India ranked sixth in the global textile and garment exports in 2018, after ranking second between 2014 and 2017. Meanwhile, India’s textile and garment imports were on the rise. Indian imports increased by 22.8% between 2015 and 2019. The situation worsened exponentially since the spread of the Covid-19 virus from China, and the Indian textile industry saw a lot of people losing their jobs. Although these numbers tell us the severity of the threat the Indian textile industry faces, they cannot pinpoint the root cause of this slow death of the traditional textile industry, which is the accelerated popularity of fast fashion brands among Generation Z.
The Indian textile and clothing industry is one of the country’s oldest and largest industries, with a wide range of products ranging from hand-spun and hand-woven textiles to capital-intensive complex factory-made products. Every piece of traditional Indian textile has a history of its own and a story to tell; they are crafted, tailored and customised as per the demand of the customers, which is the definition of custom-made clothes. While the world is now talking about a reactionary slow fashion to take on the perils of fast fashion, the Indian traditional textile industry provides an already existing slow fashion.
However, people should understand that the traditional textile industry needs their support to withstand the onslaught of fast fashion companies, and in the process, help India’s Gen Z from needlessly spending on buying more clothes than they need.
Fast fashion and its perils:
Fast fashion is the mass production of low-cost, low-quality, disposable apparel in large quantities. To name a few, H&M, Forever 21, Gap, Zara as well as many new Chinese entrants like Boohoo, Shein and Club store, are the face of the fast fashion industry.
To give you a sense of the magnitude of the problem, the fashion industry produces 80 billion clothes per year. That’s more than ten for each and every individual on the planet. It also produces 400% more than it did 20 years ago. The typical garment is only worn 10 times before being discarded, according to TRAID, a clothing waste organisation.
This devilish throwaway cycle is fueled by the fact that clothing is getting more affordable; as prices fall, so does the quality, and as prices fall, so do fashion trends. This encourages consumers to buy more items in order to stay up with the latest fashion trends. While the Indian Gen Z has become highly invested in it, this has also sucked dry the demand for traditional Indian textile, literally killing the existent slow fashion industry in India.
There is a slew of other difficulties running through huge fast fashion firms’ intricate supply chains, yet the majority of them go unnoticed by the public. Fast fashion has a lot to answer for, from environmental damage to human rights violations. However, it does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.
The humanitarian cost of fast fashion:
In China, fast fashion is linked to forced labour trafficking. Furthermore, in order to sustain a high production rate, China’s fast fashion business employs unlawful child labour. The situation is so unethical that it breaks China’s own labour regulations. Workers in the fast fashion business do not have access to appropriate hygiene, and are subjected to unachievable quotas, putting their health in danger. According to allegations from US officials and human rights organisations, China employs forced labour in the Xinjiang region’s cotton fields and factories, primarily comprising Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs imprisoned in the region’s enormous detention camps established in recent years.
Fast fashion does not provide a stable income for its employees, in addition to risky working circumstances. As a result, quick fashion in China does not alleviate poverty, rather, it exacerbates it. The “race to the bottom” has been coined to describe this behaviour. Textile and apparel behemoths struggle to keep up with rapid fashion trends while keeping costs as low as feasible. As a result, workers must be paid less and less. There are many examples of how fast fashion in China protects and creates poverty.
Fast fashion is leading to the second de-industrialisation of the Indian textile industry:
Since ancient times, the Indian textile industry has been regarded as one of the best in the world. This textile sector is thought to have helped India become the “golden sparrow” in the past. The Romans traded with India and allegedly handed Indians an equal amount of gold coins in exchange for the weight of Indian textiles. Even in the times of Mughals and British, the textile industries of Dhaka, Malwa and Banaras were considered world-class and exported throughout the world. Silk and cotton textiles, as well as gold and silver lining, have been utilised in India in the past.
However, under the British administration, tariffs were imposed, Indian textiles were banned from foreign markets, and British weavers were physically abused, resulting in the death of India’s small-scale textile enterprises. As Indian industries declined, the British flooded the markets with the mass-produced clothes from the satanic cotton mills of Manchester.
Now, the satanic mills of Manchester have been replaced by the factories in Xinjiang and other parts of China, and the East India Company is replaced by numerous fast-fashion brands. These brands flood Indian markets with cheap and low-quality clothes from China. With the help of technology and understanding of trends, Chinese satanic factories are pumping enormous amounts of cheap clothes (both in quality and cost) to India. And by weaponising the addiction of Gen Z for fast fashion, it is bringing the Indian traditional textile industry to a halt.
Indian textile industry is a slow fashion solution to the madness that is fast fashion:
Sites like Shein and Clubfactory are some of the prime examples of fast fashion portals which provide cheap products around the world at the cost of exploited manpower. Unaware that their clothing comes from a factory that exploits human resources, many influencers around the world have begun to reject fast fashion, claiming that the production of such items is inhumane.
India could concentrate on locally created or ethical indigenous clothing labels such as the Urban Monkey, The Purple Sack, The Tassel Life, and Scorpion Scissors, which are a little pricey but ethical and indigenously produced. There are enough good reasons why fast fashion should be avoided at all costs, from low salaries and bad working conditions to the environmental and societal costs involved.
Before glorifying Chinese luxury yet “cheap” high fashion goods which are literally killing the mature Indian textile industry, Indian youth should be aware that they are simply fostering a worldwide humanitarian catastrophe that should be avoided. Instead, young people should support the plethora of small and medium scale brands that are coming up all over India, and stay away from the fast-fashion brands which are designed to degrade the societal economic health, as well as are in-effect leading to the death of the Indian textile industry, reminiscent of the de-industrialisation of India under the British but with a modern twist.