In 2019, when I first saw Hasan Minaj’s episode of “The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion” on his show The Patriot Act, I couldn’t stop thinking about how my shopping habits affected the environment. I knew the fashion industry was hazardous and did not have the most ethical practices, but I was oblivious to the extent of damage it does to the environment. Fashion is the second-largest pollutant of the environment, after the oil and coal industry. The energy consumed to produce, manufacture and transport millions of apparel purchased every year contributes 8-10% of the global carbon emissions. Not only this, it also dries up water resources and pollutes water bodies as washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean every year, which is equivalent to 50 billion plastic bottles. Furthermore, 85% of all textiles also end up in landfills every year. And these numbers will only multiply as according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, emissions from textile manufacturing alone are projected to skyrocket by 60% by 2030. Fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M and Forever21 make cheap, affordable and trendy clothing, but the cost comes at a high price.
This brings me to my next question, what if we are not willing to pay this price. What can we do as producers and consumers to make fashion more circular?
According to a WRAP report in the UK, designing for durability is one of the largest opportunities to reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints our clothing requires. An outfit with a longer lifespan will reduce the consumers’ need for a replacement, saving valuable resources that would go towards production, delivery, disposal and even laundering. Furthermore, clothing companies can explore opportunities like using natural dyes and avoiding polyester and other synthetic, plastic-based fabrics and materials proven to be hazardous to our water bodies. Beyond physical strength, a garment is also required to stand the test of time, as trends in fashion are rapidly changing, which is one of the biggest reasons why fast fashion is so alluring. Timeless design is an often sought after trait which embodies quality, craftsmanship and elegance. It means clean cuts and lines, intentional color palettes “play well with others,” allowing for flexibility to mix and match one’s wardrobe. Timeless designs stay in trend for a longer time, and allow a consumer to feel fashionable even after using an apparel for years.
Retailers as well as consumers, to ensure durability, are interested in repairing clothes. Some brands even offer repair facilities for their clothes. Furthermore, clothes that cannot be repaired can get recycled or redesigned. In recent years, brands have undertaken redesigning initiatives to give old apparel an entirely new look. This way, the fashion industry is saving on raw materials and natural resources. Brands also aid fashion waste management, as they often allow you to get a new product/ incentive in exchange for your old garments.
In recent years, although the fashion industry is gradually showing concerns towards sustainability, the ultimate power lies with the consumer. The role a consumer can play by changing their shopping behavior in small ways can go far in making fashion more sustainable. A few things we can do as consumers are:
Buy second hand and rent clothing: Buying second hand clothes, also known as thrifting is one of the biggest trends in the world of fashion currently. Second hand shops have now moved to online shops making it more accessible to the public. And this trend is growing in Nepal as well. Antidote Nepal, Thrift It, Thrift Venture Nepal, RentMyCloset are few places that allow consumers to buy pre-loved apparel or rent apparels including ethnic dresses, couture etc.
Up-cycle: Up-cycle fashion uses either pre-consumers or post-consumers wastes to manufacture new products. Companies like Upcycle Nepal work towards up-cycling and making them into usable products like tote bags, pouches and covers, also allowing for customization.
Mindful Washing: Washing our clothes has a significant environmental impact. Washing full loads, avoiding dry cleaning, and using environment friendly detergents are small steps we can take.
The best advice on reducing fast fashion comes from Patsy Perry, senior lecturer in fashion marketing at the University of Manchester, who says, “Less is always more.”
Tanushree Agrawal is a BBA Graduate from Christ University, with a major in Finance. Her areas of interest are Mergers and Acquisitions, private equity, impact investing, and economic policy. She was previously associated with BankerBay, an investment banking firm in India, working with the M&A team. She is a former fellow at beed management.