Eco-colonialism in Fast Fashion (part 1): The current issue
The rise of cheap, mass-produced clothes in the last decades, known as Fast Fashion, has changed the place of Fashion and garments in our daily life. Through cheap materials, mostly synthetics, and the (ab)use of sweatshops, Fast fashion brands have been able to redefine the fashion landscape. While some of its aspects may have benefited the working classes of both the labor force and consumers, its concept is rooted in highly unethical issues often worsening their living and working conditions. One of the problems being eco-colonialism.
Eco-colonialism, also referred to as Environmental imperialism, can be defined as the different ways in which ecological colonial practices impact the lives and natural habitat of indigenous people. The current urgency of the climate crisis has led developed Western countries to embody environmental protection and impose it on the rest of the world. In the name of sustainability, civilization, and conservation, natives are being ousted and denied a voice for Westerners to save a few species.
In the last decades, most decisions regarding global Climate change policies have been made by the richest countries without consideration of the rest. A handful of leaders have therefore agreed on policies affecting every country, asking for the reduction of CO2 emissions. For example, politicians agreed on measures regarding the destruction of the Amazon forest without any leader from a South American country. While theoretically, those measures have been important and beneficial, they fail to acknowledge the reality of climate change.
Furthermore, our approach to fighting against climate change is often made through Western knowledge, ignoring one's from other cultures or populations like indigenous people. Ecological science is an academic discipline with heavy historical roots; European ecologists having used their colonial access to lands for their research. Organisms and ecosystems are often conceptualized without any consideration of their colonial past, even though those unequal histories have a major role in the way our planet is currently shaped. This has created a vision of the world that is euro-centered, and where this knowledge has authority over the knowledge of the owners of that land.
Wealthier countries that have made their wealth and therefore power through the exploitation of natural resources are now holding poorer countries accountable to the same standards. The most developed countries still depend on the exploitation of natural resources in other countries for their wealth. In the case of Fashion, it is through the use of labor and textiles made in places like China, Bangladesh... Therefore what is considered to be the emissions of those countries are partially the emissions of others, displacing their consumptions. Holding the same standards becomes unethical as it allows for this power system to stay in place.
As the demand for Fast Fashion increases, the amount of pressure put into these factories do too. Toxic chemical dyes and materials such as polyesters, derived from petroleum, are often used as an affordable option causing the pollution of the nearby rivers, and therefore impacting the health of that population. Textile production is now considered one of the largest polluters, causing 1.2 billion greenhouse emissions annually (UN Climate Change, 2018). This is often purposely hidden away through green-washing campaigns promoting a sustainable and more respectful image of the brand, disconnecting the consumer to reality. This worsening of climate change furthermore affects poorer countries more, as they do not have resources to reconstruct or instate appropriate measures. As a consequence not only Bangladesh is getting heavily polluted but is also facing growing risk with heavy flowing due to the rise of sea levels.
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