It’s no joke that the environment’s condition seems to worsen every year, with the smoke stacks steaming, water pollution galore, and who could forget about deforestation? But a large percentage of pollution can come from a pretty unthought of area, and that is the textile industry.
The textile industry, growing in popularity since the introduction of technology like the sewing machine and the increased usage of the factory system, produces nearly 10% of global emissions. This waste, though, has especially spiked since the introduction of an alteration of the textile industry. This industry is called “fast fashion,” clothes that are sold for dirt cheap, and made even cheaper. But how could such a variety of clothing be made to sell at such a cheap price, ranging from around $3-$10 a piece? The answer is quite unsavory, but this level of production at such a cheap price can only come from the use of underpaid workers, including that of children.
To achieve such a large production of clothing, fast fashion companies look to developing countries to act as their supplier, taking advantage of the cheap wages, and significantly fewer safety regulations compared to that of the U.S. It can be noted that, “The fast fashion industry employs approximately 75 million factory workers worldwide. Of those workers it is estimated that less than 2% of them make a living wage” (GW law). In short, this means that the companies that sell fast fashion are taking advantage of the financial situation of these developing countries’ citizens, and preying on their desperate need for funds. The products are then ordered and exported back to the states to the American consumer, supplying piles and piles of clothes only costing an average of five dollars a piece.
But what causes the need for such a level of production? This can be led back to the mindset of the average consumer. The general reason behind overconsumption is the “I can’t re-wear this” mindset, the idea that clothing is only meant to be worn once or twice, but afterwards it can’t be worn again. “The throwaway culture has worsened progressively over the years. At present, many items are worn only seven to ten times before being tossed. That’s a decline of more than 35% in just 15 years” (Earth.org). Due to the effects of throwaway culture on the textile industry, clothing is made cheaply and poorly, and produced to be thrown away so that new items will be purchased to further the market, boosting the need to consume.
But this isn’t the only origin; another large contributor is social media and media exposure in general. It’s common knowledge that various brands and sites use social media as an outlet to gain exposure for their products, but a more recent and fruitful method of promotion has risen in popularity, paid partnerships. Paid partnerships, in short, is when a brand pays an influencer, or someone with a platform to promote their product which can be done in various ways. This promotion coming in the form of try on’s and clothing hauls has shown great promise in the promotion of various brands and for those who are inspired by these influences to buy the same products. Paid partnerships use the loyalty of fans as their advantage, dressing someone they look up to in their products in hopes that these devoted fans will then buy the same items to in turn be more like that influencer. Social media also contributes in the form of various micro-trends that pop up and soon fizzle out, pushing different fashion phenomenons that soon lose popularity, and are quickly replaced by the next “big” thing. The continuous recycling and pushing of different trends gives large fast fashion brands such as Shein, Forever 21 and Romwe, various lines of clothing to produce in order to continuously keep up with the preference of the public, then soon abandoning their last line to copy and reproduce rising trends.
The terrible truth following overconsumption and mass waste can be overwhelming, leaving with the question of, “what can I do to help?” There isn’t one right answer, but a large part of being able to help reduce the immense waste of fast fashion is to shop sustainable and not giving into current microtrends. Though the idea of being up to date does seem appealing, these trends soon die out and the items collected to follow these trends are soon rendered useless and end up in the donation bin. So when buying clothes, be mindful, ask the question “Do I really want this?” or “Will I still like this piece a few months from now?” When asking these questions, and building a more timeless wardrobe, our overall consumption and waste can be minimized. Sustainable brands can also be an option, looking to brands that use a morally correct and a sustainable means of production lead to significantly less waste being produced in the process of making said textiles. This can also be achieved by buying second hand where there is no money going to the producer of that clothing at all, rather only to the second hand store.
Overall, though the issue of overconsumption and the waste produced can’t simply be stopped by these means, the growth of the issue can be minimized, only worsening slowly rather than the quick pace that can be seen today.
Josie Withbroe, Staff Writer
Sophomore Josie Withbroe is a staff writer for the 2022-2023 Colonel Newsmagazine. She enjoys sewing, knitting and other grandma activities.