Consumer

Slowing down fast fashion

The fast fashion industry is “inherently degenerative” but can it be slowed down? 

Words:
Charlotte Cameron
Images:
Shutterstock
Fast fashion sustainability
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Did you know that the average garment is only worn ten times before it is thrown away? The fashion industry has convinced many consumers that they’re behind on trends even before they get a chance to wear them. This means increased production, waste and questionable supply chains. 

What constitutes fast fashion?

Fast fashion is a buzz term describing the design, manufacturing and marketing of garments in a way that is focused on producing high volumes of clothing made quickly and cheaply. Fast fashion leverages trends often replicating celebrity or designer clothing but at a fraction of the cost. A 2019 study showed that “one in three young women, the biggest segment of consumers, consider garments worn once or twice to be old”. While the pandemic slowed revenue for the fashion industry, the sector has bounced back in 2022, with revenue from women’s apparel expected to reach £622.96 billion. 

The industrial revolution brought with it technology that allowed clothing to be made quicker and cheaper, and dressmaking shops became more accessible to the middle class. Sweatshops emerged with dubious health and safety precautions where clothing could be mass-produced.  

At this time, there was still a distinction between high fashion and the high street but in the late 1990s and 2000s, when online clothing took off, brands began to replicate designer clothing cheaply and quickly.  

As greenwashing claims increase, it’s important to recognise which brands are fast fashioned. One way to spot this is if there’s a short turnaround time between when you saw it on the catwalk or on a celebrity to when it appears online for sale. Another sign is if the brand puts out hundreds or thousands of styles rather than a limited range. 

Why is it bad?

Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying.” Lucy Siegle, Environmental Journalist and Broadcaster.  

The fast fashion industry is “inherently degenerative”, according to not-for-profit organisation Regeneration, and it is costing our planet. It’s not just the environment that is paying the price – there are human impacts too. 

The fashion industry is responsible for around 8-10% of the world’s carbon emissions, but if the current demand for fast fashion continues to grow at its current rate, we could see the total carbon footprint reach 26% by 2050.  

This is because producing and distributing the number of garments sold each year requires a lot of energy. As well as this, an increase in synthetic fibres means a continued reliance on the fossil fuel industry. Production of synthetic fibres currently accounts for 1.3% of global oil consumption annually. That’s the entirety of Spain’s oil consumption for a year. This is only growing as the use of synthetic fibres in garment making has doubled over the past two decades. 

The pollution that the industry causes is huge. From microfibres that shed and end up in our oceans to toxic textile dyes, the nature of fast fashion has meant that environmental corners are cut. Around 20-35% of microplastics that come into the ocean are from the textile industry.  

Waste is another major issue when it comes to fast fashion as more clothing produced means more is being disposed of. Statistics show that in Australia alone, more than 500 million kilos of clothing ends up in landfill every year. That’s around one and a half times as heavy as The Empire State Building and averages out to be 22.7kg per person.  

In 2015 at COP21, nations around the world signed the Paris Agreement with the aim of keeping global warming limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. While the fashion industry is a large contributor to global carbon emissions, the industry will miss this 1.5°C pathway by 50% according to its current trajectory. Reaching this 1.5°C target can only be achieved if the industry shifts to sustainable environmental practices and ultimately reaches net zero.  

There is the human toll of fast fashion too, with inhumane working conditions for garment workers. Over half of fast fashion employees don’t get a living wage, and 68% of fast fashion brands don’t maintain gender equality at production facilities.  

According to Regeneration, liveable wages and fair labour conditions are key to the ethical clothing industry. “Workers, not just within the company but also those of suppliers within the supply chain, should be guaranteed living wages, clear working hours, and safe working conditions. Further, companies should ensure that no child or forced labour is used along their supply chain, and allow garment workers to have registered unions.” Regeneration argues.  

Hazardous conditions mean that situations like the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster are real risks for workers. In 2013, at least 1,132 workers at five garment factories in Bangladesh were killed when the Rana Plaza collapsed. It is considered the worst ever industrial incident the clothing industry has faced.  

Since the disaster, organisations like Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement, have been holding the fashion industry to account and The Fashion Transparency Index is pushing more and more brands to be more transparent about their environmental and social impacts. 

A push for transparency across the industry is also helping consumers understand where their clothes are coming from, how they are produced and the environmental and social impacts of the brands they choose to buy from. 

From environmental impacts to the treatment of workers, the fast fashion industry is costing our planet. But, as consumers, we can have a real and significant impact on shifting demand away from fast fashion. 

Here are some ways you can ditch fast fashion and opt for a more sustainable and ethical wardrobe:  

Buy less often and better quality 

Start by working out what you actually need in your wardrobe. From there, when you go to purchase this item, look out for well-made garments from fabric that will last. Rather than getting a few cheap t-shirts made from flimsy material that will have to be replaced after several wears, opt for one better quality garment. 

Give second-hand a chance 

Shopping second-hand is one of the most sustainable ways you can shop. And there are plenty of avenues now to source second-hand clothing – from physical charity shops to online platforms.  

Depop is a peer-to-peer second-hand fashion app offering pieces at all price ranges, while platforms like Vestiaire Collective sell pre-loved designer fashion.   

Second-hand shopping is growing in popularity with the reality TV show Love Island UK partnering with eBay to dress its contestants in pre-loved outfits. This is a huge indication of attitudes shifting as Love Island is an important influencer in this space and typically partners with fast fashion outlets.  

Not only is shopping second-hand reducing waste and our reliance on fast fashion but you can also find some great individual or vintage pieces!  

Donate or sell unwanted pieces 

Go through your wardrobe and identify the pieces that you don’t often gravitate towards. How many times have you worn it? Are you likely to wear it again? Chances are if you haven’t worn it for a certain reason – maybe it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t fit quite right – this won’t change. So why not donate or sell these pieces. You can get some money for something you don’t use or you can feel good about donating to a charity. If you have office clothing you are looking to donate, why not try an organisation like Smart Works which helps equip women with interview-appropriate clothing. 

Learn to mend and repair clothing 

Clothes are often thrown out or not worn for avoidable reasons such as a missing button or a hole. By learning a few basic skills you will be able to keep your clothing for longer or even tailor second-hand finds to fit you better.  

Do your homework 

Work out which materials and brands are most sustainable so you can make more informed consumer choices. It can be tricky to do this yourself, particularly due to the rise of greenwashing claims, so apps like Good On You have done the hard work for you – rating thousands of brands for their treatment of people and nature. 

Join the slow fashion movement

“While people interpret slow fashion differently, the key principles include thoughtfulness, minimalism, localization, and endurance,” the Regeneration team say.  

Essentially, start buying less but wearing more and better quality.  

Just stop!

Easier said than done but avoiding temptation through unsubscribing from company emails or unfollowing fast fashion influencers can help stop the need to shop.  

Trial a “no buy” month where you avoid shopping altogether to get you started!