Tragedy of the Commons: The Danger Behind the Fast Fashion Industry

by Emma Tallon.Graphic credit to Value Village

In recent years, the fashion industry has been characterized as fast fashion, due to quickly changing trends, cheap clothing quality, and low prices that make clothing feel disposable rather than built to last. In the last few years, the top fast fashion retailers have grown 9.7% per year. In today’s society, technological advances have enabled the consumer to have immediate access to information regarding the upcoming trends and styles. Consumers want their products to be delivered to them as fast as the trends change. This means that large-scale clothing companies place an immense amount of pressure on the supply chain in order to quicken the process, leading to a cheaply made product. A number of large fashion companies openly concede that their garments will last for about ten washes and then will begin to deteriorate. Clothing is now seen as disposable. This perception allows for new trends to circulate at an ongoing rate. For example, we as consumers are purchasing 60% more clothing items than we were in 2000. To put that into specific terms, this is approximately a new piece of clothing every five days. Societal pressures make some feel that they must always have the newest trends. However, what we are not cognizant of is the environmental and social implications of this fast fashion industry.

In terms of environmental implications, the textile production industry is one of the most polluting industries worldwide. It produces approximately 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year. More than half of those are due to the fashion industry. Due to the fact that there are limited recycling options used to recover reusable fibres, around 60% of the clothing is disposed of within a year of production, ending up in a landfill or an incinerator. Nate Aden, a senior fellow as the World Resources Institute, stated at a discussion on the impact that the fast fashion industry has on climate change, “the best number we have now is about 5% of (global) greenhouse gas emissions (come from) this sector…in country terms, that is about equal to Russia.”

The fast fashion industry also has many detrimental social implications. This is due to the increasing demand for immediate access to inexpensive goods. Workers in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China are being forced to work for extremely low wages and in dangerous work environments. For example, some of the worker’s wages in these countries are as low as $68 US a month. On average, what workers consider enough to live on and support their families is actually twice their actual pay. Today’s fashion industry is defined by many individuals as one of the biggest supporters of modern slavery.
On November 24th, 2012, a fire at one of the Tazreen fashion factories in Bangladesh resulted in the death of at least 112 workers. This was primarily due to the unsafe building regulations and inadequate emergency exits. For similar reasons, the collapse of Rana Plaza building in the Dhaka district five months later killed 1,134 garment workers and injured hundreds of survivors.

In recent years, there have been some improvements in the fast fashion industry. However, the health and wellbeing of the workers remains at risk. Information collected from Delhi reported that a 10-12 hour workday was standard for 67% of the employees in informal workshops. Of these, 39% reported suffering eyestrain and 41% reported suffering exhaustion.

The question we must ask ourselves is what can we do?

Donating used clothing to thrift stores is a start, but is simply not enough. This is due to the fact that not all clothing can be recycled, as approximately only 1% of collected clothing can be used as recycled fibres. What we must focus on is the notion of conscious consumption. This is a social movement that is focused on an increase awareness of the impact that are purchasing decisions have on our environment and those in it. Vienna Westwood, a celebrated fashion designer, affirmed this concept, “buy less, choose well, make it last.”

In Toronto, we are extremely fortunate to be surrounded by many sustainable clothing stores as well as thrift stores. For example, Chartreuse Style, located on Queen Street West, provides consumers with a wide variety of eco-friendly and ethically manufactured clothing for all genders. Susan Harris Design, which is located in the core of the Distillery District, delivers consumers a selection of up-cycled clothing using recycled wool. If you are looking for a less expensive alternative to fast fashion, look at the many thrift stores around Toronto. For example, the Value Village located by Lansdowne subway station or the wide range of thrift and vintage stores at Kensington Market are great and accessible options. Additionally, organizing a group of classmates or friends to do a clothing swap is a fun and free way to get rid of clothing you no longer wear, find some new clothing, and modify your wardrobe and get rid of clothing. Regardless of how you choose to do this, what needs to be emphasized is that there is an alternative to fast fashion suited to every consumer. It is up to us to put this switch to conscious consumerism into action.

Work Cited
Adams, Keren. “The human cost of fast fashion is still too high.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 2018.
A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).
Bauck, W. The fashion industry emits as much greenhouse gas as all of Russia. Fashionista. 2017.
Chung, Shuk-Wah. “Fast fashion is drowning the world.” Greenpeace. 2016.
Ezhova, Kristina. “Social Good: Fashion Industry Funnels Money towards Slavery, Fast Fashion’s Waste Problem.” Business of Fashion. 2018.
Hardin, G. The Tragedy of the Commons∗. Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research. 2009.
Kirchain, R., Olivetti, E., Reed Miller, T. & Greene, S. Sustainable Apparel Materials. 2015.
Linden, Annie Radner, “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry” (2016). Senior Projects Fall 2016. 30. h
Remy, N., Speelman, E. & Swartz, S. Style That’s Sustainable: A New Fast-Fashion Formula. 2017.
“New study shows ‘fast fashion’ continues to risk garment workers’ health and well-being.” The University of Sussex. 2017.
Santiago, Gelaine. “How to Shop Ethically in Toronto (On a Budget).” Cambio & Co. 2016.

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