably-made
When Indian Textiles Minister Smriti Irani tweeted a picture of herself this week in an electric-blue silk saree with the hashtag #IWearHandloom, her tweet was favourited more than 10,000 times.
Hundreds responded to Irani’s request to post pictures of themselves in handloom clothes, including politicians, actors, athletes, models and designers, ahead of National Handloom Day yesterday to celebrate the humble hand-woven fabric.
A symbol of India’s freedom struggle, handloom attire was once regarded as fit only for politicians and villagers.
It is now seeing a revival, with demand growing for sustainable and ethical fashion, even as mass-market clothing still dominates malls and pavement stalls. “There’s a greater desire among the youth and the middle class, who are frustrated with dirty politics for something better,” said Arvind Singhal, chief executive of retail consultancy Technopak Advisors.
“Having a greater sensitivity to people and the environment is ‘in’, and people are even willing to pay a small premium for what they perceive to be ethical and responsible,” he said.
India is among the biggest manufacturers of textiles and apparel in the world, supplying leading international brands. But the domestic market is large too, and accounts for more than 40pc of the industry’s revenue.
The sector is dominated by small and medium-sized firms under enormous pressure to reduce costs and produce garments quickly. Many use forced labour, while abuses including withheld salaries and debt bondage are rife, activists say.
Wages in India’s textile and garment industry are about $1.06 an hour, compared with $2.60 in China, according to the World Bank.
The pressure on margins trickles down to cotton farmers. More than 90pc of cotton in India is genetically modified, and as those seeds cannot be replanted, farmers have struggled with rising input costs and lower prices for cotton. Tens of thousands of indebted cotton farmers in the western state of Maharashtra have killed themselves in the past two decades.
It was the plight of these farmers that drove Apurva Kothari, who was working in technology in San Francisco, to return to India and set up apparel brand No Nasties in 2011.
The company sources organic cotton, and audits its supply chain to ensure there is no child labour and that workers receive fair wages, he said.
“I simply googled ‘fair trade cotton’, then met with cotton producers,” said Kothari.
No Nasties and Do U Speak Green are among a handful of Fairtrade-licensed clothing brands in India. They source from producers including Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills, which deals in organic and fair trade cotton and pays fair wages, and Chetna Organic, whose seed conservation project has organic “seedbanks” from which farmers can withdraw seeds.
They are getting a boost from Fairtrade India, which set up office in 2013, and has stamped its distinct circular logo on a small range of products including tea, coffee, rice and sugar.
Working conditions and wages in South Asia’s garment industry have come under greater scrutiny since the April 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 workers died. But retailers’ efforts to clean up supply chains will have little impact unless consumers in India demand more ethically produced goods, analysts say.
“Most buyers are oblivious to farmer suicides or unfair wages, and don’t make that connection to the clothes they wear,” said Abhishek Jani, chief executive of Fairtrade India. “But there is clearly a segment that cares, and all things being equal, more people would probably buy an ethical product if the price point isn’t too high.” (Reuters)
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“We’ve already got a black girl,” “It’s not our creative vision,” “Our customer isn’t ready yet.” These are the excuses we hear time and time again to explain the lack of models of color in the fashion industry. In fact, the more you talk to people in our profession about this, the more you realize that these statements are tired, unimaginative and backwards; things this industry supposedly detests…
… In the 1990’s we saw a rise in multiracial adverts, with adverts by CK One and United Colors of Benetton going down in history as some of the most iconic adverts of all time. Why have we gone backwards when we know how well the embrace of diversity can work? While it’s unlikely that any fashion company would be brave enough to hold their hands up and admit their oversight on this issue, it’s important that we recognize that none of us are exempt from preconceptions, stereotypes and discrimination. And in a creative industry, that’s meant to be pushing boundaries, these stereotypes only stifle us.
Concluding The Fashion Debates, Furlong was asked “Is the fashion industry racist?” to which he answered, “Yes, but no more than the rest of society.”
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In India, it is not uncommon to see old fabrics repurposed to provide different uses throughout their life. From shirt, to pillowcase, to bag, to rag – one garment can serve many functions. This method of reusing and recycling fabrics is driven by economic need and has organically evolved into a sustainable recycling model. However, this organic model is more institutionalized and organized then we think, particularly when it comes to the Chindi trade.
An age-old tradition in India, led by the Waghris, a nomadic community of India, the Chindi (rag) trade is an intens bute informal second-hand recycling system. This practice has occurred in India for over 150 years and consists of the Waghris travelling through neighbourhoods and markets bartering old clothes for new utensils from households in cities across India. Through this practice, the Waghri’s are able to provide affordable used clothing to India’s poor, while ensuring old clothes don’t end up in landfills.
However, in return, these nomads face a constant struggle when it comes to sustainably operating their practices as their urban markets are never considered when it comes to urban planning and beautification, poor economic returns, discrimination and no recognition for the work they do to support communities and the environment.
Moreover, due to a lack of investable capital, there second-hand trade is completely off-the-map when it comes to the international market. What, in theory, is an innovative method to deal with urban recycling needs and provide affordable second-hand clothes to India’s poor, is reduced to stigmatized and dying profession.
This practice is a lesson in the fact that communities around the world have acknowledge the need to reuse and repurpose items for centuries. However, it is also warning that if we do not cherish and support these practices, they will remain invisible, marginalized and unaccounted for.
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Written by Michael Shank, adjunct assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, and Maxine Bédat, CEO and co-founder of Zady for MSNBC
“There are few industries fickler than fashion, changing annually and swapping seasonally. The good news is that fashion can, in theory, change more quickly than the energy or agricultural industries, for example. And when it comes to tackling climate change, agility and the ability to rapidly retool practices will be essential attributes of the most resilient and sustainable industries.
This is how Emma Watson’s recent take on waste — she appeared at a red carpet New York City gala wearing a dress made entirely of trash — could herald a new trend for fashion. Or at least, it should, because we’re rapidly approaching “peak stuff” with bursting consumer closets that are unsustainable by any measure.
Most clothes are worn, on average, only seven times before they’re discarded, forcing an astonishing150 billion new clothing items to be made annually. Thank “fast fashion,” a business model based on the fabrication of hyper trends and clothing that doesn’t last for consumers to accumulate. But given limited natural resources and the urgent need to protect what remains from further apparel-driven pollution, the cutting edge in fashion will soon need to trend and tack towards something more people- and planet-friendly.
Getting clothing cheap enough for the fashion industry’s disposable model has required massive amounts of cheap material and cheap labor — both of which came with devastatingly high and unaccounted-for costs.
First, the push for low prices led to cheap material. Polyester is the worst: It’s a plastic made from fossil fuels and found in 50 percent of all clothing. It’s enormously energy intensive and doesn’t bio-degrade, making for a catastrophic carbon and environmental footprint. In outsourcing production, a process greased by decades of trade deals, we simultaneously outsourced pollution to countries with even dirtier power grids. Now, 10 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint comes from the apparel industry, and apparel is the second largest polluter of fresh water globally. These are devastating stats, and we’re wearing them on our sleeves.
Second, the push for low prices also led to cheap labor. The apparel industry’s race for the cheapest inputs relied on laborers at the very lowest end of the wage spectrum in countries with few protections for workers. While the industry has created jobs and lifted some people out of poverty, the hard truth remains that low wages, forced labor, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and child labor are now rampant throughout apparel supply chains. Children are working in appalling conditions that amount to modern day slavery.
The good news is that consumers are reaching their limit with all of this. And there’s a realization in the post-Paris climate world and in the U.N.’s recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals that we must put an end to polluting factors and worker abuse. Even the Vatican is connecting the dots between the apparel industry’s modern day slavery and climate change. To ignore any of this is to remain regressively retro.
While we still have a broken apparel industry, we do have a consumer base that is hungry for change, which is why Emma Watson’s trash stunt got so much traction on social and traditional media. People want something better, they want something different and they want it to be sustainable. They don’t want what they wear to worsen the planet or people’s lives. This means that all of us have an opportunity — an opportunity to create a different future.
All across the fashion ecosystem, we’ll need progressive leadership and a willingness by multilateral institutions, from the United Nations to the World Bank, to make the connection between apparel and the environment and economic development. The connections are obvious. Thus, we can no longer ignore the final (fashion) frontier in our efforts to clean up the planet and our dirty practices. The U.N.’s newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals, for example, are all about social inclusion, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability — three pillars that aren’t, at present, at the epicenter of the apparel industry.
That must change. And it’ll require some new patterns by non-apparel types. Journalists exposing the adverse social-environmental impacts of apparel production, guiding readers towards possible solutions and avoiding “greenwashing.” Brands adopting sustainable practices, from design through production, within their own businesses. Influencers, some of today’s best storytellers, showcasing the beauty and benefits of living simply. Educational institutions teaching the next generation the skills needed to identify industry-specific problems in fashion and improve its sustainability.
We can do this. It does mean that we’ll need more Watson-type moments when people break the red carpet mold to speak out for the planet and for people’s livelihood. But Watson is not alone. Nor are we. It’s time to start wearing a different world.”
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This is a shout-out to the likes of girls like me.
We love clothes, and unabashedly so. We feel a rush when we don a new outfit and make it our own. But what’s even better is that while your clothes are turning heads, what’s running through yours is that “I can’t believe I got this for Rs.150 ($2.30)! That costs lesser than my lunch.”
In Delhi, when Rs.150 and clothes feature in the same sentence, that sentence usually ends in Sarojini Nagar. If you’re a street-stuff buff, then you could probably make that happen even in GK or Khan Market. And they never disappoint. But are cheap, pretty things found exclusively on the streets? Or do retail stores now offer both, pocket-friendly clothes and the brand name? The policy at work here is that of fast fashion.
Fast fashion is a breakthrough that rapidly puts designer pieces from the runway at the feet of the middle-class aficionados. One would then wonder how something as coveted as catwalk items became common items. Is it a step towards an egalitarian world or is it just not the big picture?
The banal truth is that the developing world is home to all the manufacturing units of the retailers and employs almost 2.8 million women. This wouldn’t be of concern if it meant employment and a good wage for them. Except that, it is far from it. These women are overworked, ill-treated, insufficiently paid and even abused because there is a mass-production deadline to be met before the next trend makes its appearance. So while we no longer have to pay an arm and a leg to look fashionable, these women still do, and quite literally. We become partners in crime, unaware the entire time.
One must then think that when the clothes are being sold at low prices, the companies must be cruising towards a loss. But the truth is the exact opposite where the owners of these brands are ‘among the top 10 richest people in the world’ and earn in figures that are alien to the common man. It’s a classic case of bourgeois vs. proletarian.
Another feather in the cap of fast fashion is that the rate at which new items are produced is in line with the rate at which consumers discard the old ones. Since there is a new collection before you could blink, a lot of these clothes are worn a bare minimum number of times before they head for the landfills. That’s an ecological concern that gets overlooked because fashion is believed to be trivial and frivolous when the industry is actually the second largest polluter, after oil.
With this bitter truth becoming more blatant, people are taking notice. Activist Livia Firth has been pushing the envelope by devising green outfits and spearheading the #30wears campaign, to endorse responsible fashion. It is important to realise that fashion fuelled by another person’s blood and sweat is no fun at all. This does not translate into boycotting these stores because let’s face it, the reason they sell so many is that we throw away those many and the cycle continues. For the sake of our planet and its people, there needs to be more commitment to the closet.
So then what’s the ask?
The ask is that we enjoy clothes. We make a million memories in them. We fight with our siblings for stealing them. We pass them on to little cousins. We make lehengas out of saris. We marvel at the capris we fit in from eight years ago (only a blessed few). When we have had our fill, we give them to someone less fortunate, only to make new memories in. But we don’t throw them away. Because let’s not forget, we love clothes.