Fast Fashion & Sustainability: The Crisis…
In the world of social media, the internet and trends changing faster than seasons, fast fashion has established its presence to keep up with the rapidly evolving world and times. The roots of fast fashion can be traced to 90s America, the ideas of IT girls and pretty vogue covers, the desire to be at par with these so-called fashion ideals. Yet, the production included 4 cycles only and still considerably categorised under slow fashion in comparison to contemporary fast fashion. The mass production of new trend cycles in fashion leaves the world grappling with over-consumption, mass production of waste, environmental damage due to plastic, polyester & synthetic, and over-exploitation of labourers under capitalist hierarchies. The demand and supply, the accessibility of new trends become easy, cheap and disposable, creating a larger issue of capitalist consumption and sustainability.
Fast fashion in contemporary times is built on emerging trends, and to keep up, retailers have attested to having multiple new productions each week. Keeping up with the trend involves disposing of clothes of the older trend, creating a cycle of mass consumption and large waste production; Being made of plastic and synthetic fibres, the production and waste results in massive environmental damages, that includes 10% of the world’s carbon emission and 20% wastewater. The materials toxicity also seeps into our water when washed, and in long term is harmful to our skins. The chances of recycling reduce and adds to the cumulative non-disposable waste, global warming and ultimately climate change. The issue also delves into social hierarchies and labour exploitation, especially in India where subaltern people of lower caste and class stratus are appointed in factories with unreasonable working conditions and low wages.
Slow Fashion; The Sustainable Choice…
Slow fashion discards fast-paced machine production that uses cheap material that pollutes the environment, dishing out only a small number of cycles and limited products each year. The techniques brought by the industrial revolution are discarded in favour of using techniques and materials(context: India) that date back to ancient, medieval, etc. The material used is organic and environmentally friendly, easily recyclable and disposable. Slow fashion abides by eco-friendly production, reduces carbon emission, global waste, and is socially friendly. With the reduction in production, labourers are not overexploited, work reasonable hours and are often paid well (depends on profit margins etc.,). While sustainability is a new trend among millennials and gen zs, evolving into social awareness about the origin of products, Indian artisans have been practising sustainable slow fashion for years, while also preserving cultures.
The Maheshwari tissue saree, for example, originates in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, dating back to the 18th century. Originally, handwoven with pure silk, now hand-woven with cotton as well. They stick to the traditional handloom, even though power looms could produce sarees four times faster to maintain the intricacy of the product. These sarees are environmentally friendly, made of cotton, silk or cotton-silk blend; they often use natural dye extracted from plants, flowers, etc, reducing colour induced chemical pollution. The makers of these are often from Dalit, OBCs and other subaltern backgrounds and systematically get churned out of high-end capitalists systems, making it harder for them to produce solid profit margins, yet they continue to create these sarees in their own right to keep alive a beautiful tradition and contribute to sustainability.
Another example of sustainable and unique clothing is the Phulkari embroidery, originating in Punjab. Phulkari in Punjabi means ‘flower work’, and this type of embroidery is adorned with floral and geometric patterns, and the unique factor about this type of work is that the stitch is done on the coarse side of cotton instead. It is hand-loomed with eco-friendly fabrics like Khaddar and Dasuti (coarse cotton). Traditionally the women of the household make these clothes and were intended to be handed over to a woman from her parents for her wedding.
The handloom and other textile traditional productions in India have been practising slow and sustainable fashion for centuries before the internet and social media trends/awareness of slow fashion, yet these artisans are some of the most underpaid and under-recognised people. With the rapid change in climate, skyrocketing waste production, an unreasonable amount of environmental damage and labour exploitation caused by fast fashion industries, it is time we switch over to locally sourced clothing that contributes to eco-friendly & sustainable clothing, supporting the communities that keep alive ancient weaving cultures, and to keep alive the cultural heritage of India’s ethnic wear.
To buy & support some of these artisans and contribute towards slow fashion, click here.
Author: Arpita Sk
3rd-year student studying in Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, majoring in Literary Studies and Sociology. Summer Intern at Kala Chaupal Trust.