Behind The Veil: The Ugly Side Of Fashion

The past one decade has seen an exponential rise of the urban middle class in India which has made the country and its increasing purchasing power much more attractive to habits usually palatable only to western societies. Our country has welcomed sprawling supermarkets, fast food brands and premium technological brands with open arms. However, no phenomenon has established itself more quickly in India's cities and towns than fast fashion. New clothing lines which once appeared twice of thrice a year are now changing within days, and Indians today have access to much more clothing and fashion choices then they could ever envision just about a decade or two ago. While the emerging midde class of India and the world embrace fast fashion with open arms, the effects it has on our planet and millions around it are often devastating, and the fashion industry has been "all hat and no cattle" about their harmful impact on the world.

A simple cotton shirt one buys at a store might appear completely harmless, but it takes almost 3,000 litres of water to produce it, or about 22 days worth of water that an average Indian uses. The effects of reckless production of cotton for clothing are already evident in central Asia, where the Aral sea, once one of the world's greatest bodies of water, was reduced to a fraction of its size as its sources were cut off to supply water to the vast farms of cotton on the erstwhile Soviet Union. Thousands lost their livelihoods, and irreparable damaged has been inflicted upon the local ecosystem and communities. Microfibres and toxic materials used in the manufacture of the clothes we all love ends up in our lakes, rivers and oceans, polluting precious marine ecosystems and destroying sources of fresh water in areas already stressed by water shortages. As India's burgeoning middle class gets more involved in fast fashion the consequences are only going to worsen.

Then come those who actually make the clothes we wear. While we mostly ignore the "Made in Bangladesh" or "Made in Vietnam" tags that these clothes carry, these are representative of the hundreds of thousands across the developing world that work in substandard and often hazardous conditions with extremely low wages for creating these dresses. They are notorious for their gruelling hours and complete lack of any type of worker benefits or safeguards that many of us take for granted in our own lives. These people also often live in communities where their water, air and soil are all contaminated with pollutants from the very factories they work in. This is the dark side of the veil, the dark side of the fashion industry behind all the glamour and glitz of contemporary fashion.

The brands dealing in fast fashion, in their eternal quest for new designs, also end up mimicking designs of legacy brands, churning out thousands of new designs for a fraction of the cost of design and sheer human effort made by the creative minds of the fashion industry, simply taking advantage of the loopholes of copyright and piracy laws present in countries across the world. These brands continually promise to make their processes more sustainable and ethical, when in reality there is little to nothing done, or in some cases, where the dirty work is shifted away from urbanised countries in the West to emerging economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, creating a false impression of them becoming more environmentally friendly.

While it is absolutely perfect and natural for one to want to have the latest and best of fashion, we collectively should try to become more aware of our choices when it comes to fast fashion, and how our choices are affecting our own future on this planet some years down the line, and think about and set for ourselves the fine line between wanting something and needing something before buying it.