Fashion Revolution week 2019 might be halting to a stop, but the fight for fair fashion is blooming.
Over the last few years, the fair fashion movement has gained a lot of traction, flipping our collective knowledge of the fashion industry upside down and exposing the nasties…and boy, are they nasty.
There’s a lot to know, a lot to consider and a very complex industry to untangle, so buckle up: this is your ultimate guide to fair fashion in 2019.
What is fast fashion?
Let’s take a sneak peek at the modern day fast fashion industry.
At thirteen, I wore bright cheeky slogan smeared T-shirts. I had no clue that my cupboard was the embodiment of a realm of environmental and human rights horror.
When we think of fast fashion, our mind runs to the brands we all loved and lusted over: Zara, H&M and their slimy little fast fashion sisters.
Behind the brand names though, the term fast fashion simply refers to the constantly evolving production system of fashion (Good on You).
It refers to the acceleration of the production process, reflecting consumer desire and consumption.
A short history – how did we get here?
Up until the mid-twentieth century, fashion was simply slow. Clothes were expensive, they weren’t mass produced and designers relied on the seasons of the year.
Then came the Industrial Revolution. The textile industry boomed and, paired with the slave trade, it became the dominant industry.
Countries of the Global South were hauled into the industry for cheap labour.
They were exploited under the free trade market, where human rights and environmental regulations slipped through the cracks.
Meanwhile, Europe and America were reaping the benefits.
As production rose to an all-time high, retail prices fell dramatically in the 2000s, leading to a massive spike in consumption.
Welcome to the era of Fast Fashion.
“Fast fashion utilises trend replication, rapid production, and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public.”
Globally, we now consume over 100 billion garments every year, up 400% from two decades ago.
A false statistic has been floating around the Internet: the fashion industry is not the second most polluting industry after oil. It’s far more complex than that.
The 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report found that the fashion industry is responsible for approximately 1,715 million tonnes of CO2, or 4.3% of global carbon emissions.
So, based on facts and figures, the fashion industry falls somewhere between being the 4th and the 10th most carbon-emitting industry.
But in terms of direct impact? That’s a whole different story.
The ironic thing about the fashion industry is that it’s multifaceted- it overlaps into industries that statistically are more destructive than fashion itself.
For example – the agriculture industry claims first place, producing an estimated 19% of the world’s greenhouse emissions. If we dig a bit deeper, it’s obvious that fashion overlaps into this industry, too. As it does into tourism (at 8%), commercial fuel and power (at 6.3%), and even cement production (at 5%).
Basing our qualms with the fashion industry solely off numbers makes this issue seem clinical, and ultimately, far less important than it is.
While statistics are crucial, they don’t always tell an accurate story. Some impacts cannot be accurately portrayed with numbers.
So let’s break it down into smaller digestible chunks that we can relate to.
From start to finish, the process of garment production consumes a ridiculous amount of water.
According to the WWF, it can take up to 2700 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt.
That figure also reflects the average person’s drinking water consumption over three years.
When you consider the fact that 1 in 9 people today are thirsty, it puts a lot of things into perspective.
In 2015, it was reported that up to 79 billion cubic metres of water (enough water to fill 32 million Olympic swimming pools) was used by the industry- and it’s set to increase by 50% by 2030.
OH - and have you heard of the Aral Sea between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan? Probably not, because it doesn’t really exist anymore thanks to the fashion industry and cotton production.
But the fashion industry doesn’t just take water - it gives it back, too! Only… a LOT more polluted.
Some larger textile mills can discard up to 7 million litres of wastewater per day, contaminating the surrounding freshwater sources (Mamoq).
In China, 32.2 billion tons of wastewater is released back into the sea each year.
Have you heard of the river that turned red? In 2014 (similar incidents occurred in 2011 and 2012, too) a river in Wenzhou, China turned completely red overnight, caused by the illegal dumping of excess dye.
Water contamination is a serious health concern for people, causing a spike in health issues and correlating to a rise in premature deaths.
Every second, one garbage truck full of clothing is disposed in landfill or burned (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
Our society is in the midst of a ‘throwaway culture’.
An estimated 24% of Australians bin items of clothing that they have worn only once, with more than 500,000 tonnes of textiles being sent to Australian landfills every year.
It’s easy to see how this mindset has evolved.
The low cost of clothing and ever-growing accessibility makes discarding previously loved items effortless.
Personally discarding items is not the only issue though: over 25% of thrift shop donations end up in landfill, too.
The early fair fashion movement focused on second-hand clothing, resulting in a major spike in donations - overwhelming the thrift shop industry.
The worst part? Over 95% of textiles in landfill are reusable. It’s our mindset that needs to change.
Human Rights Violations
Roughly 40 million garment workers are exploited under the same industry as Mother Earth.
Staffed primarily by impoverished women (around 80%), they face a host of labour abuses, ranging from extremely low wages to abuse and harassment and the obvious systemic unfairness.
According to Dr. Gisela Burckhardt, Director of FEMNET (an NGO working for women’s rights in the garment industry), women are the preferred demographic to employ because they are seen as an easy target to exploit.
They are stereotypically viewed as more ‘docile’ than men and too busy to attend trade union meetings after work.
Men and children are also fiercely exploited within the textile industry.
The worst affected countries for child labour are in Asia, South America and Africa: an estimated 170 million children globally are still being exploited.
While it’s easy to argue that the producing country is primarily responsible for labour law compliance, there is no doubt that, under international standards, global garment companies have a responsibility to ensure their supply chains are not exploitative.
Under the ruse of the fashion giants run from the comfort of the Global North, the human cost of the fashion industry is still far too high.
This is where Fashion Revolution comes in.
How did we get to the Fashion Revolution movement?
The fast fashion industry as we knew it came to a halt on April 24, 2013.
Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed and left 1132 people dead and over 2500 injured.
The nine-story building housed five garment factories, and the collapse quickly became known as one of the worst industrial disasters on record.
Rana Plaza certainly wasn’t the first atrocity at the hands of the fashion industry, but it did mark a turning point in public awareness.
The world finally began to face the grim realities of the garments in our wardrobes.
They saw the potential in using the catastrophe as a catalyst for fair fashion, and they were spot on.
Six years on, we have seen Fashion Revolution become one of the most prominent action-based movements yet.
Now recognised in over 100 countries, their aim is to seek a fairer, safer, cleaner and more transparent fashion industry.
By collaborating across the supply chain – from farmer to consumer – Fashion Revolution focuses on three major key changes:
- Model – A radical paradigm shift in production and consumption
- Material – People and Planet
- Mindset- Shifting the way we think about fashion
To find out more about these key focuses, head to the Fashion Revolution website.
Transparency is the key to revolutionizing the industry. With visibility comes responsibility and liability. If information is public, it’s more likely that abusive conditions will be reported and changed.
One of Fashion Revolutions greatest achievements yet is the hashtag #whomademyclothes. It aims to humanise garments and catalyse transparency by allowing us to connect our garments to real people.
The hashtag works as a call-to-action for consumers to ask brands for more background information on their products and is growing at a rate of around 30% every year.
It received just under 100 million impressions on Twitter in 2018, and it’s spreading like wildfire every year.
The fight for fair fashion is well and truly rolling.
For more information on Fashion Revolution, head to their ridiculously informative website here.
So where are we now in the fight for fair fashion?
Well… that’s an interesting question.
What has really changed? Public awareness is certainly at the top of the list, with individuals catalysing their own personal fashion revolutions.
Second-hand clothing has become huge, and a lot of people are becoming more conscious about their consumption habits.
Individuals are also using their voice to tell brands that things must change. Some brands are beginning to listen and aiming for transparency regarding the origins of their clothing.
The newfound transparency within some brands has seen a safety revolution in some factories and adopted liability.
What about systemic changes?
There is some good news here, too: since the Rana Plaza catastrophe, over 1300 factories have been inspected in Bangladesh.
Just over 1.8 million workers have also received factory safety information.
The minimum wage has also increased for garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia, but there is still a long way to go. The ACT agreement (Action Living Wages) has seen 18 big brands sign up to achieve living wages for workers.
Some brands are also pledging to reduce their use of toxic chemicals by 2020.
There are glimpses of change in consumer behaviour, too. Clothing waste in the UK has been reduced by 50,000 tonnes, a 2017 report found.
The report also found that, through a shift in consumption habits, 700,000 tonnes of CO2 were saved.
While this might sound impressive (and it is!) we still have a very long way to go if we want to achieve a transparent and ethical fashion industry.
According to Fashion Revolution founder Carry Somers, we are still lacking a lot of information on the ‘tangible impact on the lives of workers and on the environment’.
So how can you help?
As a consumer, the best thing you can do is use your voice and change your individual habits.
Keep learning and educate those around you. Get involved with Fashion Revolution week but keep using your voice when it ends.
Upcycle, thrift, repair, re-wear, swap and fall back in love with the clothing in your cupboard.
For more information on your individual impact, head to the Fashion Revolution website.
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