Fast fashion isn’t a new concept. Zara were the pioneers over 20 years ago, turning catwalk designs into affordable high-street fashion within a matter of weeks. Since then, prices – and quality – have been plummeting in the market. The emergence of Shein, a Chinese-based online retailer, during the Covid-19 pandemic has almost acted as a tipping point in getting the publics’ attention. Massive clothing hauls – costing on average about $8 an item – are paraded on Tik Tok and YouTube by Millennials and Gen Z’ers.
But haven’t we always loved a bit retail therapy? Why is it now suddenly such a big problem?
Fast fashion has always been controversial since its inception in the 1990’s. The race to rock bottom prices has simply shone a spotlight on the industry. Whilst the focus of fast fashion is often on the cheap labor element, it also has a significant impact on the planet which cannot be ignored any longer. From the release of toxic chemicals into the air to the astronomical amount of water and energy used. Campaigns such as Greenpeace’s Detox My Fashion have had a positive effect on the pollution that fast fashion factories pump out. However, the environmental impacts of producing so many garments is only part of the problem. What we do with our clothes when we want to change style is, arguably, an even bigger issue that must be acknowledged and addressed. And it is only us, the clothes-buying public, that can rectify this – if we keep buying, the large retailers will keep selling. And really, who can blame them?
Currently, the average American throws away over 80 pounds of clothes. Although other methods of disposal (such as incineration) are available, most fashion waste ends up in landfill. These are, essentially, large scale dumping grounds. This is far from ideal, even if all the clothes that ended up there were made from natural materials such as pure cotton or wool they can still take much longer than quoted to biodegrade. It is not like an enormous compost pile as people may imagine, the conditions in landfill are far from optimal for materials to breakdown naturally. Cheap, fast fashion garments make this situation even worse. They often contain a large proportion of polyester, nylon and other synthetic materials to keep their prices down. Essentially, these are plastics and can take centuries to eventually breakdown. More than likely, all the polyester garments you have ever owned will outlive you! As well as space needed, landfills can create a whole host of environmental issues, from greenhouse gas emission to soil pollution.
Switching to brands that use more sustainable materials can only do so much. It could be argued that fast fashion is part of a wider problem that goes beyond the scope of organic cotton and bamboo fabrics. We live in a throwaway society, from cheap t-shirts that can just be thrown away after a handful of wears to some of the temporary furniture available for rock bottom prices. We don’t ‘make do and mend’ nearly as much as our relatives from only a few decades ago did. This is what needs to change. A consumer mentality shift is needed, rather than retailers attempting to harm the environment that little bit less as part of their marketing campaign.
Action is needed!
Fasting from (new, first-hand) fast fashion is a great place to start! You don’t need to avoid fast fashion brands altogether. We challenge you to only buy second-hand clothes this year – and sell on your old clothes for others to enjoy. Online platforms such as eBay and Depop are a great place to find your style.
One of the reasons we love fast fashion brands so much is that they make it so cheap to rotate our wardrobe. People often fear that to live sustainably you need an endless supply of money. This is simply not true – often acting in a planet-friendly way and saving money go hand-in-hand. Completing this challenge shouldn’t cost you more – unlike buying from ‘sustainable’ brands. You’ll be getting clothes for a decent price – and perhaps even delivered straight to your door – just like before. However, you won’t be contributing to the ever- growing landfill pile and the environmental havoc that it is causing. And, hopefully, you might even develop some positive, waste-reducing habits in other areas of your life too!