Slowing Down Fast Fashion: Why Mass-Produced Garments Don’t ‘Fit’ in a No-Waste Economy

Slowing Down Fast Fashion: Why Mass-Produced Garments Don’t ‘Fit’ in a No-Waste Economy

Today’s textile industry is essentially on the fast track, where mass-production has led to overproduction, and where unthinkable quantities of unsold garments are trashed every day. Technology innovations available today can assist in optimizing the production process and prevent textile waste on a massive scale. In order to do so, however, the change must start from within. Other than the fact that this industrial behavior results in an enormous waste of human and natural resources, the most important question is the one of accountability.

The rise (and fall) of fast fashion

Fast fashion is relatively new. It’s an acceptable modern-day term conjured up by fashion retailers to describe how the latest designs and trends on the runway make their way into large retail shops – at lightning speed. It’s fast fashion manufacturing, reasonably affordable for the average consumer. Popular retailers with global reach have been producing vast amounts of exceptionally low-priced products, yielding even lower margins on each finished garment.

The volumes are almost unimaginable – hundreds of tons of garments manufactured every day, and nearly the same amount of both finished product and raw materials, including fabrics, dyes and threads, cast-off and thrown away. A recent study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation found that one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second. To that end, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit reported that fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year.

“Dressed to kill”

For consumers to dress in the styles of their choosing with an unending selection of affordable, but for the most part, cheaply-made garments, the price, in the long run, is very high. In return for a global fashion industry valued at 3,000 billion (3 trillion) dollars, 2% percent of the world’s GDP, this same industry is slowly and steadily polluting the environment.

How can these unimaginable figures decrease? By assuming social responsibility. Both consumers and manufacturers must change their perception, and reassess their ever-growing fast fashion addiction.

Today’s consumer has become addicted to the immediate gratification provided by the availability of fast fashion. It’s fast fashion that provides the ultimate retail buying experience – an endless variety of affordable garments for every buyer and every budget – available, everywhere. The fashion industry has made concerted efforts to remedy the addiction to fast fashion, in an effort to reduce the amount of waste. For one, the industry is continuously revaluating and reeducating its designers and manufacturers towards producing, purchasing and supporting sustainable materials. But awareness is only a fraction of the problem, albeit, a first step towards resolution.

Still, the fashion industry can no longer continue to produce garments that do not put the environment first, which may mean, putting the consumer, second.

Rising to the challenge

For a true war on waste, the fashion industry must spend more on research. According to Australia’s recently published, ABC’s War on Waste, even if leaders could put a halt to massive global garment production, the world would still require some kind of new-fangled ultra-green technology to clean up the waste both industry and consumer have already created. Australia’s answer to fast fashion waste is to compel industry leaders and researchers to invest in and cultivate the next generation of sustainable fashion technologies.

The development of new synthetic biology-based technology, for example, is just one response from the fashion industry and budding new designers are embracing this up and coming environmentally-conscious technique. Last year, a MOMA exhibition showcased a range of bio-fabricated garments and other new technologies headlined as “The Future of Fashion.” Innovative garments were created by teams of new designers, artists, scientists, engineers, and manufacturers. Made from revolutionary materials, never before seen approaches and design revisions, the catwalk featured a t-shirt produced from the first ever lab-grown leather, followed by a dress woven from artificial spider silk.

Age old accountability 

Clearly, not everyone will be quick to purchase a raincoat produced in a laboratory, nor will they consent to wear shoes made from home-grown synthetic hemp. In order for consumers to get on board and fortunately, many already are, it’s up to the leadership at hand, the big-name apparel brands, to be accountable for the waste they have created.

Fast fashion ends with waste, but it begins at the top of the fashion industry’s supply chain. Granted, many companies already have active sustainability plans in motion, but for most manufacturers, sustainable sourcing of fabrics is where they need to start. Design houses can and should recycle unused fabrics wherever possible and use materials that are ecologically-friendly, unlike synthetics that cannot disintegrate. In short, designers must first create with the end-product in mind, making smart choices long before their fast fashion garments reach the proverbial dead end, meaning the trash.

A fair number of large retailers, such as Nike, H&M, Burberry, and GAP, have made considerable strides in their clothing recycling programs. Their doctrine is clear – to fundamentally reduce fast fashion waste on a global scale by recycling raw materials and products.

If there be any hope for the fast fashion industry to lessen its pace, consumers should also claim responsibility for their choices and purchases. It may seem like a small drop in an immense bucket, but responsible consumption is key – and it can help. Consumers can be better educated to read the labels before they buy and seek out natural or organic materials and dyes.

For the fast fashion retailer and the consumer, accountability is a shared platform where no side is exempt. As industry-wide collaborative efforts grow to become viable action plans, change is inevitable. That said, the numbers are staggering and the amounts of waste are overwhelming.

Rotem Taitler

Rotem Taitler