This industrial juggernaut has grown powerful enough to influence demand itself, as we see our formerly organically evolving fashion trends are now managed to fit a new and wasteful value-system. Values which prioritize instant gratification and short-term affordability. This manufactured priority swap, while ensuring great profits for the middle-man, is a disaster in terms of the quality of the clothing, the health of the consumer and, most dramatically, the environment. It is the ultimate manifestation of the convenience-cult of the ‘disposable.’
Fast fashion (which began in the 1990s) touts as it’s chief trait an ‘affordability’ – partly due to being constructed from a cheaply available petroleum industry byproduct: plastic fibers. The clothing designs themselves follow instantaneous trends, largely from Instagram and celebrity TV appearances. Where formerly fashion trends were seasonal, derived from the ‘catwalk,’ and were made from natural materials, now they are weekly. It is extremely common for people to buy the latest style to wear for one occasion only, and then discard. The clothes are of such shoddy manufacture that they are not made to last much longer anyway.
To be even more affordable the garments are manufactured in ‘sweat shops’ within developing nations, essentially an unspoken corporate slave labour. A truly globalist system which not only robs the consumer of his home-grown fashion-culture and textile industry, but exploits foreign labour with the cynical excuse that ‘they’d have even less’ without the munificent international corporations. Traditional garment industries cannot compete, with their longer time-preferences, stronger wages, labour laws, and more expensive, higher-quality final products.
Examine this video of traditional clothing manufacture, compared to today.
Up-to-the-minute fashion is a kind of retail-therapy gratification, but it comes at the expense of all other considerations. As long as it can be discarded for a new ‘style’ the next week, there are no concerns about shoddy workmanship or toxicity of materials. GAP, H&M, Primark, Walmart, and Topshop are all examples of fast fashion outlets, and when you enter these places you are greeted by the heady reek of this plastic. Polyester, acrylic, nylon, are all terms for plastic fiber, which make up around 60% of the clothing worn worldwide, which was formerly all made from cotton, leather, and other natural materials.
Yet it seems we simply cannot resist the low prices that the manufacture and distribution system is designed to yield.
Often, charity shops will not even accept these garments, as their quality is so dubious, such poorly made clothes do not age well, and can’t be recycled as they are mostly synthetic. Often clothes banks sell discarded single-use items to European brokers who sell them on to places in Africa. But this exploitative cycle not only affects the traditional manufacture of textiles domestically, but also the indigenous African fabric-makers, as they are equally inundated by the same cheap garments, only second-hand.
The global fast-fashion market was expected to grow from $25.09 billion in 2020 to $30.58 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.9%. Despite Covid, the market is expected to reach $39.84 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 7%.
The companies responsible were formerly individual businesses in symbiosis: designer, manufacturer, distributor, retailer. Although they outsource the actual labour of production, they manage it completely. Now these individual mega-companies are the retailer, distributor, the manufacturer, and often the designer. It is the system of international mass-production itself, the supply chain, which is the logistical spine of an operation of which everything else is an extremity. Innovations in supply-chain management are the source of the clothing ‘affordability’ and represent the final victory of quantity over quality. There is no doubt these businesses have a strong hand in the instigation of the trends themselves, which can be influenced by social media campaigns. Thus, there is a self-contained profit structure, which can create and provide the demand to ensure its own growth.
It is now understood that a majority of disposable plastic products wind up in our oceans. The plastic does not simply vanish, it does not even properly degrade like organic fabric (it can take hundreds of years for plastic to degrade). It enters the ecosystem as these artificial fibers are released into the water supply when the cheap clothing is washed. Estimates are that a single load of laundry releases hundreds of thousands of fibers – all of which are bound for the oceans.
These tiny fabrics create a microplastics deluge which is consumed by fish and enters the human food chain. A 2017 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that, of ocean microplastics, about 35% was from synthetic textiles. That was from 2017, if you want to compare that to the expected fast-fashion market growth predictions.
That is perhaps the most worrying final result of the unstoppable high-speed train of fast fashion consumerism we have developed, the mechanistic distribution-system we have become enslaved to. It is not merely the cost to real fashion, or to traditional textile art and work, but the slow poisoning of the planet, and us along with it.
What kind of bargain is that?
There was some faint hope that after Covid lockdowns people might have gravitated away from single-wear nylon clothing and found renewed interest in buying quality clothes that last. But no sooner were the restrictions lifted, than queues were seen lining up outside Penny’s, Primark, etc.
Thus, the fast-fashion mentality is the ultimate manifestation of ‘disposable’ consumerism. The artificial mythos of convenience that teaches us that everything is disposable, when in fact our daily use items are less disposable than ever. But we live in the tragic era of ‘planned obsolescence.’
It is high time that we reconsider and try to remember that quality and quantity must be in balance. And, ideally, between the two, quality should win out.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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