A Quick Look at Fast Fashion
“clothes that are made and sold cheaply, so that people can buy new clothes often”
The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus
Without naming names we can all think of the obvious examples, but it's basically the majority of high street brands that fall into the fast fashion category. Before I start kicking off about how bad the industry is, I need to make it clear that I’m still on a journey towards being fast fashion free. I’d love to say I’ve got it down, but I don’t.
Fail? Also, yes.
Something I always put to the back of my mind was that niggling suspicion of how some clothes could be that cheap. Was it really possible for an item of clothing to cost that little without something dodgy going on along the way? Of course, the answer is no. But it’s easy to get carried away by cute styles with even cuter prices, knowing that you don’t have to choose between options when you can afford them all.
I decided to do some research and find out just what the dodginess is that we all need to be aware of. There’s way more than I can fit into this length of blog so I’ve just collated a few of the things that particularly struck me.
The total volume of CO2 emissions from the fast fashion industry is more than aviation. Somewhere between 8-10% of global emissions. I’d never even considered that the making of an outfit could be contributing to carbon emissions!
Cotton may be a nice natural fibre but its production uses a lot of water, one pair of jeans alone needs seven thousand litres. And in countries where the cotton is grown, their precious water is prioritised to our clothes rather than the locals. Not only that but the resulting wastewater is filled with chemicals and dyes which pollute the local environment.
Synthetic materials contain polymers which require around 70 million barrels of oil per year to produce. Not just a bad beginning but also ending; thanks to their plastic microfibres these items literally take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill.
It’s no surprise that fast fashion is made in countries where labour is cheap, particularly South East Asia. While employees may claim to pay minimum wage, this amount is often only 1/5 - 1/2 of the actual living wage.
An average garment worker clocks up 96 hours per week. And some of the stories you can read online about the working conditions are heart breaking.
It is common for pregnant women to be fired rather than given maternity pay, leaving them jobless at a time when they need the money most.
Because of the rapid pace of trends, each year millions of clothes are sent to landfill or burned by companies because they were unsold or returned. What a waste.
Once you clock on to some of the realities behind the industry it’s hard to shop without a dark cloud casting a shadow over your previously blue skied retail therapy trips.
But still, breaking a habit of a lifetime (or at least since your mum started allowing you to pick your own clothes) isn’t easy. A New Years Eve without a new outfit? A night out in the same dress as last week? A wardrobe without a variety of jeans and black tops? Eek. When you really think about it, we don’t need all these clothes, but we’ve grown up being surrounded by marketing and ideals of new and shiny equals special.
For now my budget friendly way to get round the ‘something new buzz’ is to buy second hand. There are loads of great Instagram pages for this, check out hashtags like: #secondhandfashion #prelovedfashion #slowfashion #buysecondhandfirst
Also apps like Depop and Vinted or sites like www.swopped.co.uk . Okay, the clothes themselves are still fast fashion but at least giving them a new home stops them from going directly into landfill. I like the idea of these items spreading joy as they’re worn, loved, passed on and loved again.
Check out our podcasts Working on the World’s Wellbeing and Conscious and Conscience to hear our thoughts and recommendations for shopping sustainably and take a look at Luke’s blog Conscious & Conscience: Luke’s Top 3 Shopping Sustainably Hacks.
The last item I bought brand new; a Topshop dress that much as I love, is already ripping as the cotton is so thin.
My favourite recent Depop purchases that give me all the new outfit thrills despite coming to me second hand.
Anyone interested in this Karen Miller dress I'm trying to rehome?