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This essay will explain the concept of fast fashion and its detrimental impact on economic and social wellbeing; focusing on its role in clean water and sanitation, as outlined under SDG 6 of the UN international conference of 2008. The term fast fashion is one that has, “an approach to design, creation and marketing of clothing that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply…” [1] In relation to the topic of responsible consumption and production, it is the impact of two key factors that determine sustainable longevity for the planet and for future generations.

The idea of fast fashion stems from living in a society which aims to optimise low cost levels but in doing so, leads to a deterioration in quality of all aspects and a poor capacity to uphold social and environmental factors. Over 60% of fabric fibres are now produced synthetically, sourced from fossils fuels. [2] This is concerning with estimations of 500 billion extra t-shirts being produced in relation to consumption of global apparel; peaking at 102 million tonnes by the end of the decade, showing an upward trend in consumption rather than finding better alternatives.[2] The continued reliance on a resource that is in no means infinite, leads to a larger and larger strain on the resource – affecting us all. The business model itself is therefore not long lasting; leading to eventual price rises for the consumer or worsening labour conditions for the workers involved. This can be seen in 2013, where the exploitation of workers led to 1,138 deaths as a Bangladesh garment factory collapsed, [3] from poor construction and maintenance, presumably to cut costs even at the foundations of the business. The fast fashion industry therefore shows a lack of upholding basic social standards, even allowing potential loss of life to make a profit.

One of the largest issues with fast fashion relates to SDG6; clean water and sanitation. Most notably the production of cotton. Water usage of one cotton shirt production is 2700 litres (as illustrated right). By 2050, WaterAid states there will be a potential 5 billion facing a water shortage. [4] More and more of the worlds natural resource of water, is being wasted and polluted to make one shirt which statistically, is part of the 40% of clothes which are never worn. Combined with previously stated increases in t-shirt production, shows the economic impact this will have on the world as a whole. A basic economic need cannot be met for a vast percentage of the population, hurting their own development and progression – only causing a further downward spiral with poverty. A second key point with SDG6, comes from the polluting factors involved in production. Uzbekistan is 2nd globally in cotton exports, and its progression in producing more and more is clearly shown in the state of the environment. Toxic chemicals used in cotton production from half a century ago, are still very much present in the water and land. These chemicals cause significant issues with a human’s health, meaning their own health care system is strained further at the cost of pollution and human wellbeing. Combined, these show a key economic concept of an unnecessary opportunity cost; loss of alternatives when one choice is chosen over others. [6] Instead of investing and becoming more environmentally friendly and by extension, more efficient long term, these negative externalities will continue to build up, causing irreversible damage. The negative externality creates market failure; where a good’s “price equilibrium doesn’t match its real costs.”

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This diagram shows a deadweight welfare loss from ABC Triangle as a result of over production leading to higher social cost than necessary. This may be due to misinformation of the production process showing Marginal social cost (MSC) being higher than marginal private cost (MPC). This low price of P1 is at the expense of locals to the region whether it is from low wages or poor health maintenance from using toxic chemicals, which supports a floored business model. Increasing prices to P2, from giving correct information for instance, through government intervention like advertisement, would also help reduce quantity demanded and efficiently allocate resources to Q2 from Q1 to the socially optimum level.

Many firms in the fast fashion industry exploit the rocky political and economic landscape of nations, not allowing them to develop further as a whole. The countries at the for front of the fast fashion industry, including Cambodia, The Philippines and Turkey were highlighted as those amongst the worst countries for the working class. [5] This does not allow for responsible production as the exploitation keeps these nations firmly rooted in basic industrial practices, meaning they cannot progress and become more self-sufficient as they heavily rely on their primary sector. The primary sector refers to work evolving the exploitation of natural resources which is necessary in the garment industry. As the Philippines attempt to stay competitive, their costs are cut at each section, including wages as shown below.

Comparing these 2 countries from above, the minimum wage can be a big factor in the development of a nation. As workers part of the fast fashion industry, they receive the lessened wage of 2000 USD per annum, which puts a vast majority of the population on the poverty line. Increasing this wage would have 2 major benefits; growth and higher tax revenue. Growth would occur from the multiplier effect. This is where changes in income in relation to the spending to saving ratio, leads to secondary, tertiary and so on, spending changes as each recipient receives more in spending power. As they are poorer, their marginal propensity to consumer, MPC, is high, leading to a larger multiplier effect as their MP to withdraw, MPW, is low as most of their income is spent to survive and therefore cannot be saved. The secondary effect of the wage increase would be that of higher tax revenues. This comes from higher earnings having a marginal increase in their MPW from tax, allowing the state to have more to spend on water infrastructure such as sanitation plants, or water purifying systems, helping to combat the issues brought up by SDG6 not being for filled. This could help to reduce to the projected water crisis of WaterAid, allowing for a sustainable future. However, education is also key here. Being able to educate generations on sustainability but also on how to be a highly skilled worker, means that countries like Turkey and The Philippines, can move away from these industries and on to more sustainable, better paying jobs. These shifts would help lead to the decline in the fast fashion industry as it will become increasingly expensive to maintain cheap prices and using poor production methods therefore forcing new industries to emerge from the collapse of another.

Using developed nations is important to understanding how to deal with SDG6 and making the fast fashion industry by the very least, ecological and socially viable. The Australian textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) industry has set two important targets to curb the fashion industry into sustainable practices to push for SDG6s completion.

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