Unraveling the Threads: Navigating Ethical, Environmental, and Societal Dynamics in the Fast Fashion Era

by | Sep 1, 2023 | Environment

Fast fashion has a significant role in environmental degradation. As of 2020, it was reported that the global fashion industry was responsible for 3% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions[1]. It also reportedly uses one-tenth of the water used for industrial purposes, with a single cotton shirt requiring 3000 liters of water to produce[2]. Moreover, brands, high-street or luxury, continue to destroy billions of dollars’ worth of their own inventory in a bid to maintain the exclusivity attached to their names[3].

Albeit Pakistan’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is negligible, the local industry exacts a heavy toll on the country. According to the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, the textile industry contributes 9.5% to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions[4]. Simultaneously, despite Pakistan facing a water scarcity crisis, 49% of the water used by the industrial sector is used by the textile industry and most of this is not treated before it is discharged into water bodies which leads to severe water pollution[5]. Finally, as was noted by United International Group Chairman Mian Shahid, of the 100 billion garments produced in the world annually, 75% are marketed in developed countries[6].

Yet despite all of this, the fashion industry continues to thrive. Consumers continue to demand the newest styles. Fast-fashion brands, carrying inexpensive and often poorly made garments and producing them in record time to keep up with changing trends[7], continue to grow.

Why is this?

The Immediate Gratification of Fast Fashion

According to Dr. Dion Terrelonge, Fashion Psychologist and Chartered Educational Psychologist, the insidious thing about fast fashion is that it makes it easy to act on socially shaped impulses. As she explained it, “shopping is fun and people like to feel good. Fast fashion allows people to do this with alarming ease and speed”.

Writer Aja Barber echoed similar sentiments, and also pointed to how our unwillingness to accept higher price points exacerbates the problem. “We are just too comfortable,” she said, “not having to open our wallets, to save up for the things we want to wear, because fast fashion, influencer brands, and known retailers (even luxury brands) have made it oh-so-easy to access “variety” and newness”[8].

Coined in 1989 by the New York Times to describe the fast turnover of Zara’s retail collections, the practice of fast fashion can actually be traced back to the 1960s[9]. Textile mills in developing countries allowed designers in markets like Europe and the USA to offer new stock much faster than before and for much lower prices. Of course, nothing is for free, and the cost of these garments was ultimately paid by the workers, and ultimately the natural resources that were exploited. 

In Pakistan, the fashion industry has warped to accommodate its own version of fast fashion, where now designers are launching new collections every couple of weeks[10]. Simultaneously, as noted by writer Arsalan Athar, local brands may claim to be “100% sustainable” when it really isn’t[11]. And yet again, consumer behavior is exacerbating the situation. Writer Syed Aamir Ali noted addressing the situation that, “the masses just don’t care”[12]

Shifting the Tide

So, with the situation being as grim as it is, where do we go from here? For Pakistan, the solution seems to be an amalgamation of environmental conservation, and community focus. Pakistan has inherited a legacy of textiles and crafts that make up a significant part of how we dress. As we try to embrace a more ethical and sustainable lifestyle, these cannot be ignored. Here are some ways you can adopt a more mindful approach to fashion.

  • Support brands that support artisan communities. Whether you support heritage brands like Behbud[13], which have been working with and training artisans and home-based workers for decades, or you opt for young entrepreneurs like the team behind Shahkaar[14] that support local workers and slow fashion. Pakistan has seen a boom in businesses of all sizes that are trying to make positive changes for the environment, and communities. It’s time to support them.
  • Support upcycling. Innovative techniques like upcycling increase the life cycle of garments by repurposing existing garments and using them to create new pieces. This means that garments do not end up in landfill sights. Parishae Adnan’s eclectic namesake brand Parishae[15] incorporates upcycling into its production process.
  • Shop secondhand. Another way to ensure that garments are not discarded, and resources are not engaged to produce from scratch, is by shopping second-hand. This practice is still frowned upon by some, but if you find the right vendor, the quality of the piece is as good as new. Secret Stash[16] is a Pakistani marketplace that offers a range of designer pieces.
  • Reducing consumption. Ultimately, nothing replaces a shift in consumption practices. Even buying bucketloads of garments from sustainable brands is not sustainable in the long run. Instead, only buy what you need, when you need it. And invest in pieces that you can wear over and over again.


[1] https://climatefeedback.org/claimreview/the-clothing-industry-produces-3-to-10-of-global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-as-accurately-claimed-in-patagonia-post/

[2] https://psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/7/20/the-impact-of-fast-fashion-on-the-environment

[3] https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/17/17852294/fashion-brands-burning-merchandise-burberry-nike-h-and-m

[4] https://aptma.org.pk/pakistans-textile-industrys-battle-with-global-environmental-challenges/#:~:text=The%20industry%20sector%20contributes%205,to%20the%20global%20GHG%20emissions.

[5] https://aptma.org.pk/pakistans-textile-industrys-battle-with-global-environmental-challenges/#:~:text=The%20industry%20sector%20contributes%205,to%20the%20global%20GHG%20emissions.

[6] https://profit.pakistantoday.com.pk/2019/04/14/fashion-industry-leading-to-environmental-pollution-says-business-leader/

[7] https://www.thesustainablefashionforum.com/pages/the-psychology-of-fast-fashion-exploring-the-complex-emotions-fast-fashion-evokes-in-consumers#:~:text=Social%20and%20cultural%20pressures%20play,the%20temptation%20of%20fast%20fashion.

[8] https://www.eco-stylist.com/the-human-cost-of-fast-fashion-with-aja-barber/

[9] https://www.thesustainablefashionforum.com/pages/the-psychology-of-fast-fashion-exploring-the-complex-emotions-fast-fashion-evokes-in-consumers#:~:text=Social%20and%20cultural%20pressures%20play,the%20temptation%20of%20fast%20fashion.

[10] https://images.dawn.com/news/1188194

[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/sonyarehman/2022/01/28/does-sustainable-fashion-have-a-future-in-pakistan/?sh=73f387ac4bca

[12] https://images.dawn.com/news/1188194

[13] https://www.behbudcrafts.com/

[14] https://www.instagram.com/shahkaarbyadila/

[15] https://parishae.com/pages/sustainability

[16] https://www.secretstash.pk/blogs/news/top-5-reasons-to-shop-with-secret-stash

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