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What Really Goes On Behind The Fast Fashion Curtain

Fast fashion — two words that have come into our consciousness in the last ten years, but has been around for much, much longer. The fast fashion industry brings new fashion into stores frequently, as often as every week, and at reasonable prices to boot. What's not to love about having the latest trends at our fingertips with an affordable price tag?

Things are unfortunately not always as rosy behind the scenes. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh brought to light the detrimental effects of the industry. The Fashion Revolution movement came to be as a direct result of this tragedy. It's focus has primarily been on the working conditions and wages of the people behind the making of fast fashion apparel, thus the campaign, Who Made My Clothes? 

While the most relatable condition is the human one, is there more we should seek to understand? What else constitutes fast fashion, and how can we make it better? 

The Fast Fashion & Slow Fashion Lab Exhibition in Jakarta by Goethe Institute Indonesia aims to address such questions in its totality. In the spirit of Fashion Revolution week, here's what we picked up from this fascinating, informative and urgent exhibition.

Fashion & Consumption

Today we are consuming faster than ever. Since fast fashion is determined by numerous fashion cycles and trends, new apparels are available quickly, perpetuating our fickleness and consumption behaviour into a habit. Unsurprisingly, such quick turnaround of products corresponds with low quality, the result of which is a dispensable and shorter wardrobe lifespan. The more we buy, the more we don't need and the more we discard.  

From Design To Conception 

The journey of a pair of jeans

The design to conception of a piece of apparel involves many stages — and it is not as straightforward as sewing a piece of fabric into something wearable. In the example above, a pair of jeans requires a journey of approximately 40,000 kilometres. Why is this so?

Denim, like other textiles require manual labour to be produced. The process starts with growing cotton plants in countries like Uzbekistan, followed by weaving of the cotton into finished textile in India. Thereafter, colour dying is done in China or Indonesia, while the sewing of the final product happens in Bangladesh.

Despite this much labour, fast fashion is still able to keep the prices of apparel low. How does this happen? Surely, something has got to give.

A breakdown of the journey of each piece of garment in kilometres

A look at the breakdown of a cost of a t-shirt (above) reveals how its production by a fast fashion brand can cost just 5 Euros, with wages for the assembling of the t-shirt costing a meagre 13 cents! Is this a living wage?

Raw Material Production

Picking a t-shirt off the rack, we look carefully at its colour and stitching to ensure a good fit. But do we think of the raw material that makes the t-shirt?

Very seldom, if not ever. The exhibition gave useful insight into the raw materials frequently used in fast fashion textiles such as polyester and viscose. As you can see above, polyester is in fact made up of plastic granules.

The discussion of textile production and its impact on the environment is rarely touched on in the mainstream. The exhibition revealed that in fact, large quantities of non-renewable resources such as natural gas and petroleum are used in textile production, along with chemical dyes. These are then released into the air, landfills or the world's rivers, contributing to copious amounts of pollution. 

Textile Recycling in India

    As mentioned before, the more we consume, the more we discard, too. Through an extensive global network, second hand clothes that are donated are given new life and re-sold in developing markets in South Asia and West Africa. Interestingly, India has a market for the industrial recycling of wool, mixed fibre and knit. In the photos above clothes are segmented by colour, shredded and then regenerated into new woollen yarns. Simply fascinating! A step in the right direction, in our opinion.

    So much to absorb, so little time — this was exactly how we felt. The umbrella of topics under Fast Fashion casts a wide net. However, the exhibition succeeded to succinctly share them, provide valuable information, and fairly review the state of the industry. 

    We hope this post has given you some insight into what goes on behind the curtains of fast fashion, and will prompt you to take the simple, extra step in asking: Who Made My Clothes?

    Comments on this post (1)

    • May 04, 2017

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      — Smith

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