The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry: Fast Fashion and Its Negative Impact on Environment and Society | Nikolay Anguelov

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The Dirty Side of the Garment Industry: Fast Fashion and Its Negative Impact on Environment and Society
By Nikolay Anguelov

Contents
Acknowledgments.................................................................................vii
Introduction............................................................................................ix
Author.................................................................................................. xiii
Chapter 1 From Fashion to Fast Fashion............................................ 1
A New Way to Create Trends.......................................................1
Teaching versus Listening to the Customer: Building the Foundations of Manipulation...............................................4
Global Brand Proliferation...........................................................9
Fast-Fashion Retail......................................................................13
Chapter 2 The Promotion of a Lifestyle............................................ 21
Advertising Behavior, Not Product...........................................21
Global Branding...........................................................................26
Global Taste and Preference Convergence...............................31
Chapter 3 The Production Platforms of Modern Garment Manufacturing.................................................................. 37
Industry Agglomeration.............................................................37
Changing Supply Chains........................................................... 46
Retailer-Driven Business Model................................................49
Chapter 4 Regulatory Environment.................................................. 57
Deregulating the International Trade in Clothes...................57
Policy Winners and Losers........................................................ 66
Recuperating Regulatory Losses through Environmental Sourcing............................................................73
Chapter 5 The Carbon Footprint of Textile Manufacturing for Fast Fashion....................................................................... 77
The Ecological Impact of Fiber Production and Supply........77
King Cotton: The Economic Power of Cotton Producers...............................................................................81
Exporting Cotton = Exporting Pollution................................88
Existing in Isolation in the Production Chain?.....................104
Chapter 6 The Direct and Social Costs of Low Prices...................109
The Social Cost of Firm Profitability......................................109
Understanding Customer Utility............................................117
Theoretical Implications for Economic Analysis: Elastic Choice but Inelastic Sales.........................................................121
Chapter 7 The Economics, Demographics, and Ethics of the Low Price Quest..............................................................133
The Industrial Psychology of Impulses..................................133
The Moral Universe of Nonwage Earners..............................138
The Elasticity of Dirty Consumption.....................................145
Utility, Ethics, and the Quest for Sustainability in Fashion Commerce: Not While Prices Are Falling..............156
Chapter 8 Implications and Conclusions........................................169
The Economic Reasons for Ignoring Social Costs................169
Social Costs and Perverse Incentives in Fashion Economics...................................................................................175
Telling the Hard Truth: Why Extant Solution Recommendations Are Ignored..............................................180
Epilogue................................................................................................187
References.............................................................................................189
 
Introduction
The garment industry is one of the largest, most globalized, and most essential industries in the modern world (Jansson and Power, 2010). It is among the most global industries, because most nations produce clothing components not only for domestic consumption but for the entire interna­tional textile and apparel market (Gereffi and Frederick, 2010). It is argu­ably one of the most essential industries because of its legacy in national industrial upgrading. The growth of clothing exports has been among the starter industrial policies for countries climbing the industrialization lad­der because of its low fixed costs and emphasis on labor-intensive man­ufacturing (Akamatsu, 1961, 1962; Gereffi, 1999; Gereffi and Drederick, 2010; Kumagai, 2008).

In recent years, technological advances in production, societal changes in wealth, growth due to globalization, and market changes at the retail level have increased its ecological impact (Birnbaum, 2005, 2008; Kunz and Garner, 2011). Technologically, fiber quality has been improved, bring­ing about an increasing variety of natural, synthetic, and blended fabrics. Often referred to as poly blends, these fabrics are ubiquitous because of their durability, quality, and versatility. Improvements in technological efficiency in manufacturing have changed the pricing of fabrics in a down­ward trend, whereby higher quality is available at ever-decreasing prices. This fact has spurred the advent and growth of “fast fashion.” Fast fash­ion erased the separation of garment strata. Historically, industry insid­ers referred to “fashion” and “garments” separately. Clothes described as “fashion” denoted higher price and target markets, while “garments” denoted lower price and mass markets. The price differential was tied to design creativity, but more importantly, to the garment quality. Higher quality was defined by fabric characteristics such as finery, color, pattern, and type. Expensive clothes were made from expensive fabrics.

Today, thanks to the abovementioned technological advances, with very few exceptions such as silks, wools, and furs, there is no such thing as an expensive fabric. This reality is best illustrated with an example from the popular American TV show Project Runway. In the show, competitors in the field of high fashion design create garments on a fabric budget of $150 (or less). The judges laud the contestants when their creations look expensive while staying on or, even better, under budget. In many cases, these creations, made from the same fabrics, are put directly into the retail stratosphere in an effort to promote new designers as well as make fash­ionable clothes affordable and accessible. Sounding noble and promis­ing, this idea of bringing the creative force of fashion into the forefront of social attention sends a message. The message is that in order to succeed, an industry entity—be it a designer, a retailer, a merchandizer, or, as is often the case, the combined force of all three—must compete on price. The ability to bring ever-increasing quality and ever-decreasing prices is the ticket to fashion success.

On the surface, this message is good. It offers consumers value. It prom­ises an easier way into the industry for budding designers who can make their creations on low budgets. It allows these creations to be noticed fast and get fast input, creating a better learning curve for designers who can keep on trying to make it, even after a badly received collection or two. It offers hope for future artists who want to explore careers in the sector by providing the ability to work with many entrepreneurial up-and-comers. It increases the incentives for entrepreneurial activity across sectors that can support not just clothes production, marketing, and distribution, but also the production of accessories, shoes, cosmetics, home products, and even pharmaceutical goods devoted to a fashionable lifestyle.

As a result of this proliferation, fashion is no longer a status universe reserved for the select few who can afford it. It is no longer created by a select few who have earned the right to dictate it. Fashion is now “fast fashion”—rapidly available to many, created by many, promoted by many, enjoyed by all. All this new fashion reality is based on affordability—an affordability built on cheap fabrics.

This affordability carries an uncomfortable secret. The production of those inexpensive but high-quality fabrics that enable the diffusion of fashion to the masses creates more toxic chemical pollution per item than any other industrial product. According to World Bank estimates, glob­ally 20% of all water pollution is created during the runoff processes of textile dyeing and rinsing of natural (mostly cotton) fabrics. This estimate does not include the other two main processes in natural fiber treatment: mercerizing (dipping the fibers in a hydrogen peroxide bath to make them more pliable) and bleaching, which needs no explanation. Cotton, and other natural fiber yarns such as linen, are bleached to diminish their naturally yellowish tint to neutral in the preparation for the multiple dye­ing and fiber-blending processes. This fact means that on top of the dyes that run off into open-water basins during dyeing and rinsing (which, in modern textile treatment methods, occurs several times per batch of textile), tons of industrial-grade peroxide and bleach are also expelled as effluents into open-water basins. Industrial-grade chemicals have higher concentrations than their commercially sold counterparts.

The combined ecological impact of the above-noted processes makes textile production, arguably, the most polluting industrial sector that pro­duces goods for mass consumption. In support of that claim, there is little empirical evidence allowing comparative analysis with other industries. As is, current estimates indicate that textile production is second only to agricultural production in total freshwater pollution. And yet, unlike in agriculture, little is done to change this alarming reality. In agricultural production, examples of methods for environmental stewardship abound in watershed management and in the disciplines that focus on water purification for agrarian use. In textile production, however, pollution is simply noted as a problem, and that is where the discussion ends. In the context of the entire industry, this fact is worrisome, because garment industry analysis seldom includes ecological components. The analysis is focused on the increase of productivity associated with the progress in developing reactive and responsive business models in fashion economics as a result of the proliferation of fast fashion. Supply chain and produc­tion management extol fast fashion’s merits, from responsiveness, to agil­ity, to profitability. Agroeconomists commend the productivity associated with cotton exports. Trade professionals praise the increasing volumes of international trade in fashion and related industries and the wealth this trade is creating. Consequently, garment production and sales are at all-time highs, spurred by growing demand and consumption. This book questions the ethics of the promotion of this ever-increasing magnitude of consumption.


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