Scotland's Sustainable Development Goals Network
Responsible consumption and production

Rachel McMinn: How fast fashion is impacting the Sustainable Development Goals

On average, people are buying 60 per cent more clothing today than they were 15 years ago, but only keeping them for half as long.

In the 2015 documentary The True Cost, Andrew Morgan explores fast fashion in terms of how it contributes to capitalism, globalization, consumerism, and oppression. With the fashion industry being the second most polluting industry in the world, the documentary shows how cotton has been genetically modified leading to environmental issues, and birth defects. Also looking at the dangers of the leather factories which pour chromium into the rivers which people use as bathing and drinking water. In order to meet goals: Zero hunger, good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, life below water and, life on land, the fashion industry must work further with global agriculture organisations and produce their key items e.g. cotton, organically – helping the environment and communities.

The Rana Plaza disaster, 23rd April 2013, is known as the fourth largest industrial disaster in the world over 1000 people died with many more injured. It is this disaster which sparked the creation of the Global movement Fashion Revolution, who aim to change the way our clothes are sourced, produced, and consumed, uniting people and organisations together. Every year, Fashion Revolution Week happens on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, and every year they ask the same question: Who Made My Clothes? With approximately 75 million people making clothes for the global market, 80 percent of them are women aged 18-35 who receive little pay and live in poverty.

Often subjected to unsafe working conditions, exploitation, verbal and physical abuse, the question who made my clothes is used to demand brands provide us with greater transparency and aims to change the fashion industry into a safer place. Fast- fashion is not only an environmental issue but a huge feminist issue – as stated above the majority of workers in this industry are female, however when looking at who holds managerial and stakeholder positions it is predominantly men. Women are unable to reach these executive positions and instead are left in horrific working conditions with minimal pay, of course contributing to poverty.

The concept of ethical fashion/ fashion sustainability has been spoken about more in recent years and it is clear that improvements have been made. As of April 2019, the number of brands publishing a list of their suppliers has grown, with Fashion Revolution counting 180 brands which publish at least some of the facilities that make their clothes. This is a drastic difference compared to the results from April 2016 which found only five brands publishing their manufacturer list and only 2 of them publishing the names and addresses of fabric supplies or sub-contractors. With movements such as Fashion Revolution, it is clear brands and consumers are beginning to take steps towards more sustainable fashion.

It is expected that by 2033 a third of people’s wardrobes will be second-hand clothing. In most recent news, France has announced a ban on burning unsold consumer products, with the Prime Minister stating more than £576m worth of new consumer products were destroyed every single year.

It is clear the fashion industry, particularly looking at fast-fashion however high fashion brands are in no means exempt, greatly affect the SDG’s and for the industry to move forward and become more ethical it is essential that it begins implement these sustainable measures.

Submitted by Rachel McMinn

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