Breaking down what it means when clothes are made to break down.
By Aparna Sharma
Every time I tell someone that I am an independent writer who loves writing on all things sustainable and slow-fashion related, I get interesting reactions. Often, I’m met with confusion and people would ask me to explain what slow fashion is.
How Fashion Became ‘Fast’
Before the industrial revolution and the invention of sewing machines, fashion was naturally ‘slow’: necessarily tailor-made, mended when damaged, and made to last a lifetime. Today, fast fashion is a dominant force in the fashion industry. The term was coined by The New York Times when Zara launched their first store in New York with a mission of conceptualising, producing and selling a design within 15 days. An exciting concept at the time because of its possibilities for democratising fashion and making it affordable, its dark and evil side has come out in the past 10 years.
Today, the fast fashion industry produces over 100 billion items of clothing each year, most of which are produced in poorer countries in the Global South, with 75 percent of the workforce underpaid women. There have been undercover journalists who have covered many stories of modern-day slavery in the industry.
There is so much push by brands for consumers to constantly buy new trends, so outfits even a month old seem out of trend. This in turn makes people throw their clothes away, which almost always ends up in a landfill. Even if you give away your clothes, that should never be used as an excuse for over consumption.
Feeding the Fossil Fuel Industry
Almost all the clothes made by these brands are made with fossil fuel-based cheap fabric, which can’t be recycled. This also means they will be lying in the landfill for thousands of years.
The videos with the hashtag #Sheinhaul on TikTok has around 6.5 billion views. The common joke in slow fashion circles is that Shein makes Zara and H&M look slow and that is scary. Shein is an ultra-fast fashion brand which grew popular by harnessing the power of TikTok videos, targeting teenagers specifically. These videos typically have a young girl open a package from Shein, with 15 or more items of clothing. She tries them on for her audience and shows a glamorous video.
Transparency and Traceability
These are the two most crucial factors to building a better fashion system, something you won’t see in these videos. They won’t show you that these ultra-glamorous looking outfits are mostly made from fossil fuels, and they can’t be recycled and will most likely end up in a landfill when the next trend comes out. Landfills have recently caught fire, and this is an environmental hazard which has terrible effects on the communities living near the landfills and for the planet as a whole.
The other aspect these videos never share is the working conditions and exploitation of the human beings making these clothes; women like you and me. Some of us might be insensitive to their working conditions and exploitation, but there is a very thin line between being insensitive and being an accomplice, and we have crossed that line.
What Should We Do?
These brands are dependent on consumers like us and we have the power to demand transparency and traceability by asking these brands two fundamental questions: Who made my clothes? and What is the fabric made from?
Overall, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10 percent of global emissions, according to the UN – more than the aviation and shipping industries combined. Did you know the clothes in your suitcase can have a higher carbon footprint than your flight miles from Bangkok to Tokyo or any other destination?
I will leave you with this line: “Fast fashion is exploiting people and the planet, it is cheap because someone is paying a heavy price for it.”
Aparna Sharma (Instagram: @stylishsuitcase) is a non-conformist who believes that fashion must become a force for good and style must meet sustainability. She breaks down the nuances of slow fashion and how we can stay stylish without being trendy.