In a world consumed by Capitalist ideals, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of the season’s latest trends, discarding them like shed skin once they are no longer popular. The fashion industry doesn’t make this any easier. Although they are portrayed as creative and free, in the end, they are still a business, one which is worth $1.5tn a year. It is one of the most globalised trades in the world which continues to hide under the guise of a non-commerce industry, selling their wares as something that is a necessary part of our lives. How can this be right? Sure, with any economic system comes with it its pros and cons, but fashion especially has been stretched and moulded into something less than savoury under Capitalism. Granted, it may seem natural for us to strive for prosperity and wealth – our culture in fact praises those who are driven towards success – but some say it has not always been this way. With an incentive for personal gain through ownership and profit, people are encouraged to own more than they need, continually striving for ‘the next best thing’, never being truly satisfied with what they already have. Of course, wanting to be successful and appreciated for one’s work is not in itself a bad thing, but when it is motivated purely by monetary gain, that is when problems begin to arise.
Image: Mak Remissa/ Shutterstock
In a way, the fashion industry has taken advantage of this Capitalist culture, realising that wherever there is demand, there will always be opportunities for increased profit. It may be hard for us now to not identify fashion with fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara, but it hasn’t always been the case. Before industrialisation, the production of anything, especially clothing, took a much longer process. It was a practice which required years of skill and expertise to master, where each piece was made to endure the harsh elements of weather, and last for a person’s lifetime. With the rise of technology, clothing could be produced at a much quicker rate, allowing for mass production and with it, mass discarding of goods which were in perfectly adequate condition. Clothing companies recognised this as an opportunity for further profit, and eagerly latched on to the increasingly materialistic values of a consumer society.
Perhaps machines cannot create pieces as unique as individuals can, but this became less of a problem with the arrival of consumer culture. Not only are we encouraged to consume relentlessly, we are forced to then throw away those things we replace and see them as ‘broken’. We are essentially buying without the intention of keeping things for the long haul. Even I am no stranger to this mentality – I have definitely fallen into the fast fashion cycle, purchasing and discarding with the seasons. Even if you donate these unwanted clothes to second-hand stores, the reality is that most just end up in landfills. Within Australia alone, only 15% of clothing donated to charities are resold. And what happens with the rest that are conveniently dumped? Clothing made from polyester can take up to 200 years to break down, and natural fibres such as cotton and wool, although able to biodegrade and compost, are not supplied with the right environment to do so in the landfill. In fact, wool secretes ammonia into the air when compressed in landfills, further damaging our environment. Not only do our materialistic values contribute to the waste in the world, but the production of clothes and accessories to keep us happy is in itself unsustainable. Incredible amounts of water and energy is needed to produce clothes, and in the process, pesticides are dumped into the environment, polluting air and waterways. According to McKinsey, 23kg of greenhouse gases are produced when making only 1kg of fabric! Who knew looking good would cost so much?
Image: Pixabay/ Prylarer
Of course, as with any issue, there is a flip side of the coin. Without an incentive for efficiency and innovation, fashion may not be an expression of creativity that it is today. We just have to find a middle ground where it can be beneficial for people, as well as the environment.
Written by: Tiffany Ko