Alternative use of materials in response to fast fashion

Alternative use of materials in response to fast fashion

Characteristics of fast fashion

Fast fashion is a phenomenon that became a business model that many companies have adhered to since the late 1990s due to its high profitability and continuous expansion nature when it comes to delivering consumers’ desire to have variety, instant gratification with price mavenism in the context of the fashion apparel industry as achieved by the sale of fast-selling merchandise without going through a mark-down process.

Fast fashion can be characterized by the element of speed as rapidly executed production allows product range ready for sale at the start of the sales season even when struggles arise from the design department in terms of the availability and access to new or latest fashion trends as reflected by an absence of cutting down of production time. Eventually, large inventories with equally large storage spaces would be generated by these fast fashion retailers in order to meet the demand of the sales season, which retailers are, in turn, forced to end-of-season sales when purchases are low, indicating that the customer demand was not understood typically resulting from retailers missing last-minute trends upon releasing their product ahead of time. Therefore, the fast fashion business model also embraces the aspect of flexibility in ways of solving such crises by rapidly replacing their product range and that their merchandise only lasts for weeks from the process of taking in the collection to stores to the delivery of goods to consumers. It is also fairly noticeable that these ready-to-wear clothing is made of poor quality raw materials that are susceptible to fabric damage, which can last for about ten washes only. Besides that, fast fashion is a form of global culture as unlike those of traditional fashion retailers, they do not exhibit any personality association from a single designer to the consumer.

In short, the success of fast fashion is owing to:

  1. Rapid responsiveness related to the inventory management practices
  2. Greater flexibility and a dynamic market related to the frequent change of variety and fashion design at affordable prices
  3. Business value proposition created by back-end operations

Environmental impact of fast fashion

First and foremost, the increasingly carbon footprint is by far inevitable as attributed to the growing population and that the shift of consumption patterns with such market size is the main driving factor specifically in the context of fashion industrialization to further contribute to the increasingly greenhouse gas emission, comprising about 4% of the global total in 2018 as according to research by McKinsey. Definitely as time goes, the figures have been boosted up to about 8-10% as reported by Nature.

The fashion industry also accounts for high water footprint due to its major water usage and subsequent contribution to 20% of global wastewater from wet processes of textile manufacturing such as that of bleaching and dyeing associated with water pollution. It was reported that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used solely in 2015 where as of now 44 trillion liters are being used for irrigation in the current textile production and that a major proportion of 95% of such water consumption has been taken up by the cultivating of conventionally-grown cotton. This has also further impacts on local groundwater where the fashion industry has taken up 7% of it as well as drinking water losses in terms of scarcity in water-stressed manufacturing regions.

Other than that, toxicity is also a major concern brought about by the active industrialization in the fabric sector given that most of the chemicals used are toxic, in a way not only relating to water pollution but also chemical pollution in general upon the improper management of waste disposal, in which can lead to serious complications in the pathophysiological status of a healthy wellbeing as reflected by the agrochemicals in use being able to cause nausea, diarrhea, cancers, respiratory, neurological, and reproductive related disease or problems upon the leaching of chemical substances termed as xenobiotics to the ecosystem.

A breakdown of the types of fiber used in textile production

Figure 1. Fiber type being used in textile production across the years (till 2015).

It can be seen that the types of fiber utilized in the fashion industry stay relatively similar as depicted by the trend and proportion in terms of million tonnes per year, such that these fiber types include but but are not limited to cotton, polyester, non-cotton cellulosics, polyamide, polypropylene, and “other” represented by silk and wool.

Nevertheless, one way of reducing the impacts being caused by fast fashion is through the practice of sustainable fashion, which can be done by sourcing and using materials that are grown and harvested in a sustainable way, something related to organic perhaps in relation to lower involvement of toxic materials as to minimize carbon footprint of the product, ultimately emphasizing and bringing the environmental aspect to the forefront.

Use of organic cotton instead of conventional cotton

As briefly mentioned, conventional cotton production is relatively costly to the environment with the use of thousands of liters of water and large quantities of pesticides, thus the concept that organic cotton is more sustainable has emerged due to the fact that organic cotton is grown from non-genetically modified seeds in chemical-free agricultural land when the use of pesticides is absent, allowing the land to stay fertile for a longer period of time as well as benefiting the farmer community in terms of workers’ health as well as the overall community in terms of relative health since they are not exposed to such xenobiotics and having clean water and food supply, in which the clothing product made out of organic cotton is labeled as more safe as reflected by its extensive use in baby clothing with regards to their sensitive skin.

Definitely the water pollution rate with the use of organic cotton has decreased up to 98%, and that 46% lesser greenhouse gas emission being generated as compared to conventional cotton. However, with recent studies in evaluating organic cotton sustainability, it was suggested that organic cotton actually requires more water and produce more greenhouse gas when examined in a large-scale context given that less fiber is yielded from organic cotton, thus when scaled up, it, in fact, is less efficient per hectare in overall and that consideration of the usage of the field for other crops also has to be accounted for.

Use of recycled polyester

Moving on, other alternatives have also been opted for, whereby one of the popular materials chosen is recycled polyester as polyester is the most common type of plastic, typically found in plastic bottles which again is another source of environmental pollution fueling the plastic pandemic. Therefore, recycled polyester seems like a win-win solution, in which it is produced via the spinning of textile from melt cast-off plastic bottles, generating about 79% less carbon emissions than producing its virgin counterpart, reflecting that recycled polyester has a smaller or reduced carbon footprint. Much of these recycled polyester can be found in the manufacturing of shoes and clothes branded under Adidas and Nike with more organizations joining such a movement in recycling about 20% of global polyester by 2030.

However, one of the main limitations of using recycled polyester is the generation of fibrous microplastic upon washing, which can be still associated with plastic or microplastic pollution in this case. It is suggested that the extent of how much polyester shed is dependent upon the amount of recycled polyester contained as well as other features of yarn as reflected by its thickness, elongation, and twisting.

Use of future green fabrics

The innovation of future green fabrics revolves mainly around the field of bioengineering and is more likely to have a better success upon implementing its use in the fashion industry, somehow as both a new and cool way of reimagining the use of fabric or being a last resort for other alternatives. Examples of future green fabrics as of today include pineapple “leather” and synthetic spider silk fabric known as Piñatex and Qmonos, respectively. Generally, Piñatex is made up of pineapple leaves and completely animal-free, in which it does not require additional raw materials to produce given that pineapple leaves are non-consumable and usually thrown, whereby the production relies on the reusing of non-toxic chemicals through a closed-loop system. In contrast, Qmonos relies on the basis of biomimicry, whereby spider silk is one of the strongest fibers in nature and even five times stronger than that of steel, in which it can be produced in large scale in an ethical and sustainable manner through complex microbial fermentation which requires zero spider farming. Lastly, Qmonos has another additional benefit that it is completely biodegradable unlike most of the fabric types out there like that of recycled polyester.


When it comes to sourcing alternative materials to combat the negative environmental impact of the fashion industry, the story does not end there as the awareness of the issues of fast fashion has definitely gotten the attention of the general public as well as the retailers as reflected by the transition from repurposing traditionally used materials to one that serves a completely new purpose. Moreover, sustainability is viewed from multiple perspectives of different fields of study. It is unlikely a normal typical individual is able to contribute to the search for new alternative materials if one is not involved in the research and development sector, but however, one can always help combat fast fashion in more practical ways such as practicing thrifting per se.

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