As the economic toll of Covid-19 pushes us to rethink our financial habits, the purchase of “fast fashion” has come under fire for its tremendous contributions to the global climate crisis. Waves of minimalism and mindful consumption have streamlined to the top of our social media feeds as we search to counteract the mounting pressures of climate change as the global climate crisis appears to be one of the only things certain in the times of unknown.
Covid-19 continues to present tremendous economic challenges as businesses are forced to lay off significant portions of the workforce to adhere to public health safety measures and adjust to a decline in consumer demand. Accompanied by questions of supply chain disruptions and an increase in unemployment, consumers have ventured onto social media platforms in search of unity and hope amidst times of universal uncertainty and tension.
With dramatic shifts in routine and potential re-evaluation of personal finances, the coronavirus has ignited a newfound desire for transparency with business and ethical, sustainable consumption. And as fueled by younger generations and relayed to the masses via social media platforms, movements in support of sustainably produced fashion have taken the internet by storm.
So, what exactly is “fast fashion” and how does the continuous purchase of these clothes actively harm our environment?
Fast fashion is designed to capture current fashion trends at a mass-production scale. These clothes are often produced with the intention of maximizing economic profits rather than quality, and are designed to address mass consumerism and the desire for “high-end” clothes at a low price. The purchase and utilization of large-scale ads in cities and social media allows these large multinational corporations to remain relevant and associate a sort of mindless consumerism with staying on-trend. Furthermore, the fast fashion industry’s influence on the environment may be observed through a variety of lens as seen through the following:
1. Use of Cheap and Toxic Chemical Dyes
Did you know that every time you wash your clothes in a washing machine you may be actively contributing to plastic pollution in the ocean?
Synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic contain microplastics (tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic) may be released into the water system and take hundreds of years to degrade. If disposed of improperly in landfills, these clothes have the potential to release harmful chemicals such as bleach and dye into the groundwater and contaminate water systems while posing tremendous threats to aquatic biodiversity.
Water leftover from the dyeing process is often dumped into ditches and streams that eventually result in the contamination of larger waterways. An estimated 35% of microplastics in the ocean occur from the laundering of synthetic textiles. It is also estimated that 20% of industrial water pollution in the world is a result of the chemical treatment of textiles.
2. The Fashion Industry is The Second Largest Industry Consumer of Water
It is estimated that over 700 gallons of water are required to produce just one cotton t-shirt, and about 2,000 gallons to produce a single pair of jeans. Industrial wastewater in Bangladesh alone amounts to 4,000 MLD per day - the size of approximately 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
3. Contributions to Global Carbon Emissions
Fashion production comprises 8-10% of total global carbon emissions. For some perspective: This amounts to the emissions of European Union-- or more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The rise of social media has enabled influencers and climate activists to challenge the short-term benefits of fast fashion- and rightfully so!
The fast-fashion industry shows consumer tendencies to act with short term benefits in mind, rather than considering the long-standing impacts their purchases can have on the environment.
Yet, with rise in social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, younger generations and climate activists have begun maximizing their platform while educating their wide-reaching audience on more sustainable and purposeful habits. The coronavirus pandemic has further propelled these efforts as consumers to be mindful of their habits amidst waves of financial insecurity and fall of global retail sales.
United in use of social media, online movements have led to a rise in consumer trends of minimalism, and increased popularity of sustainably sourced clothing as exemplified by movements in Japan, the United States, and more recently, China.
1. Japan’s History of Minimalism is Back!
The ability and joy found in relying on less have continued to pick up steam on social media platforms as younger generations are forced to spend time on online mediums. Apps such TikTok have served as a uniting platform that not only connects, but informs and educates on issues of global importance while sharing lifestyle tips highlighting minimalistic habits .
A 10-part series “Random Things in My Japanese Home that Just Make Sense” has amassed over 120 million views. The series primarily highlights the structure of the house and maximization of limited space that discourages clutter and encourages productivity. Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” also popularized minimalism in the West. Kondo introduces the KonMari method, a tool to help clients declutter their space while only holding onto clothing items that “spark joy”.
The history of Japanese minimalism extends far beyond recent trends with origins in Zen philosophy that highlights a serene and uncluttered lifestyle valuing the quality of simple and plain objects. In recent years these values emerged through the lens of sustainable living, characterized by a more purposeful and mindful lifestyle, finding beauty in one’s surroundings rather than being driven by blinding consumerism.
2. American Influencers Popularize a Minimalist Lifestyle
Similar movements in the United States have appeared to gain popularity as the joint threats of the global climate crisis and pandemic have individuals searching for ways to be more mindful consumers with the ability to rely on less and positively contribute more. With an array of Youtube videos ranging from “up-cycling” one’s old clothes, monthly TikTok challenges of producing the least amount waste possible, and rise in popularity of second-hand clothing apps like Poshmark, younger generations are making a conscious effort to ensure the importance of sustainability is not forgotten amidst the pandemic and uncertain nature of our current world.
Youtube influencer Kristen Leo (with 300k subscribers) advocates for the “‘Five R Method’: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle.
First, we must learn to not equate the desire for a clothing item with necessity, and in turn, learn how to say no to impulsive purchases. Next, Leo argues that we must reduce the sheer number of clothing items purchased, and minimize participation in the fast fashion industry by purchasing from thrift stores and second-hand clothing sites. The next three steps concern maximizing the lifespan of each clothing item. Leo notes that the average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year. So, whether this means turning your old t-shirt into dish rags or holding a “clothing-exchange party” with friends, minimizing the amount of clothing that sits in a landfill and pollutes the earth each year is the ultimate goal.
3. China is Embracing #DitchYourStuff And As a Result, Rise In Use of Second-Hand Platforms
And finally, with similar movements as seen as in the United States and Japan, China has recently seen a number of social media campaigns advocating a minimalistic lifestyle and more purposeful consumption. The #DitchYourStuff campaign has over 140 million views on Chinese social media. It’s all about selling old goods on second-hand platforms in favor of the “new found ethic for hard times: less is more”.
The coronavirus served as a “wake-call” revealing 20-30% of the Chinese respondents were more cautious, less lightly to consume in light of the pandemic. Chinese government researchers predict that transactions for used goods may exceed 1 trillion Yuan, with Idle Fish (China’s largest site for used goods) reaching peak records for daily transactions in March. Coupled with minimalist movements on social media, the pandemic has allowed consumers to rethink what is essential to their lives, noting the importance of financial security amidst an unknown future.
As seen through the adaptation of minimalist tendencies and desire to be more mindful consumers, the pandemic has promoted the reconsideration of values and the viability of fast fashion amidst the economic crisis and mounting pressures of climate change.
And, with the lockdown serving as an opportunity to clear closets and judge prior spending, the adaptation of minimalism tendencies and purposeful consumption appears to gain traction as second-hand purchasing gains popularity.
Amidst these times of uncertainty, it is important to implement short term, fast-acting solutions to counter the pandemic, it is also critical that we do not forget our duty to the planet and the global climate crisis.
In times of unknown, good intentions are fruitless without structure. We must be more aware and purposeful of how we buy clothes and the companies we choose to support. Rather we cannot continue mindlessly back fast fashion and its contribution to the global climate crisis.
We must find companies to support in their pursuit to create more ethically made, sustainable clothing.
UseDem is a denim upcycle business founded in China and rooted in the foundation of sustainability. UseDem utilizes careful craftsmanship to take old, unwearable pairs of jeans and transform them into everyday products such as backpacks. With just one pair of jeans to produce the exterior of one backpack, additional materials such as recycled plastic water bottles are used to produce the bag’s inside lining.
With rejection of fast fashion and emphasis on purposeful and mindful consumption, UseDem’s Founder Xenia Sidorenko wants you to be aware of how your seemingly mindless purchases from plastic coffee cups to countless pairs of jeans- contribute to the global climate crisis, even when the consequences of these purchases are not directly visible in our communities.
Sidorenko believes that education is the most important step towards creating a more sustainable economy that values the greater health of our environment over the instant gratification associated with mindless consumption. UseDem thus continues to serve as a leader in the movement of sustainably sourced clothing in China and utilize their community presence to advocate for more mindful consumer habits.
So, how can you join the movement towards a more sustainable future?
Whether you are an individual or small business, join Feiy’s network to connect with companies - like UseDem-- and surround yourself with problem-solving, progressive companies passionate about creating sustainable change.
Feiy’s upcoming Sustainable Fashion event is in partnership with Greenext October 9-10.