Ethical Fashion: Animal Cruelty In Fast Fashion Industry

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Imagine a world where the beaches are lined up with dead fishes, where there will be no more clean drinking water, where trees will be felled to make room for more landfills to throw the t-shirts that we just wore for a month. This world will become a reality in about 20 years if we don’t do anything about the present, upsetting state of garment production, specifically by the fast-fashion producers. Ethical fashion, also known as slow fashion, focuses on three values: social good, planet-friendly, and animal-cruelty free. While ethical brands focus on sustainability, fast-fashion brands focus so much on mass production that they completely ignore the effects it has on our environment and ultimately ourselves.

The fast fashion industry heavily relies on cotton as their primary choice of material because it is a type of fabric that can absorb the most dye out of all materials. But cotton is a non-biodegradable fabric that cannot be recycled, and hence is very hard to dispose of completely. Cotton agriculture also causes soil exhaustion. Fast-fashion manufacturers use machines that require a lot of water and energy to operate and end up wasting a large amount of these resources. They also use cheap dyes and other toxic materials that, when not handled properly, end up polluting the rivers. On the other hand, ethical brands are aware of these environmental concerns and keep a close watch on the production of their garments. Ethical brands mostly use biodegradable and recyclable materials like linen to manufacture their clothes. They use materials like wool, linen, and 100% pure denim to replace cotton as much as possible. Making dark-coloured clothes would require manufacturers to use double the amount of tint used to dye with lighter colours. That is why the majority of clothes that ethical fashion production facilities manufacture are light-coloured. Ethical fashion producers use handwoven techniques instead of machines to save resources like water and energy. For example, ‘Khaadi’ is a Pakistani ethical fashion brand that makes hand-stitched clothes out of a blend of cotton and linen or pure linen.

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Until about a decade back, people used to use genuine leather obtained by slaughtering cows. But real leather is expensive, and only high fashion labels can afford to use this type of leather for their jackets, wallets, and shoes. Not too long ago did people create fake leather, also known as ‘vegan leather’ which is a cheap alternative used by fast-fashion retailers. Synthetic leather is made using a knitted-polyester base and a PVC coating, which causes a few environmental concerns. It causes respiratory problems and, when heated under high temperatures, it releases toxic chemicals that are harmful to developmental and reproductive health. The other alternative to PVC is PU leather, which is cheap and recyclable but still pose the same dangers to human health. But animal cruelty does not only happen in the manufacturing stage. It also happens after we have bought and washed clothes. Fast fashion produces clothing made of low quality, cheap synthetic microfibers. When we wash clothes, synthetic microfibers are released and end up in the sea. This directly affects marine life who swallow these microfibers, thereby disturbing their food chain. Ethical companies mostly use biodegradable materials and tend to avoid materials procured by harming animals. They do not use animal skin or fur in any of their clothes.

The third and perhaps the most significant point of why we should consider making the shift to ethical fashion is a violation of worker rights by fast-fashion companies. “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it,’ reads a label inside a Zara garment. It was written by Turkish workers who claim they didn’t receive up to three months of pay plus severance as the factory was closing down. This is just one out of a hundred other cases where factory workers are uncompensated, physically abused, and sexually harassed. Around 80% of the workforce in the garment production industry are young women between the ages of 18 and 24. Cheap clothes are made by underage workers who enter the industry as young as 14 to work long hours for low wages while dealing with sexual harassment.

Only we can bring about a change in the production habits of these fast-fashion companies. We, as consumers, have a role in deciding the market trends. Therefore, by supporting ethical fashion, also known as slow fashion, fast fashion companies will change for the better. For example, Levi’s used to be a fast-fashion brand. But in recent years, they have started adopting ethical practices. For instance, they would ask their customers to exchange their old pair of jeans for a new pair wherein they would recycle the old pair of jeans.  

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