Fast fashion is ruining our lives. We’re buying more clothes and throwing them away faster than ever. Rather than valuable possessions to look after and cherish, we are treating our clothes like disposable goods.
The linear fashion model of ‘take, make, dispose’ has no place in our sustainable futures. We must rapidly shift to a circular model, concentrating on efficient production, recycling and reusing.
This is not a revolutionary idea. For thousands of years, clothes production has been sustainable – locally grown, sewn and sold. It is time to revive our traditional ways.
How is fast fashion impacting different areas of the world? What are Youth Green Journal Members doing about this? And what can YOU do?
In Tanzania, “Mitumba” which are second-hand clothes from countries like the USA and the UK are a popular choice. These clothes are very cheap, but often of poor quality, meaning they can only be worn for a few months. Then, they are dumped into landfill, by the roadside and into rivers, causing huge pollution problems. A lot of the Mitumba that arrives in Tanzania is in such poor state that it cannot be sold. This further increases the amount of pollution in the local area.
Young people like us can spread awareness about the benefits of slow (sustainable) fashion and encourage people to buy higher quality, longer-lasting clothes even though it may be more expensive than Mitumba. Another easy way to help is by renting clothes rather than buying them, such as for special occasions or maternity wear.
Incinerating non-biodegradable clothes releases carbon dioxide, adding to global warming. It also negatively affects respiratory health of young children who live close to waste disposal facilities.
We need to reduce the production and demand for non-biodegradable clothes, educate people about its negative impacts and campaign for better textile recycling services.
Our government should encourage the growth of local textile industries, which use locally grown materials like organic cotton to produce high quality clothes. This would reduce the country’s dependence on imported Mitumba, and support local farmers and businesses.
Young people can join in with initiatives to set up local waste clothes recycling facilities. They can also campaign for governments to do this through policies such as the National Environmental Policy.
In Kenya, most fabric waste ends up in landfills. Synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester do not decompose, but rather break down into microplastics which leak into the oceans and enter marine food chains. In landfill, the decomposition of natural fibres like cotton and wool releases methane which is 28 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
One solution is to increase recycling of textiles and reduce the need for producing more clothes. Recycled textiles are usually of a poorer quality than brand new textiles. However, even if they are not used for making new clothes, they can still make products such as upholstery or mattresses.
Individuals can help by investing in higher-quality garments which last for longer. Learning basic skills in sewing can also prolong the life of clothes, as small damages can be easily repaired. It is important to research the ethical and environmental background of a brand before making a purchase. They can consider buying from sustainable companies like the local Kenyan brand Suave , which uses material from off-cut fabrics and unwanted second-hand clothes to make their products.
Sierra Leone’s local industries are not involved in fast fashion. We use locally grown cotton, tree leaves and natural dyes to make our native textiles. The whole process of production, spinning and weaving takes a lot of time and effort, so we do not produce large amounts of clothes in a short time like the fast fashion industry.
However, Sierra Leone imports second hand clothing from other countries. I think we should institute a ban on the import of these used clothes, which do not last very long and contribute to local pollution. Individuals should buy and wear more locally made clothes, which are higher quality, represent our culture and support local workers.
In India, there are many festivals around the year and we usually buy new clothes for every occasion. This is neither necessary or sustainable. Individuals should be aware of the FOMO culture (Fear Of Missing Out) and how it affects their everyday choices.
Fashion labels must not just use buzz words of sustainability in their marketing (aka greenwashing), but also change their practices. Governments must have stricter regulations in evaluating the impact of these businesses on workers, human health and the environment.
We must find satisfaction in “what I already have” and not get caught up with “what I want to have or what others think I should have”. Thrifting is a great way to find new clothes and donate ones that have served their purpose. Upcycling old clothes such as sarees into shirts and dresses is becoming more and more popular. People can also try to follow the principles of minimalism – through decluttering our closets and finding value to what we already possess, the need for “more” tends to decrease.
You only need to look at the queues on Boxing Day to see that we are addicted to buying clothes. In 2016, the total footprint of clothing in the UK was 26.2 million tonnes CO2. In 2017, 336 000 tonnes of clothes went into household waste, even though we supposedly have a nationwide clothes collection system of textile bins and charity shops. Only 3% of clothing is recycled in the UK. The majority of collected clothing (60%) is exported overseas, where recycling services are not available.
The government should introduce ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ policies, like in France. This would mean that fast fashion companies are held responsible for the entire lifecycle and environmental impact of their products. There would be legal requirements for them to produce their items more sustainably, and make it easier for the public to reuse and recycle them.
Individuals can reduce the impact of fast fashion, whilst still having variety in their clothes, by reusing and exchanging clothes. Shopping apps like Depop and Vinted make buying and selling pre-owned clothing really convenient and easy!
We want to know how fast fashion is impacting your country, and how you think we can fix this problem. Are traditional alternatives the answer?
In November 2020, climate activists from 10 different countries participated in a virtual Climate Youth Hack. The Youth Green Journal is a culmination of the winning ideas developed at the hack. The journal explores how different communities around the world are being affected by unsustainable practices, and what must be done to tackle it.