It sounds very doomsday, but the fashion industry indeed set sail and picked up speed with the industrial revolution.
This culminated in a culture where clothes are too easily bought, quickly used, and carelessly discarded.
Naturally, this has consequences.
Consequences that ripple through the lives of garment workers, the health of the planet, and eventually us.
...and how did such a system come about? Let's break it down.
- Clothes are made from cheap and hazardous resources. The environmental ramifications of doing so make it one of the most polluting industries in the world.
- Garment workers are poorly paid and extensively overworked.
- Clothes are made keeping quantity and not quality in mind. This drives the prices so low that people can now afford to buy clothes without batting an eyelid.
- Mass consumerism gains momentum by quick turnover of trends. There's a reason why fast fashion brands change collections so quickly and so often. It is done to create a system where there's always something new to buy, and since prices are low, people can now afford to shop till they drop.
In recent years, companies and consumers across the globe have been pushing for sustainability.
But what is sustainability, and what does sustainable fashion mean?
Sustainable fashion is fashion that is eco-friendly, ethical & affordable for the average consumer.
Sustainability in the fashion industry aims to meet our needs without compromising on the health of the planet, the livelihood of garment workers, and future generations' ability to meet their needs.
It is a movement that seeks change, pushes for responsibility, and demands transparency throughout the production line.
Ethical fashion and Eco fashion are linked to each other to form the sustainable fashion movement as environmentalism goes arm in arm with social equity.
Do we need sustainable fashion brands in India?
India is set to become the world's sixth-largest apparel market by 2022.
The country plays a dual role in being a manufacturing hub and a massive consumption market.
Various studies have shown us a rise in clothing sales across emerging economies due to an increased number of people in the middle class.
Developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Russia witnessed apparel sales rising eight times faster than in developed countries.
Adam Smith, the Father of Capitalism, argued that companies exist to create value for the community and society.
Unfortunately, today, companies exist to serve themselves. Rather than creating value, they destroy value in communities where garments are made.
We shop more than we should.
We do not need all the clothes made today. We produce in abundance and consume in excess.
When novelty fades, as it usually does, all the clothes bought eventually find their way to landfills and dumps.
This has repercussions.
It's no surprise that the environment is cracking under the weight of the textile industry.
Should consumers be more mindful of the true cost of a garment?
Consumers in this day and age now expect low prices.
When consumers seek lower prices, fashion companies meet this expectation by pressuring suppliers.
This, in turn, gives them incentives to cut corners when it comes to social and environmental standards.
An article published by McKinsey & company in 2016 states
"We estimate that if 80 percent of the population of emerging economies were to achieve the same clothing-consumption levels as the Western world by 2025, and the apparel industry does not become more environmentally efficient, then the environmental footprint of the apparel industry will become much larger."
However, isn't this where the controversy lies?
The above statement can imply that people worldwide have adopted consumption habits reserved for the rich.
The populations of developing countries can now update their closets as fast as the rich or their western counterparts.
Is fast fashion a problem only when poor people engage in it?
Can the blame be put on poor consumers?
Can they be ostracized for buying too much and too cheap?
But it isn't the poor who are the most significant contributors to fast fashion, even in countries like ours.
It is people like us who are.
When we buy new clothing each time we see something we like; when we buy the cheapest outfit we can find, even when we can afford much more; or when we buy irrationally cheap clothing just to buy more.
With these practices, we too are propagating this culture of exploitation.
We believe that sustainability in the fashion industry should be a hot topic in India.
Our people are on the receiving end of this social inequity from various western counterparts and from us.
More so, the environmental damage done by unsustainable business practices will be felt by the very people who are exploited.
We should demand better business practices - sustainable business models that genuinely benefit the people and the planet. And for that, we should not fall into the trap of mindless consumerism.
Instead, be mindful of how much we buy vs. how much we need.
Be mindful of the resources that go into making what we buy.
Last but not least, we should be mindful of how fairly priced our purchases are.
Sustainability and how to do it right make for a heated debate.
However, there is no doubt that every country must play its role in curbing environmental pollution.
Planetary boundaries crossed in the name of style will have consequences felt across the globe.