The True Cost Of Fast Fashion

Last week, ministers rejected recommendations from MPs to add a 1p charge to each garment sold, in order to raise £35m a year to reduce the environmental costs of ‘fast fashion’. Fast fashion is used to describe an increasingly accelerated fashion empire that focuses on low costs and speed in order to deliver new collections regularly, rapidly reacting to consumer demand. MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) – as reported by The Guardian – said a charge of 1p is urgently needed in order to rectify the huge environmental impact of fast fashion. However, MPs failed to commit to this much needed change, stating only that they would consider it by 2025. Additionally, MPs refuted the EAC’s claim that a ban should be imposed on the landfilling of unsold clothes, stating: “We believe that positive approaches are required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban”. EAC chair Mary Creagh said, “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. […] Urgent action must be taken to change the fast-fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth”. None of the EAC’s recommendations were accepted. MPs have failed to act accordingly to the dangerous outcomes materialising from the textile industry, so we must now ask ourselves: what is the true cost of fast fashion and what is being done to tackle it?

Refinery29 reported that on average, people are buying 60% more items of clothing than they used to, therefore doubling clothing production from 2000 to 2014. Global fashion brands are bigger than ever, with annual revenues in the billions. We live within a culture where the newest pair of jeans and the most sought-after dress must be bought in order to feel a sense of accomplishment and success. Catwalk trends must be followed, but with a price tag as low as possible. The increased consumption patterns – reported by the Economic Times – has created millions of tonnes of textile waste in unregulated settings and landfills.

Synthetic fibres are used to produce inexpensive styles; however, these fibres are now being found in the deep sea, with microplastic pollution contaminating the UK’s rivers and lakes and harming marine life. It was also revealed that the textile industry creates 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 a year. According to Greenpeace, “one of fast fashion’s worst culprits is the increasing use of synthetic fibre, particularly polyester, which creates nearly three times more CO2 in its lifecycle than cotton”.

Online retailers Boohoo and Misguided were criticised earlier in the month due to their respective promotions of a £4 dress and £1 bikini. Clothes sold at this reduced price and made with cheap, synthetic material have a detrimental impact on the environment. The Guardian reported that cheap products such as these are being discarded by consumers after only five weeks, and are therefore increasing demand, increasing production rates and increasing ‘fast fashion’.

In addition to the environmental impact of fast fashion, the workers making these garments are experiencing labour exploitation, due to high demand. ‘Made in the UK’ – as defined by UK Parliament – should mean that workers are at least paid the minimum wage, but there are still factories (in Leicester, for example) where these standards are not being met. Furthermore, as a lot of our clothes are made overseas, we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the people in factories making our clothes; True Cost reports that there are approximately 40 million garment workers in the world today who do not have access to adequate protection or rights, and Human Rights Watch have said that human rights are frequently violated in illegally subcontracted factories, where workers are denied protections such as sick leave and maternity leave. Industries are capitalising on the new globalised world, but at the detriment of our environment and the cost of human life. Mary Creagh said, “we want to see a thriving fashion industry that employs people fairly, inspires creativity and contributes to the economic success of the UK”.

There is overwhelming evidence detailing the impact of fast fashion, and yet MPs still rejected the 1p charge. They are refusing to tackle abuses across the fashion industry, with The Guardian adding that “they are ignoring exploitative wage structures and environmentally damaging production models”. The earth and the people living on it are exploited during every step of the production chain, which culminates in excess stock being sent to landfill and workers oppressed in order to keep up with demand. We as consumers must reconnect with our clothes and understand the detrimental impact of the discounts we seek out. We must wear our clothes more, not disregard them so easily and donate unwanted clothes when boredom sets in. Our government must realise that refusing the 1p charge is harmful in many ways and the problem of fast fashion can no longer be ignored. We are already witnessing the true cost of increased production and must act now before changes to our earth become irreversible.

Katie Clarke