The True Cost of Our Cheap Clothing: Rise in Waste

This article is the first of many within the series “The True Cost of Our Cheap Clothing”, which explores the exploitative world of the fast fashion industry within our very home: Thailand. This article will discuss the close relationship between the Thai population and fast fashion, as well as explore the connection between the Thai economy and the fashion industry, in order to provide a foundation for future articles within this series.

To put it succinctly, fast fashion is a term used to describe the process in which large fashion companies replicate runway designs or trending high-end pieces, and quickly produce them, often in less than a week, in large quantities at an extremely low cost (Rauturier). To better understand the extent at which the fashion industry, as a whole, contributes to the Thai economy: the fashion industry accounts for over 17 percent of Thailand’s GDP (Royal Danish Embassy). More specific to the fast fashion industry, 90 percent of all Thai garment exports are apparels, the majority of which are exported to the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom, likely to well-known fast fashion companies (Department of International Trade Promotion).

Modern society places pressure upon impressionable teenagers to keep up with trends, directing teens towards cheap, low-quality clothing which can be easily bought and discarded following each trend cycle. However, they fail to see the consequences of such actions; the true cost of our cheap clothing. What makes fast fashion unsustainable in the long-term is the “buy-it, bin-it” mindset that brings upon a catastrophic impact on the environment from the waste that is produced (Allwood).

The fashion industry’s waste issue is perpetuated by the shortening of trend cycles, micro-trends, which is likely attributed to the rise of the influencer culture. Micro-trend is used to describe a trend which rapidly increases in popularity but inevitably falls even faster, for example the past trends of: fluorescent clothing, bucket hats and leopard prints (Nelson). Micro-trends result in a significant amount of waste. Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s research and survey reveals that Thai fashion influencers have complete control over most fashion trends in Thailand. This is due to their large following on social media platforms, especially Instagram, where clothing brands of all types and sizes thrive. Respondents elaborated that their fashion purchases, as consumers, are highly dependent on prevailing trends; what influencers were most recently found wearing on Instagram which changes consistently (Ma). This is primarily due to the consumers’ mindset of needing to purchase all the fashion pieces in order to keep up with the current, short-lived trends then quickly discarding them as they go out of style (Nelson).

A 2017 report by YouGov confirmed that such accelerated trend cycles promote the rapid disposing of fast fashion items: 40 percent of Thai fashion consumers throw out clothing after having worn it only once. Further statistics display how fast fashion accumulates and contributes to waste issues; nearly 20 percent of respondents disposed of old clothes by throwing it into the bin (Anansuviroj).

To explain why Thais do not choose to consume fashion from more sustainable brands, two major ideas need to be taken into consideration. First, sustainable fashion brands do not follow trends, which is what the majority of consumers seek. Instead, they prioritize designing timeless pieces (clothing items that will never go out of style), such as ‘asymmetrical wavy skirt’ and ‘vintage buttoned blouse’ by Taktai, and thus help clothing achieve its fundamental purpose, while integrating stunning designs personal to their own brands. Second, the majority of the Thai population is unable to afford sustainable clothing. The average daily income of a Thai citizen is less than 480 Baht a day (Trading Economics). Meanwhile, just a regular t-shirt by a sustainable Thai fashion brand named Taktai costs 990 Baht, meaning an average working class individual needs to work for two full days to afford a single t-shirt. On the contrary, a standard t-shirt made by H&M costs 149 Baht, equating to only 15 percent the price of a sustainably made t-shirt. Therefore, while working for two days will grant citizens enough money for only one t-shirt from the brand Taktai, they are able to afford almost seven t-shirts from H&M. Nevertheless, the low price tag comes with a high cost – one which is paid by garment workers and the environment (this issue will be thoroughly discussed in future articles).

Despite this harrowing reality, however, it becomes increasingly apparent that clothing from fast fashion brands are the only appropriate solution in the eyes of teenagers and working class individuals. This is due to its high selection of trending items and its low cost, and we begin to wonder – how can this issue be resolved? Acknowledging that fast fashion thrives in the existence of trend cycles, the only way to rid fast fashion of its importance is by lengthening the span of each trend cycle, or eliminating them altogether. This can be achieved if everyone develops their own personal style; finding your own identity and self-expression through the art of fashion.

To read future articles in the “The True Cost of Cheap Clothing” series, as well as articles on other domestic sustainability, ethical, social and cultural issues, subscribe to KIS Today to get the latest articles sent to your email!

Works Cited

Allwood, Emma Hope. “It’s Not JUST Burberry – Burning Clothes Is FASHION’S Dirty Open Secret.” Dazed, 25 July 2018, http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/40778/1/burberry-brands-burning-clothes-sustainability-fashion-revolution. 

Anansuviroj, Supanan. “Can Thailand Ever Fix Its Relationship with Fast Fashion?” BK Magazine Online, 2 Dec. 2020, bk.asia-city.com/shopping/news/can-thailand-ever-fix-its-relationship-fast-fashion. 

Department of International Trade Promotion. “Thai Textile and Apparel Industry ” Thai Trade Center, USA.” Thai Trade Center USA, http://www.thaitradeusa.com/home/?page_id=2081. 

Ma, Wenda. “Thai Consumer Preferences: Clothing and Accessories.” HKTDC Research, research.hktdc.com/en/article/NjQwNDk1MzQ3. 

Nelson, Mariel. “Micro-Trends: The Acceleration of Fashion Cycles and Rise in Waste.” WRAP, 17 May 2021, wrapcompliance.org/blog/micro-trends-the-acceleration-of-fashion-cycles-and-rise-in-waste/. 

Rauturier, Solene. “What Is Fast Fashion?” Good On You, 26 July 2021, goodonyou.eco/what-is-fast-fashion/. 

Royal Danish Embassy. “Thai Fashion Industry, Fashion Industry In Thailand, Fibre2fashion.Com.” Fibre2Fashion, http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/3224/sector-overview-the-fashion-industry-in-thailand. Trading Economics. “Thailand Average Monthly Wages.” Thailand Average Monthly Wages | 1999-2021 Data | 2022-2023 Forecast | Historical, tradingeconomics.com/thailand/wages.

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