The ugly truth of ‘beauti-fool’ fast fashion

By Sarah Sofiyyah 

“What you wear says something about you” – Hasan Minhaj, an American comedian starts his speech on his series ‘Patriot Act’ on the title ‘The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion”.

The clothes that we wear resemble and represent ourselves. 

Different people have different preference and style that they would look for. Some would go for a classy look yet neat looking, some would go for edgy style, and some would opt for street style. 

It is not wrong for you to make the preferable style of your choice. However, it is terrible for you to not only select but to support the fast fashion industry. 

So, what is fast fashion? Is it the same as fast food restaurant?

Fast fashion can be defined as a short term lead time and mass production where the clothing companies produce a huge bundle of clothes in one period of time. 

The companies aim to gain customers’ satisfaction with affordability and produce the on-trend clothes that replicate other brands with the lowest price.

Thus, by this statement, some of us will think it is good to buy our clothes at the lowest price. We can limit our budget while supporting this fast fashion industry. 

However, it is the opposite of what you are thinking. This apparel industry is worrisome for us as it is confronted with social, ethical and environmental problems. 

Fast fashion companies like Zara, H&M, Forever 21 and Uniqlo are examples of Malaysia’s top fast fashion industry. 

Are you aware where your favourite and your go-to stores are in the fast fashion industry? You might need to re-think before buying. 

Underpaid Labour 

The successful and glamorous companies are abusing their labour rights to feed their selfishness. 

The apparel industry retailers mostly depend on workers from developing countries likeVietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia, as this can keep the cost down and produce the clothes in bulk. 

As discovered by researchers, there was a tragic death of 1,136 sewing workers who worked more than the usual working hours. 

It is making them work more than it should be. They are often underpaid labour from overseas. The pay workers received varies from one person to the other as it depends on the employment agency. 

It is either you get paid by piece rates, daily wages or weekly rates. Thinking about the sick leaves and paid time-off? It is not in their dictionary, especially during the pandemic relief. 

In Sri Lanka, one of the countries that takes in workers for this apparel industry, the permanent workers earned around US$80 per month due to COVID-19. Even if it is above the minimum wage in Sri Lanka, imagine living with $80 during this pandemic. 

Many workers are struggling for living because of this unjust and abusive of workers’ rights. Enough basic supplies such as food, drinks, sanitary pads and masks are barely gotten by these workers.

Talking about criticism towards those companies? 

These companies received criticisms from various people for their unethical move and the social problems they created. Yet, they are still standing strong in the marketplace because of the support and purchase of clothes they received from customers. 

Environmental impact 

The fast fashion industry does not only bring disadvantages to human beings but also to the environment. 

The apparel industry is one of the main factors that could lead to global warming. On average, 194,300 tonnes of fabric wastes will be dumped by Malaysians, according to a news report in 2019. 

The SWCorp Malaysia’s study in 2018 stated that the amount of fabric wastes in the Malaysian landfills rapidly increased from 2.8% to 6.3% last year. 

About 6.3% may be seen as a small percentage. However, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer (technical), Dr. Mohd Pauze Mohamad Taha mentioned that the total from 6.3% is 3.1 million tonnes of solid wastes filling in the land in Malaysia, according to news reports. 

Other than that, do you know how much water needed to make a single t-shirt?

Only 2,700 litres of water needed for making your piece of favourite t-shirt in the store, which it could mean that the amount of water is sufficient for drinking for a person for two and half years, according to Europarl.EU (2019).

How much water can be saved for people to drink instead of making a new shirt? Besides the water usage, the textile industry uses more than 15,000 different chemicals during manufacturing process. 

The heavy usage of chemical in the factory can cause interruption of biodiversity of the environment.

In countries like China and Bangladesh, the processing of chemical toxicants for dyeing the clothing, could pollute the river flow with toxic colouring products. 

To illustrate, textile dyeing brings a significant impact on the water system. It can affect living microorganism, plants and insects and causing creatures in the seas to die for not having clear water to live in. 

On top of that, the wide range of chemical pollutants from the fast fashion industry can impact the clear air that we breathe every day.

Around 90% of the clothes are made from fast fashion industry with cotton or polyester, surprisingly, both the textiles can harm the environment. The reason is that it emits toxic chemical pollution and releases a lot of carbon dioxide during the processing. 

Thus, it is unfair for people living by and working there to breathe in the toxicant air which can affect their health. 

Switching to Thrifting 

One of the ways to limit the buying from the fast fashion industry, is to do thrift. Secondhand shopping or thrifting is no longer an alien activity around the world, including in Malaysia. 

People nowadays are starting to shift from the fast fashion industry to thrift where they get a variety of choices, and not to mention, it always has the same quality and design as in the apparel store. 

A young woman thrifter, Siti Zaimah, explained thrifting has many advantages. She said that thrifting is more sustainable instead of fast fashion, which is bad for the environment. 

“Besides that, unique and rare designs can be found if you go for thrifting instead of having the same design as others in Uniqlo,” she further explained. 

She emphasises that getting a cheaper price for a shirt in a bundle shop is also the advantage of thrifting.

Siti Zaimah has chosen to go thrift since she was 18 years old. Thus, she highly encourages people to start doing thrifting in order to save the environment.

By buying one item secondhand, it can reduce the carbon footprint for that garment by 30%, which can minimise air pollution.

If your clothes say something about you, then how you purchase the apparel shows or resembles your true identity. The beauty of fast fashion industries will stay ‘beauti-fool’ if we still continue to support them.***

(This article is part of the individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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