Ultrafast Fashion Leading To Ultrahigh Wastages

There was a time when the pace of fashion was 90-180 days before the likes of Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, Gap, Primark, Mango and Topshop took the game to a different level as turnaround time was cut down drastically to weeks from months. But as more new players like Boohoo, Asos, Shein and Missguided joined the bandwagon, fashion became ultrafast!

From months to weeks to days, that’s the pace fashion has acquired over time!

There was a time when a period of 90-180 days was more of a norm before the likes of Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, Gap, Primark, Mango and Topshop took the game to a different level as turnaround time was cut down drastically to weeks from months.

For many millennials, early 2000s conjure up the memories of the craze created by names like H&M, Zara, American Apparel, Forever 21 and Abercrombie & Fitch as they got new styles ready for sale just in matter of weeks.

That was fast fashion for us all.

But as more new players of the likes of Boohoo, Asos, Shein and Missguided joined the bandwagon, fashion became ultrafast!

“If fast fashion for the past few decades has been characterised by low prices, high volume, and relentless pace, then the new wave of ultrafast fashion brands is pushing those three criteria to their absolute extreme…”, says journalist Lauren Bravo, author of the essential handbook How To Break Up With Fast Fashion, which calls for a slower and saner approach to shopping, while adding, “We have reached the point where clothing is now essentially being sold as a ‘Fast Moving Consumer Good’, in the same category as snack foods, fizzy drinks, toothpaste — as something entirely disposable, to be consumed once and then thrown away.”

But with clothes, throwing away is not an option for sure!

For the uninitiated, ultrafast fashion retailers have no bricks-and-mortar stores as they keep their operations entirely online, where their overhead costs are low and impulse purchases are instantaneous.

The clothes don’t come from nowhere and ultrafast fashion brings with it steep environmental costs.

The fashion industry is the second-largest industrial polluter, accounting for 10 per cent of global pollution, ranking higher than emissions from air travel! When factoring in the entire lifecycle of a garment, from manufacturing to transportation to, ultimately, ending up in landfill, in total, 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions are released by the fashion industry every year.

Not only is the carbon footprint of the fashion industry influenced by the amount of waste sent to landfill, CO2 emissions during the manufacturing and transportation processes also contribute to the industry’s huge carbon footprints.

As per a report by McKinsey, the industry is set to overshoot its target by almost twofold, with emissions of 2.1 billion metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2030, unless it adopts additional abatement actions.

Part of the emission will be due to increase in fashion apparel consumption with ultrafast fashion at its core.

The fashion industry is a major consumer of water. Huge quantity of freshwater is used up for the dyeing and finishing process.

As reference, it can take up to 200 tonnes of freshwater per ton of dyed fabric (20 per cent of industrial water pollution comes from textile treatment and dyes; 200,000 tonnes of dyes are lost to effluents every year).

As per reports, every year, fashion industry uses around 1.5 trillion litres of water even as 2.6 per cent of the global freshwater is used to produce cotton alone (20,000 litres of water is needed to produce just 1kg of cotton), not to mention water contamination owing to rampant use of fertilizers in cotton production, which pollutes runoff water and evaporation water.

Considering 750 million people globally do not have access to drinking water, such wastage and pollution of water experts feel is completely uncalled for, not to mention the mindless use of chemicals, used significantly during dyeing, bleaching, fibre production, and wet processing of each of our garments.

According to reports, 23 per cent of all chemicals produced worldwide are used for the textile sector even as 20,000 cases of death, cancer and miscarriages are reported every year on account of chemical sprayed on cotton (24 per cent of insecticides and 11 per cent of the pesticides produced globally, are used up in cotton production).

A family in the Western world reportedly throws away an average of 30 kilogramme of clothing each year while only 15 per cent is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated.

Considering synthetic fibres, such as polyester, are plastic fibres, and are non-biodegradable, they can take up to 200 years to decompose even if reports suggest synthetic fibres are used in around 72 per cent of our clothing today.

Meanwhile, reports suggest around 5.2 per cent of waste in landfills today are textiles and understandably so as the average life of a garment is said to be around 3 years only and considering that around 80 billion pieces of garments are produced every year (which is around 400 per cent more compared to a couple of decades ago) while before being discarded, a garment on an average is worn around 7 times even if only 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the clothes of most women’s wardrobes are being worn at all, is only going to increase the wastage and ultrafast fashion is speeding up the process.

“These brands (ultrafast) push people to constantly buy—and buy in huge quantities,” says a market expert while adding that since they rely on microtrends, it’s hugely wasteful because people will wear something just a couple of times before throwing those of

Every time a synthetic garment is washed, about 700,000 individual microfibres are released into water, which ultimately make their way into the oceans and subsequently into our food chains.

This was found in a study, which detected around 190,000 tonnes of textile microplastic fibres make their way into oceans each year and that is no small amount to say the least.

Meanwhile, another study has found wearing synthetic fibres release plastic microfibres into the air even as one person could release almost 300 million polyester microfibres per year to the environment by washing their clothes and more than 900 million into the air by simply wearing the garments.

As the cult of ultrafast fashion continues to grow, thanks to the unprecedented influence of social media, it is now fostering a new generation which views low price points and disposable culture as the norm — many young people today reportedly consider garments worn out after only a few washes — even if overproduction and quick disposal have only exacerbated fashion’s waste crisis.

The total volume of clothing and footwear landfilled in USA alone in 2000 (considered the age of slow fashion) stood at 6.5 million tonnes, which increased to around 15.5 million tonnes in 2020 (the fast fashion era) registering year-on-year increase (CAGR) of around 9 per cent.

But that was only till the advent of ultrafast fashion, which is now set to push the wastage rates higher.

However, the propagators of ultrafast fashion like Boohoo, Asos, Shein and Fashion Nova have claimed they produce on demand and only the number of clothes that are actually required, which they maintain is lesser than those produced during the fast fashion era.

Secondly, inshoring and nearshoring is cutting down a lot in terms of carbon emission as transportation is reduced considerably. Take for example China-based fashion retailer Shein, which has most of its fabric and garment suppliers located in Guangzhou; similarly British online fashion retailer Boohoo sources around 50 per cent of its apparels from England only

Post time: May-23-2022