Fast fashion a growing threat?
Online shopping and social media are inspiring a whole new generation of trendy fashionistas, but there are growing concerns that the increasing appetite for what is in style is taking a toll on the environment.
While the impact of fast fashion is still being assessed locally, Lauren Creary, manager of ‘Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica’, agrees that it is an issue that cannot be ignored based on an analysis of the garbage collected from the Jamaica Environment Trust’s (JET) most recent International Coastal Clean-Up Day last September.
“Volunteers collected 5,700 articles of clothing, and that includes shoes and different types of clothing from Jamaica’s coastline,” Creary revealed.
“That was a significant increase from last year when we noted that 1,450 items were collected. What I think is interesting about that is that the data card itself does not have a slot or does not capture articles of clothing, so it was up to the volunteers to record the information because there is a section for items of concern and clothing often fell in that section,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
The group is accustomed to collecting plastic bottles and single-use plastics, such as forks, plastic bags and styrofoam containers from Jamaica’s water bodies, but the discovery of such large quantities of clothing being washed ashore has highlighted the increasing level of local textile waste, possibly a result of clothes flying off hangers and being dumped as soon as the next trend makes it to storefronts.
“What I think is that the type of clothing that people buy now, the fast fashion, the trendy pieces, that are cheap to produce (and) cheap to purchase, they also don’t last very long, so the idea of donating them or repurposing them is not very practical, because a lot of the times, the quality is not that great,” Creary surmised.
Social media hasn’t helped the cause towards preservation.
“You wear an outfit once, you take a picture, you cannot wear it again, that is the culture, you have to be hype, but it doesn’t really work well for the environment,” Creary said.
The recycling of clothes in families offered the environment some amount of reprieve, but as was noted by Laura Lee Jones, senior lecturer at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, wearing recycled clothes is frowned upon today.
“I am a child of the ’70s so the hand-me-downs, we didn’t skin up our nose at that, it was just a normal thing,” said Jones, who is also a design specialist.
It used to be customary for parents to recycle clothes among siblings or pack a barrel with “wear and left” to send to less fortunate relatives, but Jones noted that the quality of the materials being used to make today’s trendy outfits is not very durable. Essentially, you are lucky if you get 10 ‘wears’.
“With fast fashion, a lot of the things are, I call them disposable clothing, so you wear them once and they start falling apart or they are so trendy that you can’t wear them two seasons from now,” she said.
Some of her students have been trying in their own way to preserve the environment by recycling clothes that people are planning to throw out. The emergence of several thrift stores locally is also encouraging.
“There is a lot of online shopping that takes place, but then when the people actually get the items, it is not the size they want, they don’t like the colour, it doesn’t fit them, and so those things just remain in the closet and get tossed. So one year a student decided to look at collecting those kinds of items that are not worn and repurposed them,” she said.
Creary said JET has also been using creative measures to delay the rate at which clothes are being dumped.
“We normally work with children, and for some of the workshops that we do, we actually have them repurposing old clothes, so we have them make shopping bags out of t-shirts and we have done this multiple times and then use the bags,” she said.
“Maybe you can’t donate it, but you can do something else with it, so that it can be used more than once before it ends up in the garbage,” she admonished consumers.
Apart from creating carbon emissions, fashion production has been shown to contribute to water pollution. Synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon are particularly disastrous since garments made from polyester tend to shed microfibres when they are washed in domestic washing machine, adding to increasing levels of plastic in our oceans.
Given the impact, chief technical director at the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica, Allison Rangolan, would love Jamaicans to become more aware of how day-to-day decisions such as the purchase and subsequent disposal of their clothes affects their world.
“Really, for me, on a personal level, that is the way that I try to look at things. So, as more information has come to my attention, I try and factor that into my decision-making,” said Rangolan.
“It (clothes) is again one more item that is being added to our dump that, depending on what the additives are or what the material is that it is made out of, it is one more thing that is left to biodegrade or not biodegrade, and it is one more thing that you are adding to the waste train,” she lamented.
Jamaicans still, for the most part, continue to donate items of clothing and environmentalists are among those who would like to see more of this.Checks at the Salvation Army suggest that donations have been steady over the years.
“We have a couple stores in Kingston and we have a drop-off box at our site on Waterloo Road which is always full. It is like we empty it two, three times per day. We seem to get a lot of donations of clothing, without having to advertise as well, so we don’t seem to have a problem,” said head of the Salvation Army for Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, Colonel Paul Main.
The donations are sorted and given to those in need, or sold to raise funds to carry out the organisation’s outreach activities.
“There are seasonal moments when we all look through our wardrobes, particularly in the summer and holidays. I think having seen experiences around the world of how clothes are recycled to help those in need, if it is something that you are able to do then give some consideration to donating something that would help someone else,” Main appealed.