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The word of fashion is ever evolving, designers have to create a new fun, fresh and
exciting collection every 6 months, and with the rise of fashion in social media, companies will
want to profit off this majorly successful industry while keeping profits as high as possible,
this creates fast fashion brands such as Shein, Zara and H&M that mass produce garments by
the millions of tons that show a remarkable resemblance to garments from high fashion
companies that not everybody can afford. These companies are run with a blind eye towards
not only the environment and sustainability but to human labor laws and regulations, with
cheap garments-scraps made from toxic textile dyes being thrown away by the millions of kilos
into water reservoirs and landfills.
Sustainable fashion does not only mean that garments should be produced with as little
carbon of environmental footprint as possible but also ther ability to be produced in safe
environments for the workers creating these garments, unsustainable fashion arises many
problems such as a lack of accountability, biodiversity loss, irresponsible water consumption
and an extreme generation of waste, but today i will be focusing on two main issues
surrounding my definition of of
‘sustainable fashion’ as listed above, and they are,
environmental degredation and the exploitation of workers,
Fast fashion is getting faster, The fashion sector is not an exception to the growing trend
of mass consumption. 80 billion articles of clothes are worn annually worldwide, a 400%
increase from just 20 years ago. Unfortunately, every year about 85% of these textiles end up
in a landfill (Maiti, 2023b). This is a sign of the widespread consumer demand and the quick
changes in trends that are taking place. The average consumer purchased 60% more clothes in
2014 than they did in the 2000’s, yet they only wore each piece of clothing for half as long
(Maiti, 2023b). This is mostly due to the emergence of microtrends, rapid fashion, and the lowcost, exploitative labor that makes it feasible. To avoid legal liability fast fashion companies
opt to produce their garments in third world countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh and India
due to their cheap labor costs and most importantly the amount, or lack thereof, of oversight
they have to do on textile production (McCosker, 2023b). Garment workers work up to sixteen
hours a day, seven days a week, with little to no breaks inbetween. The working environments
of these garment workers have a detrimental effect on their health as well, 8,000 synthetic
chemicals are used in the manufacturing of fast-fashion apparel. Workers in factories are
frequently exposed to and breathe in these chemicals, some of which have been found to cause
cancer. As factories try to keep production costs to an absolute low, they tend to ignore
structural issues surrounding their factories themselves, This was exemplified in 2013 when
the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed in Bangladesh, resulting in the biggest garment industry
tragedy in modern history, with 1,100 people killed and 2,500 injured. Safeguards expired on
the factory and engineers recommended workers to not conitnue working in such an unsafe
building, but workers came to work anyways out of fear of not getting paid (McCosker, 2023b)
(Maiti, 2023c). After this incident, inspections were done on 1,100 more factories where over
80,000 more structural issues were found. A common course of action some people might think
is for garment workers to simply…quit, but this is almost impossible as the low pay traps them
inside these unsafe working conditions, an Oxford study in 2019 found that 1% of Vietnamese
workers and a staggering 0% of Bangladeshi workers earned a living wage, because of this,
workers are unable to save money for a safety net while they hunt for other types of
employment. Because one wage is insufficient, mothers frequently send their daughters to work
in factories as early as age 10 in order to help support the family. With 1 in 4 Bangladeshi
garment workers reporting abuse, being caught in this loop makes women more vulnerable to
sexual harassment because they cannot risk losing their jobs by reporting wrongdoing to a
higher authority (Maiti, 2023c) (Ross, 2021b).
The exploitation of garment workers is a problem that needs both long and short term
solutions, some of which can be, To strengthen labor laws and regulations, governments that
want to safeguard the rights of garment workers should pass and put into effect strict labor
legislations. These regulations need to address issues including equitable pay, flexible
scheduling and occupational safety. In order for these new regulations to be enforced,
governments should also set aside funds for labor inspections to make sure these rules are
followed and conduct thorough investigations on fast fashion factories to further identify and
breakdown the issue (Ross, 2021b). But solutions arent only present in the major industries
leading fast fashion factories, Empowering and giving garment workers access to an education
and proper training will also move mountains in the fight against exploitation of garment
workers, giving these workers the access to the right education and training will greatly
increase their employability, making it easier for them to find jobs. It will also greatly increase
their bargaining power within these jobs and help them break out of the financial dependency
these jobs trap them in, with an access to education, garment workers can find the strength to
pursue other jobs and break out of generational poverty traps (Maiti, 2023c).
Fast fashion mainly plays a massive role in the degradation of the environment. When
producing or even formulating the idea for a garment, waste is produced at every step. With
around 700 gallons of water required to produce a cotton shirt and 2000 gallons needed to
produce a singular pair of jeans, the fashion industry is the second highest consumer of water.
Because the leftover dyeing water is frequently poured into ditches, streams, or rivers, this lead
to textile dyeing being the second-largest water polluter in the world (Ross, 2021d). Fashion
designers designing for luxury fashion houses such as Bottega Veneta or Balenciaga, two
fashion houses that strive off their innovative textile design, also create new textiles and fabrics
every season which are met with virality. Due to each garment costing up to the tens of
thousands of dollars, they can be created sustainably, the garment workers work in safe
conditions with an adequate pay, although these garments cost a fortune to purchase, people
still want to own something like them, and where do the people who want this look without
paying the price look? Fast fashion moguls like Shein or Zara, these companies in the process
of creating replicas use much cheaper synthetic fibers such as acrylic, polyester, and nylon,
which biodegrade over a period of hundreds of years (How SHEIN and Temu Conquered Fast
Fashion—and Forged a New Business Model, 2023). These synthetic fibers contain something
in common, microplastics (Faithfull, 2021). Based on a 2017 study conducted by the IUCN,
the laundering of synthetic textiles is responsible for around 35% of all microplastics in the
ocean. To combat the excessive waste created when producing new garments, donating,
recycling and altering old clothes would significantly help. People should also start shifting
from cheap low quality garments and invest in high quality closet staples that will last years,
switching from buying fast fashion clothes that will fall out of trend in a few months to
investing in pieces that will be in style for years to come (Ross, 2021c).
The fashion industry is ever-growing, what’s in now would’ve been considered tacky
and weird 5 years ago. However, As more and more companies, customers, governments, and
industry stakeholders realize that change is necessary, fashion is becoming more and more
sustainable. The fashion business is adopting more ethical procedures, sustainable materials,
and a more leisurely pace of fashion consumption. As a counter to fast fashion, the idea of
"slow fashion" has gained popularity. It contrasts with the fast fashion sector, which is known
for its low-quality clothing, mass production, and abusive labor practices. Slow fashion
advocates investing in classic pieces with extended lifespans and purchasing fewer, higherquality clothing items. This strategy lessens the demand for throwaway, fashion-driven apparel
by encouraging a more conscientious and responsible consuming pattern. Take the viral TikTok
trend of the “Old money” aesthetic for example, the trend encourages people to dress in the
vibes and aesthetic of old money families, think vacations in monaco or watching the grand
prix with your parents. This trend has roots deep in brands like The Row, Zegna and Loro Piana
that all focus on elevated basics, closet staples that are made of higher quality fabrics. The
fashion business has the potential to develop into a more socially and ecologically conscious
enterprise with the right efforts. So to answer the question of “will fashion ever become
sustainable” the answer is, yes it could, there is a rising commitment and push towards good
change. Fashion may become more sustainable with greater knowledge, creativity,
cooperation, and a change in customer and industry behavior, but how long would it take, if
ever, for fashion to become fully sustainable.
Maiti, R. (2023, May 22). Fast fashion and its environmental impact in 2023 | Earth.Org.
Earth.Org. https://earth.org/fast-fashions-detrimental-effect-on-the-environment/
McCosker, J. (2023, August 11). The Impact of Fast Fashion on Garment Workers Good On You. Good on You. https://goodonyou.eco/impact-fast-fashion-garmentworkers/
Ross, E. (2021, October 28). Fast Fashion Getting Faster: A look at the unethical
labor practices sustaining a growing industry. International Law and Policy Brief.
Faithfull, M. (2021, February 10). Shein: Is China’s Mysterious $15 Billion Fast
Fashion Retailer Ready For Stores? Forbes.