As trash continues to overflow our landfills, thrift shopping is no longer just a fashion choice but the responsible one as well.
by Emily Mary Chin, Carrybeans
The fashion business is a RM12 trillion industry, with retailers around the world collectively producing around 100 billion garments annually. But it is also the second biggest industrial polluter globally, next to oil. And as the fast fashion industry continues to rise, so does its impact on our quality of life.
Fast fashion is characterised by a quick manufacturing and distribution process that allows consumers to buy current trends at more affordable price points. Retail brands like H&M, Cotton On, Mango, Zara, and Topshop are all examples of fast fashion retailers.
H&M has been the subject of much controversy in the past for the poor working conditions of their sweatshops
Traditional fashion retailers would normally release new items four times a year by season: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Fast fashion retailers, however, do multiple releases within a season, and have a much shorter cycle, of about four to six weeks, between production and consumption. This allows retailers to produce more quickly and often, as well as encourages consumers to shop more often.
At first glance, fast fashion may seem like a dream come true. After all, it has made fashion much more accessible to lower income groups. However, what most fast fashion consumers aren’t aware of is the ripple effect that it has on the environment.
For one, in order to speed up the manufacturing process, companies use synthetic fabric fibres like polyester and nylon. These synthetic fibres, when put in the wash, release microfibers that find their way into our oceans, rivers, and lakes. These microfibers take up to 200 years to decompose. In fact, research has shown that microfibers make up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines globally.
Polyester is arguably the most widely used synthetic fabric and one of the biggest contributors to water pollution // Credit: Pixabay
Fast fashion prioritises quantity over quality and clothes are usually cheaply made. Because of this, consumers grow quickly bored and used to throwing out their clothes for new ones. In 2013, textile waste made up 4% of Malaysia’s total waste and that number has only worsened as fast fashion increases in accessibility. 4% may not sound like much but that alone constitutes a production of about two million kilogrammes of textile waste per day.
Another issue is the unethical business practices companies resort to in order to quicken their supply chain. The fashion industry is one the most labour-dependent industries in the world. This pushes fast fashion retailers into constantly finding new ways to cut costs. It is because of this that many fashion retailers employ sweatshops in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and the like, to mass produce their products.
A sweatshop in Bangladesh, where workers have 14-16 hour days and make less than RM300/month // Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Most of the time, sweatshop workers are subjected to poor working conditions. These poor working conditions include long working hours, lack of safety and hygiene controls, and extremely low wages. Sweatshops are also not against child labour, using whatever methods in their disposal to reduce production costs.
Fast fashion encourages the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ escape strategy, giving mankind more reason to think less about the consequences of their decision-making. Why think about where our clothes are going when we can just throw them away and not think about them all?
Thrift shopping, however, has the opposite effect, with less emphasis on trends. It encourages consumers to shop more consciously. By switching our shopping habits from fast fashion to thrift, we indirectly train ourselves to prioritise sustainability over disposal.
A bundle shop in KL; bundle shopping is Malaysia’s version of thrift shopping // Credit: JUICE Online
Thrifting also has the added bonus of encouraging individuality and personal expression. Because fast fashion has made the latest trends so easily accessible, style has devolved into whatever is trendy instead of personal taste. Thrift shops, however, rarely have the option of adhering to trends. And because of this, choices are varied and thrift shoppers must, then, inject their own personal style and aesthetic into their fashion choices.
With bundle shopping slowly rising in popularity, it seems that we are already on the way to a more sustainable future. Malaysians are starting to catch on to the damaging effects of fast fashion, especially the millennial generation, and it’s a reassuring sight to see. But very much more of us are going to need to get on the same page if we’re going to incite any lasting change.
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Featured Image Credit: Becca McHaffie