Fashion today is an amalgamation of versatile trends that have time and again surfaced in various phases with a major influence from the global fashion scene. From ethnic to high-street fashion, the fashion industry in India has definitely gone through a dynamic transformation…

The fashion scenario in India has always been influenced by its rich cultural heritage, elegant textile and beautiful colours which have evolved over time. Fashion today is an amalgamation of versatile trends that have time and again surfaced in various phases with a major influence from the global fashion scene.
From ethnic to high-street fashion, the fashion industry in India has definitely gone through a dynamic transformation.

The Indian fashion market today stands at $70 billion out of which $7 to 9 billion is attributed to the online space.
The traditional brick-and-mortar brands are also adopting digital channels for engaging with Indian consumers while defending their competitive positioning. Building a brand presence online not only ensures a wider audience reach but also helps in testing the market before committing to a large-scale investment.

According to a recent report by BCG, India is also on its way to becoming a favorable market for fashion retailers owing to a large young adult consumer base, increasing disposable incomes, and relaxed FDI norms. As a mobile-first nation, the use of a smartphone is the primary device for Internet access for 73 percent of urban users and 87 percent of rural users. It is also a device for fashion e-commerce where 85 percent of online shoppers prefer to shop on their smartphone.
This influence is expected to multiply nearly 4 times to reach $30 billion by 2020 which will constitute 60 to 70 percent of the total branded apparel market, according to the same report titled ‘Fashion Forward 2020’. The digital footprint of fashion buyers has more than doubled in the last three years. It will continue to grow rapidly as Internet penetration is expected to grow 2.5 times by 2020.

While the industry is increasing in multitudes by the day to cater to the demands of the consumers by aligning to the latest trends, all the focus is now placed on speed and low cost in order to deliver frequent new collections inspired by runway looks or celebrity styles. The number of fashion seasons have increased from two a year – spring/summer and fall/winter – to as many as 50 to 100 micro-seasons.

This has led to a trend of shop, wear, discard and repeat. A society that values novelty, consumption and getting more of everything has contributed to the transformation of the fashion industry into a massive US$70 billion in India. The trend of having everything in an instant through shopping online and the fact that brands have realised that there is a correlation between increased production leading to increased consumption has created an always-on culture that has catalyzed fast fashion has changed our expectations from clothing.

A society that values novelty, consumption and getting more of everything has contributed to the transformation of the fashion industry into a massive US$70 billion in India.

According to a report by McKinsey, India is projected to be the third-largest apparel market in the world by 2030. At present, it is already among the world’s largest fashion producers, along with nearby Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
With Indian consumers drastically increasing their spending on clothes within the next decade, it’s worth checking in on the environmental impact of fast fashion. The criticisms of fast fashion include its negative environmental impact, water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste.

In order to sell more products, retailers have to continuously grab the shoppers attention with constant newness as well as convince them the items they already have are no longer fashionable. Increasing disposable income levels means there is less needed to manage or repair as it is more convenient and cheaper to buy a new item. While people are increasing their standard of living they are getting more time- poor with their busy lifestyles. The rise of supermarket fashion that can be purchased on the go and the regular occurrence of sales and ‘special’ offers make clothing seem ‘disposable’ in a way that was not there earlier.

Consumers Want Sustainable Fashion
By 2030, there will be 5.4 billion people globally who will constitute the ‘middle class’, up from 3 billion in 2015. This trend will continue, and we can expect an increased demand for clothes and other goods that define middle-income lifestyles. If consumption continues at its current rate, we’ll need three times as many natural resources by 2050 compared to what we used in 2000. Textile waste is an unintended consequence of fast fashion on a global scale. The textile industry is divided between a few brands which work with natural fibers such as wool, silk, linen, cotton and hemp, and most brands which use man-made fibres, such as nylon, polyester, spandex, elastane, viscose and acrylic, made from petrochemicals.

Qualities desired by fast fashion brands such as thermo resilience, elasticity, strength, fit, shine, fall, etc., are made by synthesizing various chemicals with each other to make synthetic fibers which ultimately have disastrous implications:

  • Polyester is one of the most popular synthetic fiber created by using dicarboxylic acid and ethylene glycol. Xylene, one of the components that goes into creating dicarboxylic acid, has been shown to have toxic effects upon entering the human body causing endocrine disruption, respiratory infections, irritation of skin and can even lead to cancer.
  • Nylon is another commonly used synthetic fiber created by converting tar and coal products and is extremely harmful as the fibres retain chemicals in the form of residue even after the manufacturing phase. This chemical residue is known to cause skin pigmentation, dermatitis and affects the functioning of the central nervous system causing dizziness, headaches and spine pain.
  • Spandex (Lycra) and acrylic are synthetic fibers that are treated through long chemical processes to make them durable, elastic and have a smooth finish. These two fibers, particularly, do not have the ability to absorb sweat. When we sweat, chemicals from the dyes used could be released into the skin causing dermatitis and blood toxicity.

Along with personal health hazards, these synthetic fibers have serious implications on the environment. By purchasing the products defined by the ethos of fast fashion, just because they are in vogue, we are adding to the plastic burden on the planet. Furthermore, the extensive chemical manufacturing processes, including dyeing and printing, lets microplastics and harmful chemicals seep into the ecosystem through our water resources.

Shift to Natural Fibres
It was in the year 2009, almost a decade ago, when the United Nations termed it the international year of natural fibres. While policymakers and industry value chains are promoting the usage of natural fibres, the ways of transitioning towards environment friendly, sustainable resources is yet to be figured. A rough estimate as per recent reports say that globally almost 70 million barrels of oil are used annually to produce synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics like polyester, the fabric of choice for most brands and fast fashion producers across the world, Nylon, Spandex and Acrylic. The production process involves working with fossil fuels and the production itself releases a multitude of toxins in the air. To make matters worse, each polyester garment can take more than 200 years to decompose, outliving us and our children! Washing these fabrics poses a serious risk to ecology as they release microplastics that enter the water and eventually our food chain.

Earlier, most of the fabrics for garments were derived from natural sources like cotton, wool, silk and jute. These fibers used in their natural and pure form are eco-friendly and non-toxic. Garments that are created with natural fibers, are recyclable and biodegradable ensuring that they are durable and have a minimal environmental footprint.
However, with changing times and changing trends, these natural fibers are blended with other synthetic materials for mass production and cost-effectiveness. There are few brands moving towards a more circular model of textile production which reuses materials wherever possible, yet current recycling rates for textiles are very low.

While there is a need for the fashion industry to educate the consumers, the consumers also have to be aware of the impact their shopping habits will have on their own health and that of the environment.

Rather than dissuading fashion lovers from indulging, it is a duty of brands to educate people about responsible shopping. Natural, breathable fibers, light and airy fabrics that use minimal chemical treatment is the need of the hour. It is important to know the technique used to weave a piece of fabric, the process used to make apparel, the dyeing technique used and the commitment of the brand towards ecology, before falling prey to options which are made up of artificial fabrics. Consumers are unaware of the benefits of sustainable resources. These resources can be extracted back from nature after they wear away within the foreseeable future without affecting global biodiversity. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to develop competitive products based on renewable resources that have high quality, show excellent technical performance and harm the environment less than current products based on petrochemical materials.

Just wearing cotton is not enough to express your love for nature. Responsible shopping includes being aware if the crop was initially grown with the use of excessive pesticides or was the fiber put through toxic chemicals and hazardous substances to make it market ready.
For instance, garment tags are required to disclose materials that are used to create apparel. Try to be conscious while choosing your garments which is made up of natural fabric like cotton, wool or silk. Most garments made using these natural fibers are also self-cleaning. Clothes made of natural fabrics can be hung outside overnight to be refreshed which means reduced garment care as compared to garments made up of synthetic fibers which require constant cleaning after each use.

Green Future of Fashion
An aware and educated consumer can ensure a greener future of the fashion industry and the world, in general. For consumers looking to constantly revamp their wardrobe, they must carefully read about the brand, its commitment and if they are actually buying natural apparel or stocking their wardrobe with carcinogens and harmful substances in the name of latest trends.

On the positive side, it is good news to know that the same consumers who paved way for fast fashion also have to power to address this problem monetarily and demand sustainable expectations of the brands that serve them. They must ask brands about the techniques that go into making garments, for instance, the so-called ‘eco-friendly’ garments, although made with natural materials such as wood are doused in chemicals during the pulping process that turns them into fibers, defeating the original purpose and in direct contradiction to marketing claims.

A real fashionista should be interested and would be impressed to know the advances that have been made in incorporating sustainable production processes without compromising on the style and design of synthetics. Both long term-term environmental impact, as well as the sheer comfort of wearing a light, breathable garment in tropical weather, will be worth the while. As a bonus, consumers can rest assured that their clothes are not leaking toxins into their bodies for eight or more hours every day.

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