How are Fashion and Economics related?

By Antra Sharma

Over the last 20 years, the fashion industry has grown rapidly. Globally, it contributes to an enormous amount of economic growth. Style is the method by which art is expressed. Fashion is the style prevailing at that moment. Fashion is reflected in most consumer products and services. It affects almost every aspect of contemporary life. This article focuses on the clothing fashion industry. 

There are three steps in the production of clothes: processing, distribution, and consumption. There is fierce competition at all stages. Various geographical areas are exploited for the raw material, including native plants, animals, and minerals, for example, silkworm secrets from China, linen secrets from the Nile Valley, and cotton secrets from the Indus Valley. As a sign of their position and wealth, members of the royal family could afford expensive clothing made by specialized weavers. 

During the eighteenth century, England led the industrial revolution with a number of inventions that lowered the prices of many goods and improved their quality so that ordinary people could afford them. Fashion magazines, which originated in the early 1800s, and paper patterns for home sewers introduced later in the century enabled seamstresses to copy or adapt couture designs for middle-class clients far from fashion centres. Electric-powered sewing machines were installed in factories, but home sewers and dressmakers used foot treadle machines. Overland or water voyages were the primary modes of trade for textiles, fur, and ornaments. Slowly, different districts became textile centres, specializing in techniques and design like ‘Zari’ from Madhya Pradesh, block printing from Gujarat, and Patan patola from Madhya Pradesh. 

Today’s scenario, however, is different due to fast fashion, inspired by the word fast food. With its new and fashionable clothes at low prices, it has gained immense popularity and changed consumer behaviour. Consumers buy more clothes than they did before, and they only wear a piece a few times before replacing it with the latest trends.

Purchasing is no longer seasonal, it’s replaced by 52 seasons where it’s treated more as an entertainment activity. Consumer demand is quickly met by developing, manufacturing, and pushing new products to store shelves. Clothes are therefore disposable with a short lifespan. Accordingly, the global fashion industry size has increased from USD 1,051.66 billion in 2010 to USD 1,652.73 billion in 2020. Sportswear has experienced the fastest growth of 8% per year. E-commerce has added the option of delivering clothes to countries without stores. It has a massive economic growth, with global revenue growing from $481 billion in 2018 to $713 billion in 2020, a growth rate of 10.36%. In surveys, consumers reported that the USA (88%), Europe (46%), India (25%) and China (21%), were the most popular fast-fashion destinations.

But on the other hand, being so cheap and light can be extremely damaging to the environment, animals, and humans’ health. Due to the lack of reuse and recycling of clothes, large amounts of resources are extracted to satisfy the demands, and the clothes are sent to landfills, which cost $500 billion per year. While production has doubled in the last 15 years, only 1% of material is recycled to make new clothes. Demand is still growing in Asia and Africa. By 2050, the market may reach 160 million several tonnes (3 times today’s volume). To increase profits, brands and retailers seek lower production costs, and manufacturers keep wages low and working conditions unsafe. 

In most cases, production takes place overseas where labour is shockingly cheap, such as in Bangladesh. The average garment worker works fourteen to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. They cannot refuse overtime because they earn such low wages and many would be fired if they refused to work overtime. It is common for employees to work in unventilated facilities, breathe toxic substances, and breathe fibre dust. The textile manufacturing industry is very prone to accidents, fires, injuries, and diseases. As many as 168 million children around the world work in this industry. This industry’s low-skilled labour requirements make child labour a particularly common occurrence. Additionally, factories do not encourage their employees to form unions.

The textile industry produces and buys 80 billion pieces a year, which pollutes the earth with harmful textile dyes, fertilizers and pesticides. It is the 2nd biggest polluter of clean water. A catastrophic impact on the environment is caused by excessive consumption of energy which emits greenhouse gases at a rate of about 10%.

The increase in CO2 emissions is expected to reach 77% from 2015 to 2025, and water consumption is predicted to increase by 20% due to the use of nonrenewable energy sources. One cotton T-shirt consumes 2700 liters of water which is equal to the amount a person drinks in a span of 2.5 years. Even a single pair of denim can use around 10000 liters of water. Fast fashion also negatively impacts animals. Even more horrifying is the trade-in exotic skins. Snakes are often skinned from one end to the other while they are still alive. Kid goats, calves, and lambs are especially prized for their skins, which are boiled alive to make gloves. 

To stop such a large footprint, innovative business models, manufacturing, supply chains, and waste management must be considered. For clothing recycling to be successful, safe and renewable input solutions must be utilized. Circular fashion is a fast-growing trend that aims to re-use and recycle all materials, thus reducing waste, pollution, and regenerating the environment. Advanced recycling technologies can revolutionize the fashion industry.

Circular Fashion Report advocates a product-centric approach instead of a consumer-centric one, and digitization. There are 5 trillion dollars in the fashion industry’s circular economy. Our goal is to make fashion more sustainable, traceable, and transparent, for the benefit of companies, consumers, and the environment.

Rent models can provide customers with access to a variety of clothes while decreasing the need for new clothing production.

Fast fashion is now a sophisticated industry but fed by fragmented units that use a relatively low tech-production system which is the cause of extensive water and chemical usage along with greenhouse gas emissions. Along with other social issues like underpaid workers and animal cruelty, these issues will continue to grow if improvements are not made. Companies need to form coalitions to tackle environmental and social challenges together and invest more into the development of new fibre that can be reused or recycled easily and has low effects on the environment during production. Apart from the producers, even consumers should be aware of their carbon footprint and steer themselves toward clothing-care practices for garments to be in good shape for longer. Production methods that are more sustainable cost slightly more, but they also spur innovation and protect businesses resulting in greater resilience, profitability and definitely a better future for generations to come.

References:-

  1. https://www.panaprium.com/blogs/i/how-does-fast-fashion-affect-the-economy
  2. https://www.panaprium.com/blogs/i/what-is-the-problem-with-fast-fashion
  3. https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/fashions-circular-economy-could-be-worth -5-trillion
  4. https://archive.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/fashion-and-the-circular-economy
  5. https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-working-conditions
  6. https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/animals-used-for-clothing-2/
  7. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/345953
  8. https://www.vogue.in/fashion/content/the-fashion-industry-is-using-up-too-much-water-heres-how-you-can-reduce-your-h2o-footprint
  9. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula 

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