With the second wave of COVID in full-swing, I’ve spent a lot of time browsing the internet. Sifting past the vaccine, and Coronavirus articles, I’ve been finding a lot more stories about the environmental issues facing the planet. These articles had me thinking about the impacts the fashion industry has on both environmental sustainability and ethics. Sustainable Fashion refers to the idea that fashion should be moving towards being more ecologically and ethically friendly. The issues with traditional fashion primarily lie in the production process of garments. 

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is the process where trendy fashion moves quickly from design to store shelves. It is incredibly profitable and employed by many large store retailers. It is referred to as “fast” due to the sheer speed of the process, and how it quickly it changes “come-and-go” trends of the market. On the surface, fast fashion sounds like a fantastic business model. The companies make a lot of money, and the consumers get the latest trends at an affordable cost. What’s not to love?

Issues arise when we examine how this feat is achieved. Often, fast fashion companies employ cheap labour from developing nations to cut down on production costs. Conditions in these factories are subpar, and safety regulations are often ignored in an effort to get as many of these low-cost workers to work in as small of an area for the lowest cost. Non-compliance to these regulations have led to disastrous situations such as the 2013 Rana Plaza Collapse in Bangladesh (seen above) which stemmed from ignoring multiple regulations, compromising the building’s structural integrity. For example, 3 additional floors were added to the building without a permit, which were used to create more factory space and increase production. 

In addition, manufacturers also often hire children as labourers, as they can be paid less than adults and will not complain about poor working conditions.  This can have devastating effects on their development as they can be exposed to chemicals and work that can impede their physical growth, and they also forego an education to work.

Ecological Effects

A consequence of the ever-changing trends of fast fashion is that just as quickly as the designs come, they also go. With companies moving from one trend to another, consumers may be quick to discard their out-of-fashion garments in favour to buy the next hot thing. This is troublesome for the environment because, besides the millions of clothes that end up in landfills, the manufacturing process of textiles is resource-intensive. Environmentally damaging pesticides are often used to protect and increase crop yields for cotton and other raw materials. The process of dyeing and preparing these materials also uses water and other chemicals heavily. With the ever-increasing scarcity of freshwater, fashion may not be the most effective use of this dwindling resource in the future. 

How To Be Sustainable

For starters, if possible, try to avoid fast fashion. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to consider that actively avoiding fast fashion can be expensive. With the big players in the textile market being companies that are infamous for fast fashion (H&M and Zara), their low prices are hard to beat and shopping somewhere else may be unaffordable.

Also, try shopping at thrift stores or for second-hand clothing. You can find a lot of cool stuff there and a lot of vintage designs from decades gone by. Toronto has no shortage of these, and every time I have gone, there has been something different.

Reuse or repair old/damaged clothing. It may seem a bit daunting at first, but using cloth and parts of old clothing to stitch something together can be an artistically rewarding experience. For those of you who are not artistically inclined (like me), fixing a broken button or a small torn area of the cloth is a lot better than throwing out and replacing a piece of clothing.

-Written by Wesley Yip