It’s that time of the year again - the Great Singapore Sale! Get ready to buy tons of clothes at discounted prices that you will never wear! See something you like? Get it! But wait, that sign right there says the you can get the second piece for 50% off. You know what that means -- why get one when you can get two! Don’t worry if the second piece isn’t something you love, you’ll find a reason to wear it...someday.
On a more serious note, we all love a good deal. If you’re able to obtain a piece of clothing that you really like without giving up an arm and leg, why not, right? But do you really need that piece of clothing on top of that bursting wardrobe you already have at home? That’s another question altogether.
These days, we cycle through the clothes we wear faster than we change our undergarments. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but really, just a bit. Back in 2016, Channel NewsAsia surveyed 1000 Singaporeans to determine the extent of this problem. The results were appalling. On average, Singaporeans buy about 34 pieces of brand new apparel, and discard 27 pieces of clothing per year.
Let us do the math for you -- that means that the average Singaporean switches out nearly 80% of their wardrobe every year. The main reason for this constant purchasing of new clothing was attributed to discounted prices (*ahem* GSS). Meanwhile, reasons for discarding clothing include the need to make space for new clothes, defective clothing, or that they no longer fit.
If you’re still not convinced that this is a problem, let us just throw a few more numbers out there. Research done in October 2017 by YouGov revealed that ⅓ of Singaporeans have thrown away an item of clothing after wearing it just once. You didn’t read that wrong -- the clothing items have been discarded and not donated, up-cycled, or anything of that sort!
All this is a result of the propagation of fast fashion in recent years. Investopedia defines fast fashion as the trend where production time is deliberately reduced so that producers can consistently and regularly introduce new trends to consumers in a rapid manner. All those blogshops and typical retail giants, with seasonal fashion like Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter, constantly introduce new clothings and are products of the fast fashion industry.
By now, you can probably catch a glimpse of just how much waste is being generated on the consumer’s side of the fashion industry alone. While there have been growing awareness of the impact of plastic waste, public awareness of textile waste remains low.
In 2016, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) estimates that textile waste output adds up to about 150,700 tonnes, more than a 60% increase since 2008. Recycling rates of textiles for the same year is only 7%. The other 93%? Incinerated and disposed of in our landfill, which is very quickly running out of space.
The Environmental Impact
The huge amount of waste from the fashion industry doesn’t just take up harmless space. In fact, the production of the massive amount of garments needed to keep up with growing demand is having more adverse effects on our environment than most people are aware of.
Source: Apparel Resources
Take for instance all the apparel we buy that are coloured, patterned, or just require any sort of dyeing. It’s fairly common knowledge that the dyeing of most apparel are done with toxic chemicals. What you might not know is that this process is the second largest polluter of clean water in the world, right after agriculture.
Plastic pollution has been the main topic of conversation this year, but did you know that the fashion industry also contributes to the problem? Polyester, one of the most commonly-used fabrics in fashion, actually sheds small particles of plastics when washed (microfibres). These microfibres are so minute that they pass through typical water treatment plants and ends up in our oceans.
That’s not all though, even the cotton industry isn’t excusable from this. Cotton apparel take up a copious amount of water to produce -- 20,000 litres for just one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Cotton crop growth also often involves huge amounts of chemicals. While organic and sustainably-produced cotton are available, they currently make up a dismal 1% of cotton apparel production.
Environment aside, let’s also note that the dark side of the fashion industry is not just limited to that. Child labour is still prevalent in the industry today, as is unsustainable production practices that are harmful to the workers. We’re only just scratching the surface.
Let’s Put A Pause to Fast Fashion
The impacts mentioned here are only a fraction of the effects that the fashion industry these days has on our environment. If you’ve been tempted by the newest release every week by your favourite blogshop, or if you’ve gotten an item of clothing simply because it was ‘in trend’ then well, you’ve likely been an unknowing victim of fast fashion.
The convenience and availability of newer and ‘trendier’ clothes these days also means that we are less inclined to mend our clothing we have should they be damaged in any way. These days, the prevailing mindset when we find a piece of our clothing damaged is simply, “That’s a great excuse for me to go shopping again!”
Regular sales also makes us more inclined to buy new pieces of clothing, even if we don’t really need them. Now, we’re not just raising up all these pitfalls and consequences not to make you feel bad. Our goal is to help raise awareness and hopefully enact change of the wastefulness of the consumerist lifestyle that the majority of us live by these days.
Now that you know the extent of the fast fashion problem, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your wardrobe and decide if you really need that shirt that you saw on sale the other day. Let us all learn to waste less, by consuming less. Small steps like that can make a world of difference, and a difference to the world!