Most university students who go to school every day do not wear the same clothes for a few days in a row. They buy several cheap clothes to wear to school every day, but they do not wear them after a season due to their low quality and the changing fashion trends. However, buying cheap clothes to wear different clothes every day has negative effects on the Earth. Recently, stemming this tide of fast fashion has become the goal of protecting the Earth.
Fast fashion is very harmful to the environment because many clothes are thrown away. According to TRAID, a clothes waste charity, clothing is discarded without even being worn ten times before it is discarded. Many of the discarded clothes harm the environment because they usually do not break down. In particular, clothes made of synthetic fiber such as nylon and acrylic fiber do not biodegrade, and they emit toxic gases, damaging the land and water. Also, when people produce clothing, it uses a lot of water and emits carbon. For example, the amount of water needed to make a pair of jeans is enough for one person to drink for more than 10 years. Also, The global clothing industry emits carbon dioxide annually, accounting for 10 percent of the world's total emissions. Of these problems, people around the world are trying to regulate fast fashion.
Especially, the EU is also planning to regulate fast fashion. The main purpose of new rules to tackle fast fashion is to stop making clothes with microplastics. In only one washing cycle, each synthetic article of clothing produces 700,000 microplastics smaller than 5mm. Then, microplastics left in the washed water are eaten by fish in the sea and eventually flow into the various seafood we eat. The EU estimated that 35% of microplastics come from polyester or acrylic clothing, which is often used in fast fashion clothes. Therefore, they aim to change consumption trends from “wearing shortly and discarding more” to “wearing longer and discarding less.” In addition, The EU Commission said, "In 2021, consumers saved 120 billion euros (162 trillion won) due to existing eco-design regulations, and the annual energy consumption by the products subject to application decreased by 10 percent."
“We want sustainable products to become the norm. The clothes we wear should last longer than three washes.”
- Frans Timmermans, a vice-chairman of the executive committee of the EU
According to data from the Ministry of Environment, fiber waste increased about four times from 1.12 million tons in 2010 to 4.51 million tons in 2018 in Korea, and the size of the domestic fast fashion market and discarded clothes also have nearly quadrupled. Currently, Korea's old clothing exports are the 5th largest in the world. Awareness of the environmental impacts is leading to a movement to avoid fast fashion culture in Korea.
Especially, large amounts of unsold clothes are thrown away because of producing a system of fast fashion that produces large amounts of clothes indiscriminately. For this reason, clothes that cannot biodegrade are causing environmental pollution. However, ways to reduce production to solve this problem cost fast fashion companies by increasing production costs. In other words, fast fashion brands could take a negative attitude toward giving up the “Economy of scale”, their production system and marketing method, to lower production costs by increasing production. By the way, it is necessary to modify their underlying production system to an eco-friendly system in line with the recent management trend of ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) management and the eco-friendly consumption trend of consumers.
As domestic and foreign consumers came to realize the problems of fast fashion and the trend of ESG through data from the Ministry of Environment, they tried to create a slow fashion trend in response to fast fashion. Slow fashion is intended to slow down the production and consumption of clothes and considers the environment in all processes. Eventually, more and more companies are even pursuing sustainable fashion, as the growth of Forever 21, H&M, and ZARA, which are considered leaders in the clothing industry, is being dampened. Especially, the sales of the global brand ZARA fell 26%, about 100 million won, compared to last year. To overcome these downward trends, H&M said it would convert clothing materials into recycled and sustainable materials by 2030. Domestic fashion companies are also joining the trend. In the case of Beanpole, it launched an eco-friendly fashion called the B-Cycle line. The fashion industry is working on an eco-friendly clothing production process.
Nonetheless, the most fundamental solution is the ability of consumers to consume clothing eco-friendly. “Buying less and discarding less” is the main point. For example, buying clothes that people could wear for a long time by mending or sharing their clothes with neighbors even if it is troublesome, and using vintage shops or flea markets would be a good way to save the Earth. There is also a way to make a capsule wardrobe consisting of clothing that can be mixed so that they can create as many wears as possible. It is characterized by a basic design that is not trendy to suit any situation. Also, slow fashion, a new habit of consuming clothes, would have greater positive impacts on the environment beyond simple regulation by finding their style rather than following trends.
It is hard to reduce the demand for new fashion trends, even if production is controlled. Therefore, people need to change their consumption habits from fast fashion to slow fashion. Then, the period between consuming clothes would increase if people could rent clothes depending on their needs or desires instead of buying new ones every time. For this kind of future, the global fashion industry and consumers also need to participate spontaneously in making a new age of fashion.