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Fast apparel and our collective apocalypse

China Daily Hong Kong Edition | Updated: 2019-11-14 14:35
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Unless the apparel industry changes its ways (and shoppers their habits), we're all going down the landfill – fast.

Stella McCartney's "regenerated cashmere" campaign for winter 2017. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Vain trifles as they seem, clothes… change our view of the world and the world's view of us," wrote Virginia Woolf in her 1928 book Orlando. Clothes remain our most basic visual communication tool, conveying our social and economic status, our ambition, our occupation and our self-worth.

If the 20th and 21st centuries feel increasingly like a Gatsbian journey into abundance and excess, nowhere is that humungous hubris more apparent than in the world's fashion industry. Shoppers buy five times more clothing now than they did in 1980. In 2018, that averaged 68 garments per year, just over one per week. As a whole, global citizens acquire 80 billion apparel items annually.

And if the global population swells to 8.5 billion by 2030, as is predicted, and if GDP per capita rises by 2% in developed nations and 4% in developing economies, economists estimate we will buy 63% more fashion – a rise from 62 million tons at present to 102 million tons. Boston Consulting Group claims that staggering amount is "equivalent to 500 billion T-shirts".

Of course, technology and its interaction with millennials and Generation Z was meant to represent the narrative to a more precise, less indulgent and wasteful world, but the "free return" policy of digitally purchased clothing that doesn't fit on Net-a-Anything-and-Everything platforms has only poured fuel on the already rampant flames.

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