The mushrooming number of online fashion stores is the primary attraction for many young teens and adults in Nepal these days. You open your Instagram and there it is, you are bombarded with zillion such fashion stores. Every social media offers you a high-quality picture of a dress, be it hanging over the store or a young model flaunting the attire. Those pictures are bound to entice you to grab your hands into them.
But little do we know, such actions are directly or indirectly fueling fast fashion culture.
The word ‘fast fashion' describes how quickly retailers can make designs from the catwalk to stores, keeping pace with constant demand for more and different styles.[i] Fast fashion is fast in the sense that everything is changing rampantly. The trend is changing fast, the rate of production is fast, and customers’ decision to purchase is fast in fact even the delivery and payment are fast.
Fast fashion’s concept emerged during the 1960s in Galicia, Spain. Inditex was the first company known to have introduced fast fashion which changed the fate of the fashion industry.[ii] Inditex stands to be a holding company of many global fast fashion companies like: Zara, Pull&Bear, and Bershka amongst others.[iii] The growth of fast fashion does not seem to take any ease. In the year 2021 alone, the fast fashion industry had a transaction of $91.23 billion.[iv] By the end of 2022, this industry is expected to have achieved a compound growth rate of 8.8%. Zara, H&M, Forever21, Shein, UNIQLO, UrbanOutfitters, GAP, Topshop, Primark, Fashion Nova, and Newlook amongst others are the prime fast fashion market players across the globe. The mushrooming number of fashion stores today is nothing but a reflected intention of many stores and online outlets to walk in the footsteps of these global moguls.
Although financially and as a business strategy the footsteps of these global fast fashion chains may appear appealing; but the carbon footprints such companies leave behind, to environmental responsiveness and faint human rights diligence is daunting to be inspired with. Many consumers of these global fashion brands are aloof from the dreadful implication of such industries upon human rights (particularly labor rights) and the environment.
As per the report and methodological consideration carried out by Quantis international, the fashion industry is solely responsible for one-third of all the microplastics found in the ocean and over 20% of the global water waste. The fast fashion industry is largely responsible for creating a vast amount of textile waste. More than 92 million tons of textiles per year (more than 85%) end up in landfill.[v] 8-10 % of the carbon emission which acts as a blanket in the air, trapping heat in the atmosphere and warming up the earth[vi] also comes from the fast fashion industry. The global per capita textile production has increased to 13 kg in a short span of 43 years. In the same vein, global consumption has risen to an estimated 62 million tons of apparel every year. Fast fashion is projected to increase thrice as much by 2030 and the burden upon the environment shall increase accordingly.[vii]
Another tragic side to fast fashion culture is unraveled from the unethical labor practices. Fast fashion companies are known for taking their businesses in developing countries such as; Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. By opening subsidiaries in such countries, these million-dollar-making companies intend to reap the most out of cheap labor and unregulated labor practices. The fast fashion industry approximately employs [viii]75 million factory workers worldwide.[ix] However, only less than 2% of them make a living wage.[x] Laborers are exploited at a younger age with a below-the-belt minimum wage. The killing of 1100 workers and injury of over 2500 of them in May 2013 of Rana Plaza Building[xi], at Bangladesh is a catastrophic instance of labor exploitation. H&Ms late response to end shop-floor sexual violence in India and poor working conditions of many workers in Shein’s main production base in China sheds light on unethical labor practices ongoing in the fast fashion industry.
Nepal is not aloof to fast fashion culture. Social media has become the primary catalyst for the fast fashion industry in Nepal. It rigorously stems from the urge amongst many Nepalese people to buy so-called ‘new-affordable’ clothes. Fast fashion has a huge role to play in triggering the “I don’t repeat my clothes” attitude amongst many. Supposed celebrities and influencers also have a huge role to play in fueling this attitude. We are bombarded with numerous pictures and instances of celebrities in a new attire in every social event, in every public appearance and in every social media post they make but we barely see any celebrities repeating their clothes or promoting sustainable fashion choices. Nonetheless, Ricky Rej (two-time Grammy winner) wore the same outfit to the Cannes film festival that he previously wore to Grammy earlier this year. Ricky Rej’s sartorial motto was to put out a strong message before the world: “fashion can be trendy twice”. Influencers and public figures must realize the power in their hands and use their sphere of influence for good. Although some portion of the burden towards slowing down the catastrophe of fast fashion falls upon public figures, the burden upon the shoulders of consumers is no less. It is extremely essential to look at the background, purpose cause, and impact of the brand any consumer is using or any influencer is promoting.
On 5th June 2022, the World observed the 49th World Environment Day. The theme for 2022 is ‘Only One Earth’. In order to act towards achieving the end of this motto, we must understand the need to slowly discard fast fashion. As consumers or as public figures one must mete out a balance between the ‘want and need’ whilst making our fashion choices. We must not overlook the labor exploitation of workers, who work at the grass root level in order to serve the market with the environmentally costly but supposedly ‘fast and affordable’ clothing we prefer to wear.
It is never too late to switch to sustainable fashion. Options such as thrifting, re-wearing, buying less and assessing the longevity of what we buy can have a huge impact on reducing carbon footprints and textile waste. Renowned Fashion Designer, Vivienne Westwood quotes, ‘Buy less, choose well and make it last’. This definitely can be a mantra towards discarding the toxic culture of fast fashion and marching toward sustainability.
(Author is a final year law student at Kathmandu School of Law)
 Pranita Chaubey, ‘Cannes 2022: Why two time Grammy winner Ricky Rej repeated his outfit at the film festival’, NDTV Movies, 18 May 2022; https://www.ndtv.com/entertainment/cannes-2022-why-two-time-grammy-winner-ricky-kej-repeated-his-outfit-at-the-film-festival-2988360
[i] Rachel Bick et al, ‘The global environmental injustice of fast fashion’, Environmental Health, Volume 17, Issue 92, 2018; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329938899_The_global_environmental_injustice_of_fast_fashion
[ii] Alex Crumbie, ‘What is fast fashion and why is it a problem?’, https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-fast-fashion-why-it-problem, 5 October 2021;
[iii] Luis G Dopico et al, ‘Zara-Inditex and growth of fast fashion’, Essays in Economic and Business History, January 2007; https://www.ebhsoc.org/journal/index.php/ebhs/article/view/181
[iv] Kirsi Niinimaki et al, ‘The environmental price of fast fashion’, Nature Review, Volume 1, April 2020; https://finix.aalto.fi/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Nature_review_Niinimaki-2020.pdf
[vi] Khozema Ahmed Ali et al, ‘Issues, impacts and mitigation of carbon-dioxide emissions in building sector’, mdpi, August 2020; https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/18/7427
[ix] Emma Ross,
‘fast fashion getting faster: a look at the unethical labor practices
sustaining a growing industry’, International Law and Policy Brief, 28
October 2021; https://studentbriefs.law.gwu.edu/ilpb/2021/10/28/fast-fashion-getting-faster-a-look-at-the-unethical-labor-practices-sustaining-a-growing-industry/