Everybody wants to look good and on trend! Like peacocks showing off their feathers, humans have learnt that how they dress and what they look like gets them places, friends, and partners. Over the last twenty years fast fashion has assisted us with this, bringing designer-esque outfits to the people. Trends on the catwalk are now accessible to us seemingly as soon as the model steps down off the runway. We just need to step onto the high street.
I have to admit, I love heading down to the shops before a night out or a date, picking out a dress and some cheap jewelry. I am a sucker for new trends and weird outfits and have sometimes succumbed to the wear-once-then-throw-away formula of fast fashion. It’s dangerously easy.
But the unfortunate truth is that the fast fashion industry is harming the planet, harming wildlife, and harming the workers involved in the manufacturing process. We as a society cannot go on like this, and we must change. To do this we must learn, and of course, like always, we are here to help you!
What Is Fast Fashion?
Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the whole saving the planet bit. We need to first understand what fast fashion actually is. Fast fashion is defined as clothing trends and designs that move quickly from the catwalk to retail stores. It is cheap; cheaply made and cheaply sold.
You know when you see a cow print dress in photos from some fashion event and then two days later see a replica in a shop window? That’s fast fashion. Remember those see-through plastic handbags that were all the rage about a year ago and now are probably sitting at the bottom of someone’s wardrobe, or worse yet, in a landfill site? That’s fast fashion. You are probably wearing fast fashion now, but might not even be aware of it.
The high street shops that we know and love provide us with these new and exciting styles, but notice how quickly the trends change. Notice how quickly the mannequins in the shop windows get new outfits.
How Did Fashion Get So Fast?
Fast fashion is fast right? But you are probably wondering how is it so fast? It is all about supply chain management. This is the flow of goods from raw materials to final production. The goal of fast fashion is to manufacture items of clothing quickly and at as little cost as possible.
Clothing companies need to have their finger on the pulse when it comes to trends. In the need for fashion to be fast, companies invest in smart forecasting which uses AI to monitor and study trends. Harnessing the power of new technology, fast fashion is becoming easier and quicker to achieve.
What is Ultra Fast Fashion?
Of course, when something is popular and is making loads of money, more businesses get on board and try to push it as far as they can. So, there is a thing known as ultra fast fashion, which is (you guessed it) even faster!
Technology and social media means that fashion trends are changing rapidly. Bloggers, influencers, and celebrities are now all tuned into this culture of ever-changing trends and style. Because of this, so are the companies.
There are new styles everyday. We log into Instagram and see our favourite influencer wearing a pair of bright pink fluffy heels. We scroll down and see an advert for ones that look identical. We buy them, they arrive the next day, and we post a snap of us wearing them.
In one day we have accessed the fashion we saw and wanted. In one day we emulated the person we admired. Ultra fast fashion is becoming increasingly common with same day or next day delivery that provides customers with instant gratification. With constant monitoring of social media, the clothing sold on online-only fashion companies can go from concept to sale in as little as a week.
How Do I Spot Fast Fashion?
Zara is probably the name that you associate with fast fashion, producing 840 million items of clothing a year. The company is known for their trendy but cheap clothing, always following fashion styles and always being affordable. Similarly, Topshop is another company that leads the way when it comes to fast fashion, with 400 new items of clothing getting introduced on their website every single week.
Most high street stores are a part of the fast fashion movement. Fast fashion means that shops quickly produce clothes that mimic what is seen on the runways or on influencers’ social media.
The clothes that you are buying are fast fashion if they are cheaply made and tend to fall apart easily. This is because they are designed for minimal wear and to be thrown away when the fashion trend is over.
How Fast Fashion Harms the Planet
So we know what fast fashion is, how often we buy into it, and where it is found. Now let’s look at the damage that fast fashion is doing to the environment, the people, and the ecosystem of the world.
When money and speed is valued over everything else, companies that are making fast fashion clothes are doing so in dangerous ways and constantly releasing pollution into the environment.
Clothing and footwear production make up for 8.1% of greenhouse gas emission. This percentage is only going to get bigger if we do not act now, with more and more fast fashion stores online and on the high street opening up.
With the rise of influencers and the high usage of social media, new clothes and new fashion trends seem to come around quicker. Every day we are seeing a new style trend. This means that every day the planet is getting more polluted.
Chemicals that come from the factories that make the garments are a great cause for concern when it comes to pollution. Most fast fashion is manufactured in China, India, Bangladesh, and developing countries. When the items of clothing are made, chemicals are released into the environment and they harm the ecosystem.
Rivers in China that once thrived with life are now ecological dead zones. Dangerous chemicals that are banned in the EU are used in Chinese textile manufacturing. The use of these chemicals are purported to have destroyed the areas around certain factories, killing the life in the nearby rivers. The clothes that are manufactured near the rivers that have suffered include Adidas, Abercrombie and Fitch, H&M, and many other brands that we know and wear.
Another environmental issue about the clothes that we wear today are the microfibers that get released when they are washed. Plastic microfibers have been found in the seas, lakes, and rivers around the world and seemingly come from items of clothing. A recent study found that when a synthetic fleece jacket is washed, 1.7g of microfibers get released into the water supply. These microfibers are dangerous as they pollute the food chain and harm wildlife. They are small enough to be eaten by animals who then get sick from the chemicals that they have ingested.
These microfibers can also make it back to us, with fish and shellfish in markets in both California and Indonesia having traces of microfiber pollution in them. This raises concerns for the health of the people that eat these fish as some of the chemicals are carcinogenic.
Horrifically, around 11 million tonnes of clothing are thrown away each year in the USA alone. This is a lot of unnecessary waste. British people are buying five times more items of clothing than they did in the eighties, with Primark alone worth 1.1 billion pounds.
The throw-away culture of fast fashion means that landfills are being stuffed with clothes that have just been worn once, and these clothes are rarely biodegradable. A lot of fast fashion is made out of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon, and spandex. These materials can take up to 200 years to biodegrade and this matched with the rate of waste that fast fashion is producing is an alarming fact. If change does not happen soon, fast fashion is going to have an irreversible impact on the planet’s health.
Sadly, most workers who produce fast fashion do so in dangerous conditions and for a worryingly low wage. Companies outsourcing their factories to developing countries means that they can take advantage of vulnerable people, putting profit over health and safety yet again.
The fast fashion industry relies on cheap or slave labour. There is no denying this. Every item of clothing you buy from a fast fashion retail outlet is going to be made by people who are suffering. People are working incredibly long shifts for little money and under dangerous conditions.
More than 70% of EU imports of textiles come from Asia and not all of these countries have strict health and safety regulations. In 2013 the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka collapsed. This building consisted of five clothing factories and at least 1132 workers died from this disaster.
Horrifically this disaster is not a one-off and workers around the globe that supply the fast fashion markets do so in life-threatening and hazardous conditions. Since the Rana Plaza building collapse, there have been at least 109 more accidents in these kinds of factories.
Sweatshops are not just as Asian issue, with textiles factories in the UK being found paying people well under the minimum wage and with harsh working conditions. The need for fast fashion means that companies are now breaking the law to provide us with the demand.
How Fast Fashion Harms The Consumer
Fast fashion also impacts those who wear it. Because the clothes are made as cheaply as possible, corners are cut with their manufacturing. This means that many items of clothing have dangerous chemicals in them such as formaldehyde which is used to prevent wrinkling during the transportation of the fabrics. However, this can cause allergic reactions and has been linked to cancer.
Lead has been found in many cheaply made clothes and this can be harmful to the people wearing them. Being exposed to lead increases your chances of a range of health issues, such as heart attacks and infertility.
How To Avoid Fast Fashion
The impact that fast fashion has on the world, the population, and the environment is shocking. There is no doubt that we must act now to alter our lifestyles and therefore the world. But how?
Most importantly, when striving for a better eco lifestyle, we must be educated and read about the issues that we face as a society. Knowing what companies are fast fashion and who to avoid is the first step towards making a difference.
It is also great to be aware of the fabric used in the products you are buying and where they are made. If you see something you like when shopping and are unaware of the ethics of the shop, take a look at the tags on the item of clothing. It will say where the product is made and with what fabric. This gives you clues to how eco friendly it is.
Also use your knowledge to help others. Discuss with your friends and family about the harm that fast fashion does, opening up conversation and understanding with the people you love. To change the world we need a lot of people on board!
Hit the Charity Shops
Fast fashion is cheap, that is one of the reasons we like it and without knowing where to look, paying for sustainable clothing can soon add up.
However, we can still avoid fast fashion without breaking the bank! When heading into town next, swerve the big clothing stores and go straight to the little second hand shops that are scattered around most cities. Sometimes it takes a while to find the style that you are wanting but trust me, the hunt is all part of the fun! Spending an afternoon trailing around charity shops looking through the weird and wacky outfits from decades ago is so much fun.
You never know what you might find in a charity shop and I have discovered some amazing stuff, from wild snazzy prints to designer dresses. Also, when you are shopping in charity shops you are also helping the charity by giving them your money. It is a win-win situation!
If you have clothing that you don’t wear, go give them to a charity shop! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure right? Someone might love that lime green shirt you bought on a whim once when it was on sale.
So fast fashion is cheap. For most of us, buying a dress for a tenner seems a better bargain than a dress for fifty quid.
However, this isn’t true if the dress is fast fashion and falls apart after one use. Ethical fashion costs more than fast fashion but this is because it is better quality. The items you buy last longer and therefore are better value.
This is known as slow fashion. Slow fashion is fashion that is made to last, focusing on sustainability rather than quick turnover and new trends.
There are so many ethical fashion brands that are super cool and stylish, and actually not that expensive for the quality of the product you are getting. You will get more wear out of the clothes, save the planet, and look great at the same time!
Get Your Sewing Kit Out
Ever darn a sock? No, I haven’t either, but I think I am going to start. Fixing clothes used to be a part of life. When a shirt had a hole, our parents or grandparents would sew it up. When socks got worn, they would darn them to make them stronger. Make do and mend was a mantra to live by.
Invest in a sewing kit so you can fix your own clothes. It is not as hard as it sounds either and the internet is full of DIY tutorials to make your clothes look good as new.
Having a sewing kit also means that you can alter your clothes to suit you. Upcycling is very cool right now and take advantage of this trend! Add accessories, patches, and badges to your old clothes to give yourself a brand new look. You don’t even have to be too creatively minded. There is loads of inspiration out there online from youtube videos to blogs all about altering clothes and making them better.
The Thirty Wears Challenge
An internet trend amongst the eco warriors of the world is the thirty wears challenge. It is a call for us to, when buying an item of clothing, ask ourselves if we would wear it thirty times.
This is part of the slow fashion movement which advocates thoughtful purchase. It values hitting the breaks on fast fashion and slowing it down, keeping it simple and keeping it intentional. Thinking about the future of what we are buying makes us more in tune with what we actually want and not just what we are told we want.
We Have the Power to do Better
Time and time again we are reminded that the fashion industry is not sustainable. The rate of consumption that the western world demands is destroying the planet, harming the workers, and harming those who wear the products.
However, it is not all doom and gloom and slow fashion is becoming more and more popular, with ethical and sustainable brands making waves in the fashion world. We are slowly but surely waking up to the problems that fast fashion cause and we can be a part of this change!
By boycotting fast fashion high street retailers, shopping second-hand, spreading the word, buying sustainable clothing, and actively supporting brands trying to do better, we can start to change the world! There is power in the people and we are making a change for our future.