The year 2023 has played a huge role in hyperfast fashion, with its huge carbon footprint and terrible waste ramping up.
Beneath the glossy veneer of the fashion industry lies a growing monster – the “Textile Zombie” of unsustainable practices. Imagine mountains of unsold clothes piling up, releasing microplastics, and draining resources.
Also, dependence on fossil fuels for clothing production, from nylon to dyes, fuels climate change and depletes precious resources. With extreme price tags (both high and low) and the toxic spill of polyester clothing. (That was the year the zombies in the room—the amount of clothing they were making and buying—took on a life of their own.)
The connection between fossil fuels and the synthetics in clothing really hits home. Bringing together a coalition of organizations aiming to phase out fossil fuels from industry.
Fossil Fuel Fashion – a new organization that launched at New York Climate Week in September Fossil-fuel based polyester is cheap and the fiber of choice for hyper-fast fashion, which now dominates the market – says, “Fossil fashion is at the root of fast fashion’s worst problems: cheap materials, an overreliance on synthetics, a spiralling waste crisis and spiking emissions.”
But it wasn’t all bad news though. The link between agriculture and fashion was never discussed again; “Reproductive” is one of the biggest buzzwords of the year. Safia Mini, founder of Fashion Declare, explains it as she calls for radical change in the industry. Fashion is not just about ensuring farmers keep carbon in the soil, but the entire process – how cotton, linen, wool and leather are farmed to the end of the garment life.
Then a triumph for regenerative fashion came in October, when Justine Aldersey-Williams presented the UK’s first indigenous, home-spun jeans made from hemp and wood grown on the wasteland of Blackburn, Lancashire.
Louis Vuitton links to some confusion that, for million-dollar handbags, the price tag still isn’t enough to justify the Crayola-colored crocodile. It was the year that saw a new focus on the dire pollution of waste colonialism.
In February, The Orr Foundation, based in the Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, dedicated to tackling the injustice of fashion’s trash problem – released their Stop Waste Colonialism report. It explains how “the fashion industry uses the global secondhand clothing business as a real waste management strategy”. In May, a group of clothing traders traveled to Brussels to debate European legislation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) with policyholders – to ensure the Kantamante market is part of the conversation, as the world’s fashion trash ends up on their doorstep.
Artist Jeremy Hutchison thus took the idea of trash on the doorstep a step further when he became a “monster of post-consumer imperialism” in the form of a suffocating 8-foot textile zombie called the Dead White Man. It was a collaboration with The Orr Foundation. It was a reference to the Ghanaian phrase obroni wawu, meaning dead white man’s clothing, as traders in the Kantmanto market refer to their stock of cast-offs from the global north. Dead White Man performed at the British Textile Biennale in Blackburn in October and then made quick visits to his favorite clothing suppliers, including Marks & Spencer, where he was filmed by frustrated shoppers as he took the escalator to the underwear department. M&S is one of the brands whose labels frequently wash up on Accra beaches.
‘Terrible pollution of waste colonialism’ … Piles of textile and plastic waste have been spotted on the beach in Jamestown, Accra, Ghana.
In September, Claire Press, founder of the Sydney-based podcast Wardrobe Crisis, essential listening for anyone interested in sustainable fashion, released her latest book, War Next: Fashioning the Future. He explored some ways and terms to solve many such problems. “Overproduction and hyperspeed are two big issues facing the fashion industry,” he says. In its annual Fashion Transparency Index, Fashion Revolution reported that 88% of major fashion brands still do not disclose their annual production volume. According to the index, there is enough clothing globally and enough clothing for the next six generations.
But this year also saw European law dig back into regulating fast fashion. In December, the European Parliament agreed to ban the destruction of unsold clothing, accessories and footwear as part of its new “eco-design” framework, which is also expected to see clothing given a digital product passport. Expected to go into effect in 2026, a QR code will give shoppers greater transparency about materials, manufacturing and even how to repair their items. Without regulation, brands are still not taking proper responsibility for their products, the materials they use and their supply chains. Soon the law will begin to force them to take collective action.
But transparency remains lacking. In November, a Derbyshire woman found a Chinese prisoner’s ID card in the sleeve lining of her regatta coat, raising a warning about modern slavery lurking in the supply chain. And poverty wages are still the industry norm. According to a report by the Clean Clothes Campaign, Shahidul Islam, a union leader for the labor rights movement, was beaten to death in Tongi, Bangladesh on June 25 this year. Four workers died and at least 115 workers and trade unionists were jailed in November as a result of ongoing protests against the new minimum wage in Bangladesh. According to Maeve Galvin, Fashion Revolution’s global director of policy and campaigns, “We are so far from achieving social justice for workers that it is shameful.”
On a more hopeful note, young people are increasingly buying their clothes second-hand, online or at car boot sales. Fast fashion brands are finding that Depop, Vinted and eBay are their biggest competitors and are starting to turn valuable retail space into second-hand clothing. As the press at Wear Next observes, while the cost of fashion continues to rise, we’re also seeing the parallel rise of the slow fashion movement with the repair revolution (with repair and alteration apps like Sozo and The Sim) and DIY fashion continuing to thrive. Now embark on that path of progress.