Dr Seema Singh Katiyar
The great thing about fashion is that it always looks forward, observes Oscar de la Renta. But Rod Stewart was bang on when he said “I think, with suits and clothes, if you keep them long enough, they all come back in fashion”. “Thinking Point” focuses on Fast Fashion this month. What makes it dreadful and fatal for the planet is that it is meretricious and has become associated with disposable fashion. It delivers designer product to a mass market at relatively low prices. People even with meagre, stinted, disposable income can now afford sartorial choices which, earlier, were beyond their purchasing power. A large populations accessibility to fast fashions, which is synonymous with disposable fashion, has proved to be mammoth challenge for our environment, which, till now considered sempiternal, now needs resuscitation to be able to breathe again and to live. A generation of younger people remains mindlessly recalcitrant and refuses to see reason, when they most need to behove for their own survival.
All old cultures, around the world, are dynamic entities like a seed- they carry within them the universe- both what has passed and what is to come. These cultures carry a treasure trove of traditional wisdom- one that has helped humanity to live in harmony with nature, to value it and to nurture it. The three Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are ingrained in their tenets. But these have come into threat due to the ever-burgeoning force of market economy. In recent past, countries all over the world, even those with such cultures have seen the rise of Fast Fashion.
Fast fashion is “a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends. Fast fashion clothing collections are based on the most recent fashion trends presented at Fashion Week in both the spring and the autumn of every year,” writes Wikipedia. In this avatar it is harmless and innocuous. But recently it has found itself in the eye of the storm. It has been blamed for causing pollution at both stages- production of clothes as well as in the decay of synthetic fabrics. At every stage, commencing with textile production and culminating in consumption, aquatic, terrestrial, and atmospheric ecosystems experience lasting environmental degradation. The process releases greenhouse gases into the air, thus polluting these various ecosystems. “A contributing factor to the atmospheric pollution derives from the byproduct of both global transportation and the utilization of heavy machinery, originating from carbon dioxide emission,” writes Wikipedia. Further various pesticides and dyes are consistently being released into the aquatic environment in each community the fashion sector operates in. The textile factories release effluent containing both dyes and caustic solutions.
Rise in demand means rise in pollution. The business model of fast fashion is based on consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear. So, clothes go out of fashion as well as wear off too soon. They are disposable clothing. They cannot be donated for reuse and second, hand garment stores too fail to keep pace with the supply. They are soon discarded and about 85% of these find their way to landfills. They have been adjudged as the second most pollutants after fossil fuel “At least 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles and 25% of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton, causing irreversible damage to people and the environment, and still two thirds of a garment's carbon footprint will occur after it is purchased,” says Earth Pledge, a non-profit organization committed to promoting and supporting sustainable development.
Industry and people together have been searching for a solution of environmental degradation due to fast fashion and some path-breaking remedies have been implemented. One such solution has been provided in the form of new technologies. These technologies offer new methods of using dyes, producing fibers, and reducing the use of natural resources. They present great potential in environmental turn around.
Another solution is Sustainable fashion which is seen as an alternative trend against fast fashion. It came into the public foray in the late 1980s. Sustainable fashion, also called eco fashion, is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. There are many factors when considering the sustainability of a material. The renewability and source of a fiber, the process of how a raw fiber is turned into a textile, the working conditions of the people producing the materials, and the material's total carbon footprint.
Slow fashion is another movement that developed in opposition to fast fashion and may be considered a revolt against the fast fashion movement. The term “slow fashion movement” is coined by Kate Fletcher. She is a researcher, author, consultant, and design activist, and the author of “Sustainable Fashion and Textiles”. She has developed slow fashion ideas and practices of sustainable design within the last couple decades. Slow fashion production, through quality manufacturing, aims to lengthen the life of the garment. Developing a garment with a cultural and emotional connection is also pertinent to the purpose behind slow fashion: Consumers will keep an article of clothing longer than one season if they feel emotionally or culturally connected to the article of clothing
Zero-waste fashion too looks towards environmental protection as its aim and it refers to items of clothing that generate little or no textile waste in their production. This fashion is not a new concept - early examples of zero-waste or near zero-waste garments include Kimono, Sari, Chiton and many other traditional folk costumes. It can be considered to be a part of the broader sustainable fashion movement. It can be divided into two general approaches. Pre-consumer zero-waste fashion eliminates waste during manufacture. Post-consumer zero-waste fashion generates clothing from post-consumer garments such as second-hand clothing, eliminating waste at what would normally be the end of the product use life of a garment. Two general approaches fall under this category, both of which occur during a garment's initial production. In zero-waste fashion design the designer creates a garment through the pattern cutting process, working within the space of the fabric width. This approach directly influences the design of the final garment as the pattern cutting process is a primary design step. It is difficult to design a zero-waste garment solely through sketching, although sketching can be a useful speculative tool. Zero-waste manufacture, of which zero-waste design is a component, is a holistic approach that can eliminate textile waste without modifying the garment patterns.
Indians have always lived their lives in a sustainable way and it is reflected through their traditional garments too. But these are under threat from fast fashion. Saree and dhoti, handwoven from natural fibers and dyed in vegetable colours have long served the purpose. Fast fashion has threatens the traditional values of reduce, reuse and recycle are under pressure due to the poor quality of the garments. But there are innovations galore in the area of textile in India too and one such development has caught the fancy of the world- Kerala’s Ayurvedic clothing. These are eco-friendly, sustainable clothes with added natural health benefits to garments. “The Better India” that the world can’t have enough of these. Traditional wisdom and knowledge can still deliver us from impeding apocalypse provided We the people act conscientiously and do not fall prey to fast fashion.