How the fast fashion industry is polluting us

How the fast fashion industry is polluting us

Fast Fashion has become a business model that is completely unsustainable: it is bad for the environment, for its workers and for consumers. It is not a win-win, since only its owners amass millions of dollars, while buyers acquire a garment that rarely will last a year.

It is about the fast fashion industry, known by its terms in English fast fashion or low cost, which has been marketed as a way to obtain trendy designs at a low cost. How many have not filled their closets with clothes from Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Mango or Pull & Bear?

For some years now, there have been activists, researchers and organizations in favor of the environment and human rights, who have denounced the consequences that this business already has in various areas and that if the trend continues, it would end in an environmental catastrophe.

For starters, the quality of the clothing leaves much to be desired, in her book Overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion, journalist Elizabeth Cline explains that the poorest quality cotton is used, mixed with a growing proportion of synthetic fibers derived from the petroleum, as well as cheap and poorly fixed dyes and poor finishes. But this is not a coincidence, they make sure that the garment will last little and will have to be replaced in a short period of time, but not for the user's taste, but out of necessity. In the fast fashion industry, each garment gives very little profit margin, so high global sales must be achieved to make the investment profitable.

But, they also appeal to the psychology of buyers and by launching collections with high frequency (weekly or even changing their inventory daily), they can give them the feeling of being out of style and that they have to buy what they liked in that very moment, because they run the risk of not finding it anymore.

However, the above is nowhere near the worst. A study by the United States Center for Environmental Health in 2013, revealed that the legal limits for the presence of lead in clothing and fashion accessories were around 300 parts per million (ppm), the reality was that many objects traded by “fast fashion” brands showed levels above 10,000 ppm, depending on color.

This lead can get into people's hands when clothing is touched, from there it can get into the mouth and inside the body. In addition to lead, other metals present in dyes are mercury and arsenic, all of which are toxic.

The human factor

In 2013, the collapse of a building that housed five garment workshops left at least 1,120 people dead and nearly 3,000 injured. The press reported that serious cracks appeared in the construction the day before, however, the workers were called to work the next day. On April 24, around 9 in the morning, the building collapsed with its victims inside, the vast majority were women, poor and with children, who were left in a kind of nursery in the same place.

It was also reported that some of these workers only charged around 500 pesos a month for their work.

Two years earlier, also in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, a fire killed 111 workers at another garment factory.

According to Forbes, 75 million people currently work in this industry and 80 percent of them are women between the ages of 18 and 24. "It takes a garment worker 18 months to earn what the CEO of a clothing brand earns at lunch," they write.

According to, this exploitation model began in Galicia in the 80s at the hands of companies such as Zara, but also other Galician producers and designers, who were reducing margins by putting pressure on sewing cooperatives, as reflected in the documentary Fíos fora.

The solution? ... Circular Fashion

Founded in 2012, the C&A Foundation seeks to make a change in the industry from the transformation of the business model, its manager of community strengthening and communication, Patricia Barroso, spoke with Magazine about its objectives.

“The circular economy is a trend and a vision of economic models that seek to break with the linear business model that we currently have. That is, the linear thing is to extract natural resources, process them to turn them into a product that is packaged, distributed, sold, used and thrown away, in which a lot of waste is generated that has a very severe environmental impact. They are wasting many materials and supplies that could be recycled, reused or transformed into a new product to give it another life.

The aim of the circular economy is to turn that line into a circle, thus from the conception of the product envision it as one that is going to be reused in another, that is going to be adapted to update it, for example, if it were a cell phone, put the pieces adequate to expand memory and use 90 percent of the same equipment and only supply the parts that require it and those that are left over, perhaps they can be reintegrated into another industry or that are biodegradable, try to generate better waste, so that if you do this circle many times in a product, what you are doing is significantly reducing these residues until they eventually disappear, ”he explains.

That applied to the fashion industry, where cotton is harvested and taken from the field to turn it into thread and then into fabric, cut it to make it a garment, distribute it in stores, use it and when it is no longer used, throw it away and generate tons of garbage. "Instead of doing that, what they propose is from the raw materials to think that they are more sustainable, there are endless innovations that are being carried out in the textile industry, such as pineapple peel, coconut fiber, bamboo , there are many fibers that are much less aggressive raw materials in the production process in the environment and thus, in each phase to think again with a new approach, from the moment it is produced, use less electricity, less water consumption, less aggressive chemicals to the environment and people, less toxic dyes. At the time of packaging and distribution, think about generating the least amount of carbon footprint possible in its distribution, more local consumption, fair wages, treating people with dignity and finally that the garment when it finished its first life cycle, is designed and designed to have other uses ”, he mentions.

The C&A Foundation financed an innovation center in Amsterdam, called "Fashion for good", which developed a shirt with a certificate of circularity called Cradle-to-Cradle, "this t-shirt follows all these processes: it has no labels , because they are printed on the garment itself, with dyes that are not toxic, that are biodegradable and the shirt itself when you no longer want it, you can use it as compost in your garden and in 15 weeks it would disintegrate. This is the first product in the fashion industry in the world that has this certificate of circularity and that may already be a product designed so that it does not generate waste and is 100 percent reusable or biodegradable, all its production phases were well cared for ", He says.

But will this impact the price and quality of the garments? “All innovations when they just come onto the market may have a premium that according to the law of supply-demand regulates it, they will find the right price. This C&A shirt as an example is a success story because it managed to put that shirt in the hands of consumers at a low price, I think it was at 140 pesos, it is still extremely accessible and does not shoot what the consumer is used to. pay. The more brands, the faster and more we will be able to regulate and find that price balance ”, he concludes.

Video: How fast fashion pollutes. AFP Animé (October 2020).