The world we live in consists of too many things, these things provide us with a per-petulant veil of distraction and false self-worth, specifically in the fashion industry. When questioning sustainability in the sense of the world, one might ask whose job is it to keep up this persona within the fashion industry. Over consumption by consumers has only aided this downward spiral of waste and heightened the profit for neoliberal corporations. Therefore we do in fact need to make less and better, soon or watch the continual buildup of textile waste inch over more of our world. This essay will discuss the effects of these ‘worthless things’ and their constant build up within the global fashion industry, mainly focusing on the issues of sustainability, ‘fast fashion’ and ethics in the fashion system.
Firstly the impact of all these worthless things is notable, for example textile waste has increased drastically over the last decade. Along with this waste stems an array of problems.
In order to understand the drastic increase of textile waste over the years, we must go back in time and compare the timelines of the fashion industry and its changes. A deeper understanding of the past is crucial to our grasp of the present (Farley Gordon, 2014 p.13). While clothes have been a constant throughout our history, our treatment and production of them has evolved and changed. Clothes have always represented our identity, often showcasing people’s status in society. During the First World War however our treatment of clothes completely changed, for example specifically the production of men’s clothing had been geared towards mass productions of limited styles and colours, which then amounted to uniforms for working class men (Hoskins, 2014, p.25). During this time women were also put in uniform for the war effort. Fashion and clothes were seen as a utility rather than a luxury or form of identity. Around this time (1917) the government introduced utility schemes to keep up the morale amongst the working class. These schemes provision of good quality, cheap clothing would hopefully keep up spirits during this wave of agitation and depression. These measures were extreme and included the introduction of minimum production standards but also limited material use by restricting skirt lengths, trouser turn ups and sleeve widths just to mention a few (Hoskins, 2014, p.26). British vogue supported and called Utility a mode of dressing ‘well suited to these times’ (Hoskins, 2014, p.27). These precautions however extreme were to enable the maximum outcomes for the minimum inputs into the fashion system. This technique should be adopted into today’s culture especially with the sustainability of fashion on the line. Although this approach to fashion was extreme and unexciting, was it the better approach for the sake of sustainability?
Juxtapose, this utilitarian fashion industry to the overzealous use of material, resources and labour in the modern fashion industry and the difference is stark. Although historically the sustainability and function of garments were more considered, is it wrong to not want uniform like garments for the sake of being sustainable, there needs to be a balance. Long-favoured themes, such as those of materials selection, resource flows and supply chain efficiencies, have become sites of innovation, not just opinion, and dominate a broad span of creative, industrial, academic and political agendas ( Fletcher, 2013).
Therefore the world was not always full of worthless things, but as society and industries have changed so has our views and production of products. Over time the worthless things have been accumulated but when will or do we as consumers say enough is enough?
This over production of textiles in modern society stems mainly from ‘fast fashion’. The increasing velocity of the fashion cycle is undoubtedly changing the way clothing is valued and produced. The market as it stands is characterised by throw away ‘fast fashion’, which is the result of competition having driven suppliers into subtracting supply deadlines. This issue is explored in the book Sustainable Fashion (Farley Gordon, 2014) it discusses the obstacles our society is facing with fast fashion, and trends and prioritising quantity over quality. The author discusses that because of this prevailing trend for disposable ‘fast fashion’, many of today’s cheap garments are discarded after just being worn a handful of times. This false narrative of disposable fashion is slowly aiding a downward spiral of sustainability. (Farley Gordon, 2014). Capitalist corporations that adapt this mindset are a major clog in the chain of the fashion industry. Companies that adopt this philosophy of ‘fast fashion’ include online retailers, Pretty Little Thing, Misguided and Boohoo. Although these retailers provide a variety of clothes at affordable prices, they are also feeding into the ‘disposable’ and ‘wear it once’ trend. The spinning wheel of production within these companies are feeding into the mentality of disposable fashion. This issue is evident in the documentary The True Cost. It discusses how the price of clothing has decreased, however the production has increased. Astonishingly, over 80 billion pieces of new clothing is produced every year, that’s a total of 400% more production than two decades ago (The True Cost, 2015). So what are the consequences of such unprecedented over production and in turn over consumption? The author ill now discuss this aspect.
When discussing the issue of fast fashion we cannot ignore the question of ethics in the fashion industry. With such high production rates, its worth reflecting upon as a society have we ever stopped to wonder where these clothes are coming from at such an accelerating rate and who is making them? Unfortunately, the answer is over worked and under paid people mainly in third world or developing countries. The documentary The True Cost elaborates on this system of sweat shops and factories. These appalling working conditions, low wages of the factory workers who make the clothes we purchase on sale in high street shops is hidden away like the fashion industry’s dirty secret. Although we as consumer know the truth behind these big neoliberalism corporations, sometimes our ignorance is bliss instead of justification of these horrible conditions for the sake of clothes. So what is the true cost of production? In 2010, 21 Bangladeshi factory workers were killed in a fire making H&M clothes (Farley Gordon, 2014). Another example of fatalities within the fashion industry as a result of over production of textiles is highlighted in the book Stitched Up. In 2013 a group of garment workers refused to work for their managers outside Rana plaza, a commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The workers argued that the building structure was unsafe and that the cracks in the structure had continued to increase in size. The managers reply that anyone refusing to enter the building would have their income docked, for the entire month. An hour later the eight storey building collapsed on itself, thousands of workers were crushed and the fatalities were countless. The official death toll was 1″,133 therefore making it the deadliest garment factory disaster in history (Stitched up, p.75).
Moreover, this over production of garments isn’t just cluttering our wardrobes and filling our landfills, its costing human life. One garment worker commented “these garments are made by our blood” (The True Cost, 2015), so one wonders how can our society justify this system of exploitation? This system is described as a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside of it (The True Cost, 2015). These garment workers undertake abhorrent forms of labour, exploitative conditions, and dangerous, hazardous workplaces all for the production of a garments that will be sold on sale. The question is not that we need to make less and better it’s that we need to consider the true cost of what’s already being made. This ‘fast fashion’ trend is a reality of short turnabouts and low costs, which in turn exploits the production chain. We need to stop these large corporations prioritising profit over their workers’ rights.
However abhorrent our system is, there are people actively seeking changes. Livia Firth is a designer campaigning for changes within our fashion industry, specifically for the rights of these garment workers. “We are actually profiting from their need to work, to use them as slaves. We need to give them work, but they have to be treated with the same respect that we treat our children and our friends”. (The True Cost, 2015). Livia Firth is Co-founder and creative director of Eco-Age, and is canvasing for major change in the fashion industry. One of the designer’s initiatives which garnered people’s attention was ‘the green carpet challenge’. This initiative urges celebrities and top designers to take part in more mindful forms of fashion (The True Cost, 2015). This initiative opposes fast fashion, the designer elaborates that the term fast fashion means the supply of fashion is rapid, therefore meaning the garment worker needs to produce faster and cheap. Therefore the only point of the supply chain where the margin is squeezed is for the worker. Posing the question how is this practice ethical? The initiative of Eco-Age is to create bespoke sustainability solutions that deliver results to the environmental and social needs of tomorrow. It’s these companies and individuals that are starting to make changes within the industry, and however small the change is it will still cause a ripple. Eco-Age aims to inform their clients of sustainable and ethical supply chains therefore giving them more responsible business practices, which then regenerates benefits for the planet and the people inhabiting it (Eco-Age, 2019).Therefore this initiative is making not only less but also smarter and more sustainably. However with the capitalist economy we live in, not all companies benefit from the sustainable approach to fashion and focus more on the profit and earnings.
In conclusion, the question now is how is it fundamentally possible to change our patterns of production and consumption, or has it been too ingrained in our habits to discard of clothes after a couple wears? Furthermore, in turn this has our world become over run with worthless things that it’s too late to stop it. This chain of careless production and endless consumption needs to be stopped. These companies need to take more responsibility for their impact on the globe and make changes before our landfills fill up even more with textile waste. The sustainable alternative to ‘fast fashion’ is ‘slow fashion’ where consumers invest in the quality of the garment needs more implementation. (Preuit, 2016) This alternative model focuses on the values of local resources, transparent production and sustainable products. Some companies have already started their process of reducing waste and adopting the technique of ‘making less but better’, for example the world renowned fashion designer, Stella McCartney. A lot done perhaps but much more to do in this area for all involved.
Stella McCartney believes that the future of fashion is circular. “Our goal is to create a business that is restorative and regenerative by design, striving to incorporate as many circular materials as possible into our collections.” (Stella McCartney, 2019). The designer’s initiative to make less and better is to start with your resources i.e. material. The designer elaborates that we are using the equivalent of 1.5 planets worth of natural resources. (Stella McCartney, 2019). Every year these raw materials are used to create products that will indefinitely end up in landfill, where the decomposition will take centuries. The designer digresses that the world is full of raw material that is already in use, or careening towards landfill. These materials are already taking space in our world so instead of making less why not use the material we have and repurpose it. The theory to turn ‘waste’ materials into something more innovative and ostentatious, therefore aids the designers circular, regenerative system. Some initiatives the designer has taken to enable this theory, is the use of organic cotton to create clothes in a way that enhances the environment. “Organic farming works with nature, instead of against it” (Stella McCartney, 2019). Organic cotton farming was developed by social entrepreneurs who did not like the overuse of pesticides, or the problems associated with it, including farmer debt, environmental damage and impact on human health. Organic cotton eradicates the use of these toxic and harmful chemicals. Which in turn has positive impacts on the globe such as improving soil health and increasing water conservation. The designer’s theory of changing out materials and considering the effects of them on the wider global health, backs up the statement to make less and more superior.
So what can we do about it? Everything we do on this earth has an impact or effect on something, whether it’s positive or negative it always has a domino effect. The question is not how can we stop it, but how can we change it. In order to produce less and better we must take small steps that will eventually make a difference. By not feeding into the fast fashion trend, buying from fair trade companies, by researching the materials used in the clothes we put on our backs every day, we can each take action to stop the buildup of waste and worthless things. However certain companies have aided the overproduction and overconsumption of textiles, it’s not fair to blame bad companies but rather examine the system that produces these destructive imperatives. Therefore as a society it’s our responsibility to make a change and take a step in the direction towards a more sustainable lifestyle.