As a model and a young woman, I used to enjoy the fast fashion industry since their prices “don’t bite” and everything they offer is always up to date with the latest fashion trends. Most of us don’t have enough money to buy every new fashion trend from big retailers, but fast fashion brands seem so seductive since you can offer to buy all the latest clothing trends for a small price and “dispose” of it after that mainstream trend is gone.
H&M used to be my favorite choice for fast fashion. However, I didn’t know how my choice was influencing unfair trade, kids labor, farmers’ suicide rates, water and environment pollution, and human and women rights violations until recently.
After watching the Netflix Original documentary “The True Cost” I became more open eyed about this industry and I want to share this information with you, since fast fashion brands will never share with us “the real cost” of your purchases!
The Fashion Industry and Pollution
According to Business Leader,
“The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, coming second to the oil sector. 20% of industrial water pollution stems from textile development and this booming industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.
These appalling consequences of the lucrative fashion industry are only going to increase as consumers continue to buy cheap clothes. By 2050, it is estimated that clothing production will account for 25% of the world’s carbon budget. That’s more than road transport and agriculture.”
The biggest impact is made by the two largest fashion giants: H&M and Zara.
The world consumes 80 billion pieces of clothes per year. Production of this clothes, as well all the waste we create by throwing it away (don’t forget to include packaging, labels, plastic bags and so on), is harmful for our environment.
Before we talk about anything else, why do we even need that many clothes? Trying to catchup with fashion trends causes only harm for environment, labor and mental health. Fashion industry profiting from our insecurity and making false promise that all your problems will be gone if you buy their product. It is good only for their pockets.
Furthermore, according to the report from Business Leader,
“For each tonne of dyed fabric, 200 tonnes of water is needed. With factories in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China churning out thousands of items per minute, these effects are aggravated to an alarming level of 1.5 trillion liters of water used annually.”
The shocking costs to our environment can be seen by the complete loss of the Aral Sea, where cotton production converted a sea into a desert.
The problem doesn’t stop after the clothing has been produced. A report by the UN found 90% of chemically infused wastewater in developing countries is released into local rivers and is used by locals daily.
Once we’re bored of our clothes, what happens? In the UK alone, people throw away 300,000 tons of clothing a year to landfills. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, are used in 72% of modern clothing and they’re non-biodegradable, meaning each garment can take up to 200 years to decompose.
More About the Loss of the Aral Sea
I am natively from Kazakhstan, the country next to China and Uzbekistan where cotton production, as well as water pollution, affects us in so many ways. Because of cotton industry, we lost many water sources, as well as we are the country which shares the Aral Sea with Uzbekistan.
Seeing how it disappeared broke my heart.
My grandmother’s brother is a farmer in the Orenburg area of Russia, the city which is located next to the border with Kazakhstan. Recently he ran out of business because he ran out of water in his farm region.
He spent all his money to search for a new water source nearby but found nothing. Furthermore, my grandmother herself has a private garden in Aktobe, Kazakhstan, where she periodically runs out of underground water sources and is forced to spend large amounts of money to find new ones.
Both my grandmother and her brother lived in their areas for decades and only recently the water problem became severe. I hope through my personal example of my family you can see how much your choices influence people in Central Asia, where we aren’t surround by water and rely mostly on small water sources and underground lake streams.
Additional Environment Effects of Fast Fashion Brands
According to Independent, H&M, Asda and NEXT polluted rivers with chemicals linked to cancer and death.
Also, according to The Guardian, H&M, Zara and Mark & Spencer are linked to polluting viscose factories in Asia.
Fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara impact the environment of many parts of the world without care, and us as consumers can directly contribute to stopping their impact by refusing to purchase their products!
Human Labor and Fast Fashion
From the “The True Cost,” I also learned how fast fashion and H&M violate human labor rights.
H&M clams that they are an ethical and transparent corporation, but the Business and Human Rights Resource Center informs us:
“New research findings published by Clean Clothes Campaign on 24 September 2018 allege that many workers making H&M’s clothes live below the poverty wage, forcing many employees to work overtime – despite H&M’s commitment to ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage. The new research, based on interviews with 62 people in six H&M supplier factories in Bulgaria, Turkey, India and Cambodia, forms part of the campaign “Turn Around H&M” launched by CCC and International Labour Rights Forum on Labour Day 2018.”
Furthermore, according to Facing Finance, there is legitimate evidence that H&M uses kids labor to make their clothes,
“A German TV program entitled “Your Cheap Fashion – Our Misery”  has reportedly featured H&M’s links to child labour and labour exploitation in Uzbekistan and Bangladesh. According to the report, young 12 year old children work up to 14 hours a day in factories for miserably low wages to supply H&M”
By buying cheap clothes from unethical brands, you are investing in inhuman conditions where people are held and forced to work. As an example, I will use the story of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh is 2013 where over 1100 people died.
According to The Guardian, H&M, GAP and Walmart had contracts with Rana Plaza.
According to “The True Cost,” about 250,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in the last 15 years.
One of the main reasons for this is that the farmers are going into a debt to purchase genetically modified cotton seeds, courtesy of Monsanto.
According to the Politheor, stores such as Zara and H&M put Indian farmers in positions were they are forced to go into dept with Monsanto to purchase genetically modified cotton seeds and work with dangerous pesticides in order to make their products cheaper.
As stated by Politheor,
“In order to buy the genetically modified crops, or GMCs, Indian farmers needed to take out loans. Monsanto has a trademark on the seed because it added a traceable gene so it can identify which seed is theirs. This gene intends to make the cotton plant grow faster and control weeds, but it also makes the crop require pesticides to prevent destructive insects.
These pesticides are also sold by Monsanto, thus creating a unavoidable dependence on the seed producer by the farmer. This was unforeseen by agrarian India who had no choice but to buy into the Monsanto seed monopoly. “
These seeds are easily speeding via wind and water and reaching the property of other farmers in India’s Maharashtra region, where they are commonly used. When Monsanto finds that farmers who didn’t purchase their seeds are growing their GMCs, they are demanding a royalty. These royalties’ bankrupt farmers at a rapid rate.
Most Indian farmers struggling with debt anyways and this royalty leaves them no choice but to commit suicide.
Another leading cause of the huge suicide rate among Indian farmers is pollution caused by the fashion industry. Pesticides sold by Monsanto which are essential to protect their GMC from insects are toxic. People in rural regions of India inhale these pesticides, get them on their skin, and add them in their environment which affect their water and air quality.
Overall, it causes birth defects, cancer, schizophrenia, depression, and other health problems. All these factors contribute to the alarming suicide rate in rural India.
According to IDSN,
“every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide due to indebtedness to Monsanto. A total of 8,000 farmers committed suicide in 2014 with 3,000 being from Maharashtra, India’s cotton belt. Indian publications, however, have conflicting data. The Times of India cites the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) saying bankruptcy only accounts for 1.8% of suicides in 2014.”
Along with working in terrible, dangerous and toxic conditions, workers are paid so little that it is not enough to survive.
The Guardian shares a story of 29 year old Ashok Kumar Singh who worked for a GAP factory where he says that he was paid 5,097 rupees per month (which is approximately $71).
In fact, women are paid even smaller. Sakamma, a 42-year old mother-of-two who is working for GAP supplier Texport stated,
“It hurts us to be paid so little. I have to do this, and they sell one piece of clothing for more than I get paid in a month,” she said. “We cannot eat nutritious food. We don’t have a good life; we live in pain for the rest of our life and die in pain.
Sakamma also informs us that there is physical and mental violence on working space.
“The targets are too high. They want 150 pieces an hour. When we can’t meet the targets, the abuse starts. There is too much pressure; it is like torture. We can’t take breaks or drink water or go to the toilet. The supervisors are on our backs all the time,” she said.
“They call us donkey, owl [a creature associated with evil], dog and insult us … make us stand in front of everyone, tell us to go and die.”
How Can You Help Stop Fast Fashion from Destroying the World?
To make a beneficial impact on the world you don’t need to do much to make a huge difference! Check out these simple ideas:
- Don’t Support Fast Fashion Brands (H&M, Gap, Zara)
- Consider Buying Less Clothes
- Experts Recommend Wearing Each Piece of Clothes at least 30 Times Before Throwing it Away
- Consider Donating Unwanted Clothing Items
- Spread the Information You Have Learned in this Article!
Along with those simple tips, here are a few other ideas.
For example, the overall best way to make a difference is to buy less clothes, and only from fair trade organizations. It will not only make an impact on the world but will help you look more individual and stylish than ever!
Fair trade clothes are also better quality, so you can wear them much longer and they will look just great!
Also, always think with what you can combine each piece of clothes you are purchasing to ensure yourself that you will actually wear it.
Lastly, old pieces of clothes which are no longer presentable for wearing or donating can be used as a washcloth to clean your house! Make use from each product as much as you can before throwing it away!
How to Start Buying Fair-Trade Clothing
If you don’t know from what to start, I have a great option for you! As the first toy for our soon-to-be born baby boy Addison, my husband and I found this company (Cuddle + Kind) which is not just supporting fair trade, but as well providing 10 meals to kids in 66 countries!
Cuddle + Kind is an American family-owned company which uses Peruvian women fair-trade labor to create adorable toys! All their toys are created using organic materials, which are grown safe for the environment! You can watch their commercial where you can see how happy all these women are who make these toys!
Meals to kids in need are provided through the World Food Program USA, Children’s Hunger Fund, Breakfast Club of Canada and WE Charity.
Each toy has its own story, character, name and birthday! Addison’s first toy will be Benedict the Bunny, but as you can see they have a big variety of toys!
We believe that the best way to teach a child the right message is at the youngest age! In our opinion, these toys are the best gift for a child or a baby-shower!
However, this is just one example of purchasing fair-trade products. There are tons of fair-trade brands, and nearly all of them have the same type of beneficial impact on the world!
Concluding Thoughts – How to Control the Impact of Fast Fashion
With all the provided information, you can see how negatively fast fashion affects our society in so many different ways, and it isn’t difficult to make better choices.
I hope that after reading about all the harm this industry causes us, you will consider supporting activists to achieve a better world.
Remember, your choice always matters! Spreading this information will influence the world even more than you can imagine.
Never underestimate your power and impact!