What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion refers to cheap clothing responding to the freshest trends manufactured instantly by corporate retailers. Within the art and design industry, fashion design is governed by capitalism, resulting in a surge of fast fashion. Since the birth of the Industrial Revolution, capitalism has been the economic system that controls societies worldwide. Hence, fast fashion is the most profitable field dominating the fashion industry and is one of the significant reasons fashion is a top polluting industry globally.
This blog will discuss how the fashion industry is a central agent for damaging the environment. It is fundamental to understand the processes used by luxury labels, fast-fashion brands, and environmentally conscious companies such as our own. ‘Processes’ refer to the sourcing, manufacturing and design methods, down to company and consumer interaction concerning their environmental impacts. As a result fashion companies’ methods will become transparent, exposing some of the harsh realities that consumers involuntarily buy into.
Cheap fashion and trends
Capitalism forces lucrative retail companies to satisfy the expectations of their high-street consumers; the term ‘supply and demand’ falls into existence here. These demands are fixated upon fulfilling two criteria- the cheapest pricing and focusing on current trends. At Sativa Bags, we always design investment and seasonless pieces to slow down the rate of consumption for a positive ecological impact. We have constantly challenged the traditional fashion model by avoiding fleeting trends to take care of our environment. Avoiding temporary fashion hypes provides us with the benefits of composing timeless and practical pieces. Before designing our most recent collection, we researched contemporary fashion trends pointing towards military and utility wear. Instead of jumping on this craze, we adapted it to suit our brand ethos of designing for longevity. As a result, we successfully created a collection that satisfied the classic eco-conscious customers and individuals fully integrated into streetwear culture.
Fast fashion enables favoured high-street labels to exceed their competitors and distinguish themselves as the fastest-growing companies. The constant rate at which fashion commerce increasingly shares a casual relationship with the unjustifiable acceleration of environmental damage. The rate of consumption in the 21st Century emphasises the greedy nature determined by the likes of fast fashion. In this case, greed is fueled by the current capitalist mentality. Rather than listing their environmental impact as a priority, these companies are interested in generating the most profitable margins by cutting costs in as many departments.
Fabric dyeing, synthetic fibres and greenwashing
Cheap fashion companies consciously use the most toxic chemical dyes to reduce costs. In terms of understanding scale, this can require “up to 200 tons of freshwater per ton of dyed fabric”. The pigments contain dangerous substances such as lead and mercury, which pollute clean water forming wastewater. An influx of wastewater is discarded by textile factories in neighbouring water streams, accentuating fashion’s reputation as one of the largest polluting industries. The water streams eventually meet the sea, affecting sea life on a global scale. Most textile factories owned by capitalist organisations are usually located in developing countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. Surrounding water streams contaminated by the factories are the only daily water source for locals. For instance, over 400 fashion factories enclose the Citarum River in Indonesia. An environmental toxicologist, Dr Sunadi, discovered multiple toxic chemicals in local water streams used for cleaning clothes and bathing. Through water pollution, a vicious cycle consisting of exploitation is created, highlighting environmental and ethical problems. At Sativa Bags, the dyes used for our 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton blend fabric is AZO free. AZO dyes contain synthetic carcinogenic compounds, one of the most widespread yet harmful approaches to dyeing. We take great pleasure in actively protecting our physical world and avoiding detrimental and toxic design methodology. AZO free does not contain toxic compounds, advantageous for the environment and local communities. Not only a positive progression for a sustainable environment, but AZO free is far more beneficial for the wearer’s skin.
Shifting the responsibility and blame towards corporate bodies is an obvious reaction. However, it should be clarified that consumers are equally accountable for unsustainable development. This argument is strengthened by acknowledging that consumers are responsible for expanding and endorsing modern capitalism by demanding the best prices and fastest production from such companies. The extraction of synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon is an appropriate example of an environmentally damaging approach to producing the cheapest clothing. In 2015 statistics revealed that the manufacturing of polyester contributed over 706 billion kg of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Thus, indicating the fashion industry’s extortionate contribution to greenhouse gasses.
It is integral to understand that luxury brands introduce the ‘latest trends’ and are then imitated by the high street, resulting in fast fashion. Although upmarket labels only cater to a narrow demographic, many brands, notably Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney, explore more sustainable approaches to creating luxury fashion. Highly honoured and distinguished as a pioneer for environmental consciousness, Dame Vivienne Westwood’s company have proudly disclosed their actions towards becoming a more sustainable brand. Of all the responsible principles Vivienne Westwood uses to uphold ecological integrity, low impact dyeing is one of the most distinct and noteworthy. Westwood’s collections consume considerably less energy than alternative designer labels by using sustainable fibres and fabrics. There is an easily accessible list of conducts, covering crucial areas where the company is creating positive change, acting as a great initiative to steer other designers towards the same goal.
Often large capitalist organisations exercise greenwashing. Greenwashing means when these companies broadcast false information to portray themselves as environmentally responsible to their audience. Greenwashing is the epitome of corruption introduced by modern-day capitalism, allowing corporations to deceitfully advertise, leading to environmental and social exploitation. By corrupt companies attaining this power, a class system is identified where they remain elite, benefiting from persuading consumers to buy into their immoral lies. Moreover, profiting by these means jeopardises environmental and social justice for future generations. At Sativa Bags, we refuse to use the marketing tool of greenwashing to our advantage and are as transparent as possible with our customers. We are proud to say that our company does not use synthetic fibres and is made from a blend of 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton. We must create the most sustainable approach and believe certain natural materials can create the most positive impact.
Cotton vs organic cotton and hemp fibres
When talking about natural fibres, we are not talking about cotton. Cotton, as opposed to organic cotton or hemp, has a highly detrimental effect on our environment. Cotton production is heavily adopted by fashion businesses due to customer demand and low-priced production methods, resulting in cheaply priced items. In addition, cotton as a fibre crop carries the false understanding that natural equals sustainable, yet cotton is one of the world’s thirstiest crops. For context, “it takes 713 gallons of water to make one cotton shirt, enough to meet the average person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years.”
Cotton farms tend to be located in developing countries, requiring enormous volumes of water, raising environmental concerns such as the high risk of drought. To further highlight the water intake, approximately 20,000 litres of water are used per kilogram of cotton. These figures become inexcusable when around 100 million people do not have access to water in India, a hub for cotton production. The Aral Sea, lying in-between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is a prime example where cotton production has forced an enormous strain upon the countries’ environment. In the 1960s, the Aral sea acted as a basin where plenty of wildlife was thriving. Exhausted from cotton production, the shrinking sea now stands as a symbol for the countries’ efforts to maintain the demand for cotton. This struggle has turned a valuable resource into a desert land where camels have replaced sea life. The obvious concern is a battle with drought, but Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are affected by social issues such as loss of tourism and further environmental problems affecting biodiversity.
On top of intensive water consumption, cotton farming requires synthetic fertilisers and potent pesticides for production. The chemicals heavily pollute freshwater and ocean water, carrying the same impacts as toxic chemical dyes. Causing diseases amongst farmers and, in some cases, death. Capitalists are prospering from significant profit whilst labourers such as cotton farmers are abused due to environmental degradation. Additionally, the use of pesticides devastates the soil quality. The soil used for cotton farming is directly affected. Surrounding areas are affected by chemicals spread through runoff waters, eventually resulting in land clearing. Many fast-fashion businesses refuse to adjust and cater for the environment due to prioritising their significant economic gain. By exposing the harsh truths of cotton farming, consumers are encouraged to seek alternative brands, which use more beneficial options. For example, the Freshemp brand new to us designs highly durable, functional and luxurious winter jackets made from 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton blend. Both organic cotton and hemp are often a better quality and more durable choice, which cause considerably less harm to the environment.
The environmental damage caused to the world is permanent; however, we can change how we consume and design. This can be done by sustainable sourcing that scrutinises production and manufacturing from start to finish in the fashion industry. At Sativa Bags, we strongly encourage embracing organic cotton and hemp fibres because hemp uses approximately 85% less water than cotton to produce the same quantities. Hemp also doesn’t require pesticides, as the plant is naturally resistant to most pests and weeds. In addition, hemp can be grown in an extensive range of soil types, which do not spoil after hemp farming, unlike cotton. Hemp is a much stronger fibre than cotton, reducing spending costs for consumers. However, it can be assumed that this discourages fast-fashion companies who produce throw-away clothing.
On the other hand, organic cotton is becoming widely used, benefiting the environment as it consumes less energy than regular cotton and uses chemical-free production. Furthermore, organic cotton and hemp fibres result in eco-sustainability, such as avoiding water contamination, preventing locals and farmers from being harmed. By designers taking responsibility through conscious fashion and unveiling the industry’s ecological truths, it can be argued that this will stimulate the majority of the fashion industry to restructure their approaches. Making more mindful decisions in favour of our natural world will rectify a degree of human and environmental exploitation.
Wrapping it up
In conclusion, large profitable companies expanding the fast fashion market achieve serious economic gain. Consequently, the rate of consumption requires the cheapest processes. Today, the increase of environmental awareness is most apparent, yet the majority of the fashion industry continues to use the most polluting and unsustainable methods for monetary advance. Ultimately we believe at Sativa Bags, we demonstrate that being environmentally conscious benefits the planet, consumers and ourselves. We can all win. We want to lead by example and display an apparent willingness to continuously renovate our approach to designing. As a company, we know our methods aren’t entirely perfect. However, we always listen to our eco customers to become more sustainable with each collection.