All across the world, the harm and threat posed by the reckless rise in consumerism is being brought to the spotlight. The constantly evolving technology has greatly reduced the cost of production of goods, and as a consequence their prices. There has also been a rise in the earning capacity of the consumers, coupled with liberalization of trade.
With the advancement of technology, it has become much easier to produce commodities in bulk. What we face is not a problem of scarcity, but that of abundance.
The internet has turned the world in to a global village which has led to trends changing at a much faster pace. What is fashionable today goes out of fashion in the blink of an eye.
MNCs such as H & M and Forever 21 have brought the concept of fast fashion to urban India. Rather than catering to classic styles, such brands produce a glut of trendy outfits which are displayed on their shelves for merely a couple of weeks, only to be replaced with outfits which are trendier. The clothes are built to be disposed, and if one attempts to use them for longer, the quality of the material wouldn’t allow one to.
However, unlike the more developed countries where such brands are affordable to the common masses, in India, a very small percentage comprising of the urban elite shops from these brands.
Most of the middle and lower middle class purchases clothes from street vendors or the flea markets of Sarojini Nagar and Janpath. It is here where all the rejected pieces produced by such fast fashion brands find their way and are sold at a lower rate. These markets are the prime areas where extremely cheap Chinese goods are dumped.
The quality and durability of these dumped goods is much worse than that of brands such as Zara and Forever 21, and consequently their impact on the environment is also much worse.
Fast fashion is now coming under scrutiny by the not only environmental activists, but even the sensitized public for its unethical and careless practices. It has been criticized for the appalling means employed by it to drastically reduce the cost of production.
Most of these clothes are produced in “sweat shops” in developing and least developed countries, where the workers are willing to work in inhumane working conditions at a very low wage rage.
Further, the disposable nature of such clothes, and the unsustainable nature of its consumption has raised concerns over its impact on the environment.
Such clothes usually employ cheap and synthetic material made out of harmful chemicals in order to reduce costs, and such non-biodegradable textile material is increasingly finding its way into landfills.
It is not only fast fashion which is to be blamed for their inconsiderate practices. Luxury and high fashion brands, in order to remain exclusive and prevent counterfeiting, have routinely resorted to the vile practice of burning their stock.
Burberry came under fire last year for their inexcusable act of burning clothes worth $23 million, which could have easily been donated to the needy. It is hypocritical on part of celebrities to raise concern about the horrors of climate change, but at the same time endorse and promote such high street brands.
In this neo-liberal consumerist culture, it is obvious that we need to change the way we purchase and consume. The corporations will continue to feed onto our insecurities (which it creates in the first place) and cater to our increasing demands which stem out of such insecurities unless we make a conscious and committed decision to protect the environment.
It would however be presumptuous on my part to lay the blame wholly on the masses for their unethical choices considering our country’s socio-economic realities. A majority of the population couldn’t be less bothered about making environment friendly decisions when they have to fulfill more dire needs of basic sustenance.
They would naturally gravitate towards what they can afford rather than what would be innocuous to the environment. Once they earn enough to be able make that choice, the psychology of wanting to show the wealth that you have created along with the need to be trendy comes into play. This is followed by wearing outfits which are loud and flashy (preferably with a visible brand name) and purchasing clothes which are discarded without ever being worn.
In more developed countries, a section of the young population which has grown up studying and reading about the horrors of global warming and climate changes have started focusing more on the functionality, durability, and sustainability of a piece of clothing rather than on the “trendiness” of it.
Minimalism, and the philosophy of “less in more” is slowly gaining popularity across the globe, and is being adopted in the way people design everything from the architecture of buildings, interiors of homes, mobile phones, and of course clothing.
Even if one makes a conscious decision to consume in a more ethical and environment friendly manner, it is a task in itself to look for brands or places which offer such options at an affordable price. The industry has seen an upsurge in conscious fashion or “slow fashion” as opposed to fast fashion.
They do not desire to create something which is trendy, but that which would assure quality and durability. Many designers are now adopting more ethical means of production. These brands include Nicobar by Good Earth, Grassroot by Anita Dongre, and Bodice by Ruchika Sachdev.
You have brands offering products made out of biodegradable or recyclable material. Some are attempting to uplift the traditional artisans and marginalized communities by promoting their rich craft which faced a setback at the hands of factory produced textiles.
While some are focusing more on the conditions of employment offered to the workers and even offering basic social security. Brown Boy is one such brand which provides its employees with not only a fair wage, but also satisfies their other needs by providing them with pension funds, medical insurance, and free schooling.
With the popularity of everything organic, organic cotton is all the rage amongst a niche section of rich Indians. No Nasties is one of the many such brands which deals in 100% organic cotton. Such cotton is grown without the use of toxic pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs that are proven to harm the environment, farmers, producers and the consumer.
Unfortunately, such brands are targeted towards a very small elite section of the population and it is not accessible by a majority of the population due to the exorbitant pricing.
In the fashion industry it is a grave necessity to promote a more healthy way of consumption of clothes while at the same time preserving and applauding the creativity that goes behind the design of each garment.
Certain celebrities have also made statements with their clothing to raise concern about the environment. At the 2016 Met Gala Emma Watson donned a Calvin Klein dress made entirely out of plastic bottles. Sustainable fashion doesn’t mean a turn towards drab and lifeless clothing which leads to uniformity.
Fashion is a means of self expression and this element of it needs to be balanced with the obligation it owes towards the planet as well as society as a whole. It is the job of the brands to harness the creativity of designers to turn sustainable fashion into something which would surpass all trends.
There is a social burden upon them to make people want sustainable clothing, while at the same time the citizens should also start making such demands, since it is their demand which dictates the supply.
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