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From fast to fair fashion at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The exhibition Fast Fashion: The Dark Sides of Fashion at the museum in Berlin explores the environmental hazards of fast fashion, urging visitors to rethink their consumer behaviour.

by Sukanya GargPublished on : Nov 16, 2019

While fast fashion has increased the accessibility, affordability, and diversity of fashion choices available to the masses, the occupational and environmental hazards that form the backbone of this value chain are blatantly ignored. In a world with too many choices, and constant bombardments by beauty and fashion labels to renew style trends after every season, people with increasing disposable incomes are often lured into buying clothes they don’t necessarily need or even use enough.

The inevitable focus on speed and low cost to keep pace with these frequent style turnovers spell a huge environmental opportunity cost. Shortcuts in production speed and processes often lead to the use of toxic chemicals that contribute to water pollution and increasing levels of textile waste, further exacerbating the land pollution. The chemicals used to dye, colour, and print on textiles are often hazardous, with carcinogenic properties. Further, even to reduce the cost of textiles, polyester is used to replace other fabrics. In fact, the use of polyester releases microfibers in the atmosphere, which pollutes not just the air but also the water when washed, ­posing a threat to marine life and agricultural land, compromising production and contributing to health risks and diseases. 

Tim Mitchell, Clothing Recycled, 2005 | Fast Fashion: The Dark Sides of Fashion | Tim Mitchell | STIRworld
Tim Mitchell, Clothing Recycled, 2005 Image Credit: © Tim Mitchell and Lucy Norris

The biggest ‘fashion sins’ then are committed even before garments reach the stores. The production of a single cotton T-shirt consumes 2700 litres of water, which regularly ends up spreading toxic pollutants into the rivers after being used in chemical dying processes. In addition, the people hired to make these low-cost fashion apparel often work in unhealthy working conditions and are severely underpaid. Given that most of these people live in developing countries, the negative environment impact posed by fast fashion then is borne by people from countries on the lower end of the development spectrum.

Manu Washaus, SWEATER, study of the possible II, 2013 | Fast Fashion: The Dark Sides of Fashion | Manu Washaus | STIRworld
Manu Washaus, SWEATER, study of the possible II, 2013 Image Credit: © anna.k.o.

The exhibition Fast Fashion: The Dark Sides of Fashion, then, examines fast fashion and visually explains how the global fast fashion industry functions and how producers and consumers are interconnected. The location of the exhibition in Berlin is especially pertinent given the numerous initiatives that happen in the city to emphasise fair and slow fashion.

Taking place at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin from September 27, 2019 to August 2, 2020, the exhibition has been conceived by the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, and takes a critical look at the consequences of fashion consumption for its producers and the environment. It encourages visitors to rethink their consumer behaviour and to get involved in dealing with its impact. The Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK) supplements the examination of fast fashion with insights into the Berlin’s slow fashion world. As the hub of the international fair fashion world, Berlin is a source of numerous innovative ideas about how fashion can be used sustainably while still being fun.

‘Slow fashion’ in former times: growing children's dress (1943-1970) and dress sewn from fabric remnants (ca. 1930) | Fast Fashion: The Dark Sides of Fashion | STIRworld
‘Slow fashion’ in former times: growing children's dress (1943-1970) and dress sewn from fabric remnants (ca. 1930) Image Credit: © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen/Christian Krug

In Berlin - the slow fashion capital - the world’s largest sustainable fashion fair called Neonyt takes place every year. Designers and creative minds set trends and develop innovative approaches and materials while seeking to slow down the fashion cycle. A section in the exhibition focuses on slow fashion and provides insights to Berlin’s fair fashion scene. As part of the exhibition, the MEK also presents Berlin pioneers of fair and sustainable fashion, who explain what they consider to be fair and sustainable – from environment-friendly upcycling and fair production conditions to garments made out of certified fabrics and clothing exchange parties. An extensive programme of events and educational activities with regular repair cafés and creative workshops will complement the exhibition throughout its duration.

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