How Fast Fashion Fuels Waste Colonialism and Environmental Injustice

  • Jessica Roye
  • Michael Morgan
  • Emily Morgan

Written By Jess Roye As one of the biggest employers worldwide, and one of the biggest polluting industries we need to see systemic issues in the fashion industry as social justice issues because they affect everyone, most fatally it affects those most marginalised in society and on the front line of the climate crisis. A lot of our clothes begin and end their life in the Global South. Pakistan, India, and Kenya all have a large second-hand imported clothing market. Clothes donated and collected in European countries are often shipped to the Global South to be bought by market vendors in markets areas such as Kantamanto in Accra, Ghana. Second-hand clothing market vendors often talk of being disappointed when opening the crates of clothing. Disappointing becausethey purchase crates to sell, and the quality is so poor that making a profit is difficult. Many of these fashion items, or ‘dead white man’s clothes’ as it is known locally, are such poor quality that they cannot be resold and must be burnt or buried in a landfill. Our current clothing system is a continuation of a colonial system set up where economically rich countries in the Global North drain resources, exploit labour and destroy natural environments in the Global South. In fashion and environmental academia, this waste and pollution from the production of goods is called waste colonialism. When a nation dominates another nation's homeland using waste and pollution. Ultra-fast fashion relies on the disempowerment, dehumanisation and exploitation of people. Through low wages and poor/ unsafe working conditions show the human cost of clothing production but here we are focusing on the environmental impacts. Growing cotton, dying the fabric, leather manufacturing, fumes from the factories, and transportation of much of the supply chain cause harm to the environment and people have already died because of the environmental impact. Rivers such as river Noyyel have been hugely polluted, rivers that are not only sacred but, also provide drinking and washing water for communities. Natural cotton will decompose in a few months and linen in a few weeks however much of fast fashion uses synthetic fabrics such as viscose, polyester, recycled polyester, spandex, and nylon that takes hundreds of years to break down or, some never break down because they are made of petroleum. This idea of overconsumption is emphasised by these green ideas from brands, encouraging consumers to recycle clothes in-store and buy more items is not a sustainable solution to the climate emergency. The United Nations Environment Programme (2022) investigated fashion's environmental impact and showed the average person buys 60 % more clothing and each item is kept for half as long compared to 15 years ago The issue is that clothes are made to a lower quality than they were 15 years ago, ultra-fast trend cycles force overconsumption and over production. In recent years we have seen more fashion graduates and young creatives putting a greater emphasis on ethical fashion and system adjustment. Many of us want fashion to be a trend- setting industry and leaders of social justice. CSM fashion journalism graduate, Emma Curtin produced a hybrid magazine called S.O.T.F. – Survival Of The ‘Fit. The magazine takes a cynical Gen-Z tone and a whimsical, humorous approach to the climate crisis and fashion's impact. Starting with a dystopian entry where current sustainability targets were not met, the audience is taken to 2130 where we are scavenging for plastic to make a new outfit for New Year's. The publication is colloquial, honest and entertaining, and the coinciding TikTok account further engages her audience through diy and craft based solutions. I spoke to Emma and she had this to say: “As an elder Gen Z I grew up on the Internet but have watched it grow up with me - it’s such a source of knowledge and community and I wanted my publication to be emblematic of that. Every sustainable creator I interviewed was sharing their process online and it became a project filled with light, with collaboration rather than the dark tale of the end of the world that I thought I was creating. I knew TikTok had to be a major part of my publication both to reach my audience and so I could join this community of inspiring creatives.” People are using their platforms and voices to share the realities of textile waste, the solution you will hear is to buy less and shop differently. And it really can be that simple! People making mindful purchases from fast fashion retailers when necessary is not the same as seeing clothes as disposable and feeling entitled to every trend. Ultimately it is down to brands to make better quality clothing however as citizens we can shop second hand, repair, swap, and change our attitudes towards clothing and those that make it.