An estimated 200 million tonnes of clothes in the UK ends up in landfill or an incinerator each year. PHOTO: GETTY/ISTOCK

Slow fashion: What matters more, our planet or our wardrobe?

While fast fashion is cheap in terms of price, it is actually quite expensive when seen through an environmental lens.

Anmol Shaikh November 29, 2022

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, responsible for 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse emissions annually, thus exacerbating climate change. On the contrary, Generation Z (Gen Z) has to keep up with the latest trends and fashion to boot. In this war, how do we make room for sustainable clothing that is ethical as well? With these distresses, finding the solutions feel urgent. After all, environmental pollution is a source of global anxiety.

As humans, we make decisions every day. Our two crucial decisions to shape ourselves – what to eat and what to wear – impact the masses beyond the realm of one’s imagination. The older generation was more vigilant in these decisions than Gen Z. Before the 1900s, the practice of slow fashion, what today comes under “sustainable fashion”, was adopted. This social convention incorporated a handful of finer clothing. People were accustomed to mending clothes in preference to new ones that were passed down over generations.

Soon, during the 1990s, the clothing line transported its outlook to “fast fashion”. The notion of clothing no longer remained a necessity but catching on to the latest fashion became functional. The rise of mall culture came with complexities and escalated pressure on the masses to hunt for vogue trends. It's not hard to see why the whole world has fallen for it. Inherently, the idea of compliments is deeply embedded in our personalities. This opened scads of opportunities for the brands to manipulate the masses to participate in luxuries through more affordable clothing. While this idea proved to be favourable vis-a-vis business and the economy, it didn’t sit well with the environment.

At present time, fast fashion is leading globally, and tackling this adversity feels more like a heavy-duty approach. Initially because of illiteracy, but more on account of denial about the ecological crisis coming from the public. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg offers the best explanation about why half of the world ignores this massive issue:

“The denial of the climate and ecological crisis runs so deep that no one bothers to take real notice anymore.”

Fast fashion is not a “western problem”, rather, it is a global issue. The world requires an acute awareness of this environmental issue associated with fast fashion to understand the need of adopting slow fashion. Fast fashion has rapid production incorporating environmental impact due to water, material, chemical and energy use that are harmful to the environment. Note that while fast fashion is cheap in terms of price, it is actually quite expensive when seen through an environmental lens. Slow fashion has timeless production manufacturing and delivering long-term and durable products that preach conscious consumption. It may feel heavier on the pocket but not heavier than the suffering of humans, animals and the planet. Nevertheless, the slow fashion practice is more promising for the idea of sustainability. Perhaps because their consumers are wealthier, more educated, or maybe both.

The fashion industry, in general, is a rat race bounded by the latest collection, and more sales delivering low-quality, short lifecycle products. In this rat race, everybody wins and the planet suffers. According to several press releases, the most popular fashion brands such as Zara, Shein, Forever 21, H&M, among others, with more than 3,000 stores in the world, make their collections available in stores within eight to 15 days by use of non-biodegradable and non-recyclable materials. The report of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) mentioned that over 30 per cent of micro-plastics in the oceans come from the laundering of synthetic textiles. These popular brands not only make use of harmful chemicals including Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) and phthalates that have been linked to infertility, cancer and other health hazards, but are also accountable for low wages, poor working conditions and child labour, as per a 2018 report from the US Department of Labour.

Just because half of the world is unaware of these profits that supersede human welfare does not mean they have lost their existence. Although these brands are slowly progressing towards recycling, reducing emissions and better working conditions, it is hard to tell if they will be able to achieve their SDGs (sustainable development goals) in the longer run.

This is where the concept of slow fashion, or ‘sustainable fashion’, manifests itself. The incentive of slow fashion does not merely integrate eco-friendly clothing but ethical clothing as well. It is quite a problematic fact that both the producers and consumers are equally at fault, and must therefore change their selling and buying patterns respectively. Doing so, however, requires a comprehensive analysis and involvement of all stakeholders, from the textile industry to consumers' patterns of shopping, and course, the policymakers. Material recycling at the end of a product’s lifetime is also an incredible idea to minimise waste at large.

One can follow simple sustainable practices and increase shelf life in a simple yet effective way. Here easy practices mean thrifting, sharing clothes, investing in trans-seasonal clothing, repairing or mending old clothes, reusing and altering pieces, shopping from small businesses, choosing quality over quantity. As consumers, we hold a greater power to change the mindset of people. All it needs is to be mindful of clothing, promote greener ideas, and set ‘realistic targets’ to attain this global goal. The implementation is never easy, but it is also never impossible, not if the world is ready to follow basic sustainable practices in the right way and takes the “less is more” advice seriously.

When the world is working on the environment, getting a comment from some irresponsible individuals saying “sustainability, what sustainability?” is irksome. It's high time that we start measuring human choices versus the quantity of destruction that they are causing. This planet has given enough signals of his deterioration with floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. The sooner we will change our paradigms and narratives towards sustainability, the better it will be for the strengthening of the environment. Otherwise, we will have to pay a heavy cost for what we wear since climate catastrophes do not grant time for a second chance.

Anmol Shaikh

The writer is an undergraduate Civil Engineering student at NEDUET and a part-time content writer. 

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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