Dubai-based Amruta Kshemkalyani is a sustainability professional who oversees building projects in the UAE and wider Middle East.
She lives and breathes sustainability, helping to ensure the growing development of the region conforms to eco-standards.
A judge at the upcoming Gulf Sustainability and CSR Awards, Amruta shares her green lifestyle thoughts and ideas on her blog Sustainability Tribe, where she encourages her fellow UAE citizens to turn the country from a wasteful “consumer’s paradise” into one where they appreciate the biodiversity that lies behind the gleaming skyscrapers.
Here, she discusses why ‘fast fashion’ can be detrimental to achieving sustainability goals…
Staying in Dubai, it is so difficult to keep yourself away from fashion and trends – like any metropolitan city, it’s part of the lifestyle here.
But I am surviving the entire year of 2017 without any fashion shopping. Why? Because I have been trying to raise awareness about how traditional fashion industry has so many adverse effects on our society and survival on this planet.
Through a no fashion shopping year, I am also focusing on a ‘less stuff-more experiences’ lifestyle and wearing the same items from my wardrobe for more than even 30 wears creatively.
Here are the reasons that have influenced my decision:
1. State of workers in the fashion industry
We are all aware of the Rana Plaza collapse tragedy that occurred in Bangladesh in 2013, when 1,134 workers were killed making fast fashion clothing in inhumane conditions.
But the state of fashion workers and artisans can be just as poor around the world, be it in Columbian mines or Vietnamese textile mills. These workers are mainly women or child labourers who are underpaid so much that they barely survive on these wages.
They operate in dangerous working conditions and can be exposed to chemicals which can seriously damage their long-term health.
So while we are worried about looking ‘in vogue’, these labourers who make our clothes just survive hand-to-mouth. By shopping for new clothes just because we desire to, not need to, do we really need to support this inequality?
2. Dumping used clothes in African countries
The industry keeps up the concept of ‘out of fashion’ with constantly changing new trends, and many people fell for it and keep on revamping their wardrobes. They discard old items (which they have hardly used) and keep on buying new ones.
Now, these discarded fashion garments have created another big industry, which basically takes all your used clothes from the US, Europe, and UAE to Africa and sell it to the developing countries or underdeveloped countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and more.
We think it’s good that those poor people can use our old clothes. But the fact is these second-hand clothes are harming the new developing economies. They are unable to create or support their own local sustainable textile industry and create employment through it.
Why are we indirectly deciding the fate of people in these African countries by dumping our used clothes on them? Who gave us that right?
3. Women and their confidence
Some glossy magazines, so-called fashion experts, and marketing tactics in the fashion industry are telling our women what to wear and how to look good.
Are educated, independent women somehow unable to decide what to wear? I think we are capable of choosing what is comfortable, functional, long-lasting, and what we like. We should be also capable of ignoring people who are judging us for what we wear and not noticing who we are.
Plus, we must think about our younger generations, who fall quickly for fast fashion marketing tactics. So much focus for young girls is diverted from personal development to just looking good.
We don’t need the fashion industry to decide something about our body image and size. We don’t want our daughters to get wrong ideas of body image and self-confidence, do we? We definitely don’t need them to learn wasteful habits to look trendy in 52 micro-seasons of fashion during a year.
4. Human health
Our clothes generally contain some hazardous chemicals and toxins like formaldehyde, perfluorinated chemicals, NPD, PPD, VOCs, flame retardant, pesticides, insecticides, and dioxin-producing bleach.
These chemicals can have serious adverse health effects including stroke, higher blood pressure, a higher rate of infertility, increased risk of heart attack, and even cancer.
Children’s clothing also contains the same chemicals. Some manufacturers even use lead salts to create bright hues.
So buying and wearing new clothes frequently can lead you to sickness and diseases. Are you ready to compromise your health just to look fashionable?
5. Effects of fast fashion on the environment
The fashion industry makes a huge contribution to energy and water consumption worldwide. Cotton is water thirsty, and according to the WWF, it can take up to 2,700 litres to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt.
But cotton alternatives are not very sustainable either. Polyester and nylon are common synthetic alternatives to cotton. They are made from petrochemicals that do not biodegrade. Production of these materials consumes significant energy and emits nitrous oxide which is a prominent greenhouse gas.
The fashion industry is also a massive contributor in terms of polluting water, air and other natural resources. Around 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in manufacturing textiles.
The textile companies drain millions of gallons of waste water to our fresh water sources after treatment and dyeing. The leather industry is another culprit polluting our water resources with its hazardous tanning process.
Every time we wash polyester clothes the microfibers are released in waste water. It is estimated that a single polyester garment releases 1,9000 individual plastic microfibers.
The fashion industry doesn’t just pollute our water. According to Forbes, it is responsible for 10 percent of all carbon emissions globally due to transporting raw materials and finished products – that’s why they say your dress is more travelled than you.
6. Fashion waste in landfills
Most fast fashion clothing is low quality so that you can’t use them for long; the businesses want you back buying again soon. As a result, most end up in landfills.
Most do not bio-degrade and contribute to methane gas emission over the time. Unfortunately, the garment waste is even getting burned which is also harmful.
To avoid waste, invest in slow fashion – quality pieces – and use them again and again. Upcycle them and try not to send them to landfill.
The good news is that a new wave of zero-waste fashion manufacturing is getting popular, and reducing fabric scraps.
7. Marketing tactics of the fashion industry
The fast fashion industry flourished because of creative marketing tactics. Sales and discounts are almost fake, and brand outlets generally sell low-quality clothes made in cheaper factories.
Fast fashion companies over-market to increase consumption. They mainly use a ‘buy now or never’ approach, which rushes customers into buying.
Since the ethical fashion movement has started, many fast fashion brands are even ‘greenwashing’ their business, claiming their clothes are more sustainable than they actually are.
8. Quality of life and happiness
Your sense of fashion and quality of life are not related at all!
Quality of life and happiness is related to your relationship with friends and family and doing things which you love. What brand of clothes, shoes, bag, or watch you can afford is not an indicator of a good life or achievements.
Fashion is just an interest which you might have – it’s not a necessity.
In fact, many successful people like the late Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are known for wearing the same clothes regularly.
If you ever think these great men are tasteless, inelegant, tacky, or without style, then boy, you really need to start living!
There is always beauty in simplicity and remember… less is more!