One of the “achievements” of consumerism has been the creation of a sector that moves billions of dollars a year and that, in addition to attracting the consumer without often knowing the consequences of their actions, is having devastating effects on the environment and on a very important part of the societies of the productive countries. We refer to the fashion sector and, very especially, to the so-called fast fashion. However, in contrast to this unsustainable and unethical paradigm, a traditional but updated model has also resurfaced, the so-called show fashion or sustainable fashion. If you want to know a little more about sustainable or sustainable fashion, and to know why you should opt for this type of clothing when you go to buy new clothes and accessories for your wardrobe, keep reading and we will tell you about it.
Fast fashion or commercial fashion: throwaway fashion
The first thing we have to be clear about is what is called fast fashion or “fast fashion” . Fast fashion is what we know as commercial fashion , in the sense that it is the one that seeks to sell a large volume. It is a paradigm of clothing production based on the application of the concept of “use and throw”to the world of fashion. It arises from the hand of large international fashion firms, especially those that have a presence in all the large cities of the planet. The advantages of this system for brands stem from the fact that, by selling their products at very low prices, their sales increase considerably and, with them, their profits. In fact, fast fashion is what allows us to have new collections of different clothes every month, or even every week, in the same store.
However, in order to carry out this model, an unsustainable exploitation of resources (human and environmental) is also necessary. Have you ever wondered how a t-shirt can only cost 5 euros or less? How much does the design cost, the raw material with which it is manufactured, the machinery used in its manufacture, the workforce that performs the work, the transport to the points of sale, the salary of the salesperson who assists you in the shop…? Not to mention the benefits that, as a company, the company has to have. Do you really think that all that only costs 5 euros? The answer, obviously, is no. The way in which fast fashion manages to offer these prices is simply based on exploiting natural resources and the people involved in production in an unsustainable way.
Environmental effects of fast fashion or commercial fashion
The environmental effects of using the fast fashion production model are devastating. First of all, it is necessary to produce a huge amount of raw materials to be able to produce so many clothes. This entails the deforestation of large areas of forest that will later be used as cotton plantations.
On the other hand, the amount of industrial waste produced by these types of factories is innumerable. It must be taken into account that the use of chemical products in the manufacture of clothing lowers production costs, so they are widely used by those companies that prioritize obtaining more profits over any other aspect of their production. These chemical and toxic products end up in the waters of the rivers and, finally, in the oceans, further contaminating already deteriorated water resources and aquatic ecosystems.
In addition, as the objective of fast fashion is to obtain the highest possible profits, its factories are always located in third world or developing countries. This means that they are products that must be transported to the point of sale, generally Western or first world countries, which is normally done by ship, with the consequent emission of greenhouse gases produced by continued combustion . of fuel used for during transportation.
However, once the garments reach the consumer, the impact that fast fashion has on the environment is not over yet. In fact, all these clothes will be used a few times by consumers and will be stored for a couple of years in the closets for, one day, because there is no room for anything else, the consumer decides to throw them away practically unworn and in perfect condition. This entails an increase in garbage waste produced , which must be managed correctly in the best of cases, which will necessarily imply a greater emission of greenhouse gases, in addition to the release of certain chemical elements into the environment that they were present on the clothes from the moment of their production.
Social effects of fast fashion
However, the devastating consequences of fast fashion are not limited to the environment, but also have negative effects on the people who participate in this unsustainable production model. Companies that move their factories to third world regions and countries do so because they know that they can pay much lower wages in these places, since the floors in these environments are average low, which means that there are workers who accept them, which would not happen if the factories were located in first world countries.
On the other hand, the fact that wages are low because all workers’ wages in these countries are low is not good news. It must be taken into account that these salaries imply perpetuating the poverty of the people who accept them, so their impact on the local economy means that they become a permanent problem. In addition, the situation of extreme poverty to which these people are subjected means that, in reality, they are not free to choose these salaries, since it is a need for survival, not free choice.
Likewise, most of these countries lack regulations that guarantee the rights of workers , closely related to universal and basic human rights , so that companies that locate their factories in these production points can save costs not only in the wages they pay their workers, but also in the hours they have to endure, as well as in occupational safety and hygiene measures, which means that occupational accidents are quite frequent in these work environments.
Slow fashion: sustainable or sustainable fashion
Due to this unfair and unsustainable situation, a production model has emerged in fashion as opposed to fast fashion. It is the slow fashion, or “slow fashion” . This production model is characterized by the fact that, in addition to obtaining profits, it is also concerned about the environmental and social impact that its business activity has. In this way, although they reduce their economic benefits, they increase their environmental and social benefits, which has a positive impact on the ecosystems with which they interact and on the people with whom they work.
There is no closed definition of what sustainable or sustainable fashion is . However, this is usually characterized by meeting all or some of the following characteristics:
- Ecological materials: sustainable fashion or slow fashion are garments in which the raw materials are respectful of the environment. This means that they dispense with chemical or synthetic materials, opting for natural fibers, fabrics and dyes.
- Made to last: sustainable or sustainable fashion is designed to last. Unlike fast fashion, these are garments that seek to reduce waste production. Therefore, it is about clothing focused on being worn until it breaks, not until it “goes out of style”.
- Higher quality: as a consequence of this long-lasting approach, sustainable fashion offers higher quality garments, since they need to be resistant to use and the passage of time, which can only be achieved with good quality materials and manufacturing.
- Local production: since one of its objectives is to reduce the impact it has on the environment, local production is favored to avoid greenhouse gas emissions that would derive from the need for its transport.
- Decent wages: unlike most fast fashion, slow fashion or sustainable fashion values the human resources it uses as part of its added value. In this way, the wages paid to workers are higher, which seeks not only “survival”, but to guarantee decent wages that allow workers to fully develop as human beings in this society.
- Manage waste responsibly: although sustainable fashion manufacturers already generate less waste, what they do generate is managed more efficiently and responsibly. This is due both to the fact that the factories are generally located in first world countries, where there are more restrictive regulations when it comes to disposing of industrial waste, as well as to a greater and better awareness on the part of the companies themselves sustainable fashion.
- More expensive prices: it must be recognized, because it is one of the characteristics that differentiates it from fast fashion. This is a necessary consequence due to the higher production costs of sustainable fashion and therefore it can offer higher quality garments and better wages. So, however, what is lost in quantity is gained in quality.
Sustainable fashion vs. commercial fashion
As can be seen, there are currently two clearly differentiated production paradigms. In one, quantity is prioritized and consequences are ignored in favor of economic benefit, while in the other quality is prioritized and special attention is paid to the balance that must exist between economy, ecology and social responsibility .
Currently, there are more and more sustainable fashion firms that can be found in many cities and countries in Europe. In fact, choosing these firms is one of the best ways we, as consumers, have to reduce our impact on the environment, or reduce our footprint , and on disadvantaged societies. It is important that, before buying one or another brand, we inform ourselves about their products. As with food, it is important to look at the label, which is going to be one of the best ways to obtain information about what we have in our hands.
In addition, today all fashion firms have their corresponding web pages on the Internet. It is worth taking a look at the available offer, where we will be able to find everything from basic clothing to more modern or classic fashion, accessories, footwear, and even sportswear. It is important that, sooner rather than later, we start assuming that, in the same way that we are what we eat, we are also what we wear.