Fashion, textiles, and wearing clothing can date back to hundreds and thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that fast fashion took over as the largest and main apparel model in the fashion industry. With all its appealingness – affordable prices and new, on trend, styles coming out every other week – what is there not to love, especially when consumers are constantly seeking for new products, trends, and experiences? Unfortunately, the journey of these clothes that we see in shops is no where near how attractive and generous the numbers on their price tags are.
"There is hope, and there is a long-term, working solution that, if implemented on a large scale, can significantly help restore our planet."
In order for fashion to be fast, prices to be low, and for such huge quantities and styles to be pumped out week after week, all year round, there are undoubtedly negative effects and consequences we must face. From environmental issues such as water and air pollution as well as an excessive amount of waste, to ethical concerns regarding working conditions, our earth and all its inhabitants are suffering the damages at an alarming rate.
There is hope, and there is a long-term, working solution that, if implemented on a large scale, can significantly help restore our planet. That is: a circular economy. To understand the circular economy and how it can potentially act as the solution to the massive climate change issue we are dealing with worldwide, we must begin with the linear economy and how fast fashion feeds into this very system.
“Fast fashion is a term used to describe the readily available, inexpensively made fashion of today. The word “fast” describes how quickly retailers can move designs from the catwalk to stores, keeping pace with constant demand for more and different styles. With the rise of globalization and growth of a global economy, supply chains have become international, shifting the growth of fibers, the manufacturing of textiles, and the construction of garments to areas with cheaper labor. Increased consumption drives the production of inexpensive clothing, and prices are kept down by outsourcing production to low and middle-income countries.”
As fast fashion rapidly took over, clothes became more affordable to the mass population, and people began buying more and more, much more than what is necessary. In fact, the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing annually, this is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago. For every clothing company that is constantly producing new collections and always keeping up with the most current fashion trends, there are people working behind the scenes to make it happen. And, with an increase in demand, the supply must also increase accordingly to satisfy consumers’ needs. Clothes are demanded to be produced faster and faster, and for the prices to continue remaining low, the quality of materials will decrease and both the people working in these manufacturing facilities and those living near them are putting their health in danger.
People and the environment both suffer greatly from the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry. Toxic chemicals and dyes are frequently used in many stages of the production process of textiles and fashion items. According to Common Objective, as much as 8,000 synthetic chemicals are being used in these industries for all kinds of performance and manufacturing purposes. Apart from these chemicals being harmful to human health, they are also detrimental to our environment in numerous ways. During the manufacturing process and when these very clothes are trashed and sitting in landfills, the chemicals are released into the air, leached into groundwater and other bodies of water, and ultimately causing all multitude of harm for our planet.
Kenya-based designer Waithira Kibuchi points out, “it used to be that the clothes you would buy would last you three or five years. Now, it's a couple of months.” Furthermore, the fast fashion model encourages consumers to view clothing as disposable, with new collections and trendy pieces coming out so quickly, and the quality of clothing dropping, people are consuming more and tossing more altogether. In the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2018 Report, “Seventy-five percent of fashion supply chain material ends up in landfills. This amounts to ‘the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles per second.’” This is only considering the waste created during the production process. Around 85% of the clothing Americans consume, nearly 3.8 billion pounds annually, ends up in landfills as solid waste. So much of these clothes cannot be reused or recycled because they are made up of a blend of fibers and materials, and the majority also contain a plethora of toxic chemicals. They sit in landfills or get incinerated, which both lead to the release of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. Not to mention, the ashes from incinerated textiles once again end up in landfills, which along with all the other textile waste, release toxins from chemicals and dyes into the air, land, and water.
How then, do we stop or begin to minimize the effects of this massive, global problem? As mentioned at the beginning of this post, fast fashion and the linear economy model go hand in hand. A model of ‘take, make, use, and waste’ carried out at such a rapid pace and so large in scale will undoubtedly produce a tremendous amount of waste. It is clear that with this model, the majority of clothes that are thrown away cannot be repurposed, thus resulting in a waste of resources and space, creating environmental and health complications. Circular economy, also known as circularity, is as the name suggests, a circular model based on ‘take, make, use, and recycle’, allowing for old products to be upcycled and repurposed into new material that can be used again rather than wasted.
“If closed-loop technology could be achieved for fashion, nothing would ever go to landfill—it would just be endlessly looped through textile factories, garment factories, stores, your closet, secondhand retailers, textile recyclers and back to textile factories again.”
For a circular economy to work long-term and be sustainable, fashion and textile companies will have to take into consideration every aspect of the clothing’s life. Starting from sourcing sustainable and eco-friendly materials, designing the clothing to be recyclable, designating manufacturing jobs in an ethical manner and environment, planning the amount of clothing that will be produced, how often new styles and collections will be released, and so on. To put it more simply, it’s about designing with the end-life of a product in mind while taking into consideration the things and people that could be directly or indirectly affected by the production of these products. It is about being eco-conscious, caring for our environment, our people, and our planet, and making choices that will improve rather than cause harm to our earth and all its inhabitants.
“In the end, we need to make sure that we’re creating a flow of materials and that we stop wasting, wherever it is in the world. That was always our mission — because otherwise, the system doesn’t work.”
– Paul Doertenbach, Managing Director of I:CO
In a previous blog post, we talked about why circular economy and mono material is important, where we go into further detail about the recyclability of garments and why this is a crucial part of circularity. In order to minimize the damage, losses, and waste created by the fashion and textile industries, we utilize 100% recycled polyester from recycled plastic bottles as a way of reducing plastic waste. And rather than using toxic chemicals in our performance wear, we’ve opted for cinnamon extracts for its natural anti-microbial properties. Designed with the circularity model in mind, our t-shirts are made to be 100% recyclable, so that we can repurpose old clothing into new threads, yarn, and fabrics to create new products! By “closing the loop”, we can begin to make a difference in the world of fashion and sustainability, reducing the massive amounts of waste produced by the industry, and aim to make a difference for our planet.