HomeCorruptionFast Fashion's Grip on China: A Crisis of Overproduction and Waste

Fast Fashion’s Grip on China: A Crisis of Overproduction and Waste

Published on

spot_img

China, the world’s largest textile producer and consumer, faces an escalating waste crisis due to the overwhelming amounts of clothing produced by its fast fashion industry. Each year, more than 26 million tons of clothes end up in landfills, a stark consequence of the relentless push to gain market share through overproduction.

Mountains of Waste

At the Wenzhou Tiancheng Textile Company in Zhejiang province, mounds of discarded cotton clothing are fed into shredding machines. This factory represents a small effort in a country drowning in textile waste. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 12% of global textile waste is recycled, and even less—just 1%—is recycled into new garments. In China, this issue is particularly acute, with fast fashion dominating the market. Most of the clothing produced is made from unrecyclable synthetics derived from petrochemicals, contributing to climate change and pollution.

In a workroom filled with discarded textiles, jacket sleeves, collars, and brand labels poke out of the stacks of clothing. These garments are shredded and repurposed at one of China’s largest cotton recycling plants. “It’s the first stage of a new life for the textiles,” explained a worker at the Wenzhou Tiancheng Textile Company.

The Challenge of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion brands like Shein and Temu are major players in this crisis. They produce vast quantities of cheap clothing, largely made from synthetic materials, to meet the demands of consumers worldwide. These brands have minimal accountability for their environmental and human rights impacts. For instance, a report by the fashion watchdog Remake gave Shein just 6 out of 150 points for its sustainability practices, while Temu scored zero. Even U.S. labels like SKIMS and Fashion Nova scored poorly, emphasizing that the problem is widespread.

The dominance of synthetics means that recycling efforts, like those at Wenzhou Tiancheng, are barely making a dent. While cotton can be recycled, China’s policies prevent recycled cotton from being used in new garments domestically. This cotton must be exported, primarily to Europe, while the local market continues to be flooded with new synthetic clothing.

“To achieve a game-changing impact, what fashion expert Shaway Yeh calls ‘circular sustainability’ is needed among major Chinese clothing brands so waste is avoided entirely. ‘You need to start it from recyclable fibers and then all these waste textiles will be put into use again,’ she said.

Forced Labor and Cotton Production

China’s cotton production is also tainted by forced labor, particularly in Xinjiang province, where the Uyghur minority is subjected to exploitative practices. Claudia Bennett from the Human Rights Foundation highlights that one in five cotton garments globally is linked to Uyghur forced labor. In May, the U.S. blocked imports from several Chinese cotton traders to avoid goods made with Uyghur forced labor. However, the complexity of the supply chain allows Uyghur cotton to end up in garments produced in other countries, circumventing these restrictions.

“Many, many, many clothing brands are linked to Uyghur forced labor through the cotton,” Bennett said. They “hide behind the lack of transparency in the supply chain.”

Efforts Toward Sustainability

Despite these challenges, there are glimmers of hope. Younger Chinese designers are pioneering sustainable fashion practices. Da Bao, founder of Times Remake in Shanghai, transforms secondhand clothes into unique new garments. His brand, along with others like Zhang Na’s Reclothing Bank, which uses waste materials such as plastic bottles and fishing nets, is fostering a growing awareness of sustainability among consumers.

These innovative approaches show that sustainable fashion is possible. However, the high costs associated with recycled garments pose a significant barrier. Consumers often expect lower prices for clothes made from recycled materials, perceiving them as secondhand. This expectation makes it difficult for sustainable fashion to compete with the cheap, mass-produced items from fast fashion brands.

At the company’s workshop in Shanghai, tailors work with secondhand denims and sweatshirts, stitching them into funky new fashions. “The designs are a combination of the past style and current fashion aesthetic to create something unique,” Bao said.

Zhang Na, whose fashion label Reclothing Bank sells clothes made from materials such as plastic bottles and fishing nets, explained, “We can basically develop thousands of new fabrics and new materials.” Each item has a QR code that shows its composition, how it was made, and the provenance of the materials.

The Need for Government Intervention

For sustainable fashion to succeed on a larger scale, there needs to be clear support from the Chinese government. Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware, believes that government intervention could provide the necessary incentives for companies to invest in sustainable practices. This approach has worked in other sectors, such as the electric vehicle industry, where government targets have driven significant progress.

However, until such changes are implemented, the reality remains stark. The fast fashion industry continues to thrive in China, with its environmental and human rights impacts largely unchecked. The Wenzhou Tiancheng factory’s recycled cotton, destined for overseas markets, symbolizes the distance China still needs to travel to address its textile waste crisis effectively.

Plastic-wrapped cones of tightly-wound cotton are loaded onto trucks at the Wenzhou Tiancheng factory, headed to overseas markets, far from where their recycling journey began. “Fast fashion definitely is not out of fashion” in China, Lu said.

While efforts by innovative designers and recycling plants are commendable, the scale of China’s textile waste problem demands a concerted effort involving government policies, consumer behavior changes, and corporate accountability. The socialist way of producing has clearly gone haywire.

Latest articles

T-Shirts Depicting Triumphant Trump after Shooting Banned from Chinese E-commerce Platforms

In a swift move, Chinese e-commerce platforms have taken down T-shirts featuring an image...

China Halts Nuclear Talks with U.S. Over Taiwan Arms Sales

China announced on Wednesday that it has suspended arms control and nuclear nonproliferation talks...

Trump Says Taiwan Must Pay More for Defense (Like he did with NATO)

In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential...

Dominance Move: China-Russia Naval Exercise Moves into the South China Sea

In a significant and provocative move, China and Russia have moved a joint naval...

More like this

T-Shirts Depicting Triumphant Trump after Shooting Banned from Chinese E-commerce Platforms

In a swift move, Chinese e-commerce platforms have taken down T-shirts featuring an image...

China Halts Nuclear Talks with U.S. Over Taiwan Arms Sales

China announced on Wednesday that it has suspended arms control and nuclear nonproliferation talks...

Trump Says Taiwan Must Pay More for Defense (Like he did with NATO)

In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, former President Donald Trump, the Republican presidential...