And here's why...
Churning out new collections every other week, and the constant need for the masses to keep up with ever-changing trends, most of the clothes that we buy end up in landfills without being used to their full extent. And if you haven’t noticed, clothes are made from lower quality fabrics which means they wear out quicker and thus, end up getting thrown out quicker as well.
Thanks to the likes of woke social media folk and people who are genuinely concerned about the environment (which we all should be in all honesty), people have finally come to realise the Earth is dying. With that said, sustainability in fashion has now become a trend. In the eyes of fast fashion companies, this is a new demographic to reach out to. Which brings us to the issue of corporate greening. If you’re not familiar with the term, it is essentially the changing of policies and company practices to help with bettering the state of the environment. Unfortunately, a lot of these corporate greening strategies are superficial and do not make a significant change in the grand scheme of it all.
A good example is the H&M Conscious Collection; a greenwashing attempt that markets clothes made from ethically sourced and recycled materials. Fancy ad campaigns with celebrity spokespeople cloud our judgements and make us feel less guilty for buying more of their products. This feel-good effect apparently comes from making clothes from organic cotton and recycled curtains.
But how does producing and marketing a ‘conscious’ line save the environment?
Well, H&M has an ongoing programme that allows you to recycle your unwanted clothes at all their stores. In return, you get a £5 discount on your next purchase. How great is that? You have somewhere to dump your old clothes and get a discount to revamp your wardrobe. However, it is rather counterproductive as it encourages people to recycle their clothes but also induces more buying, resulting in more waste. When the campaign was launched in 2016, H&M had aimed to collect and recycle up to 1000 tonnes of textiles – to which Lucy Siegle of The Guardian wrote that it would take an estimated 12 years for the company to use and approximately 48 hours for the company to mass-produce the same amount of clothing.
Apart from capitalising off our dying Earth, fast fashion companies have pretty questionable ethics. From the use of child labour, sweatshops, sexual harassment of workers and unsafe work environments, there have been many ethical malpractices that are hidden from shoppers. If you’ve ever wondered why that pair of jeans you bought was so cheap, it’s probably because it was made by someone who isn’t getting paid enough. In Bangladesh, sweatshop workers get paid approximately £25 a month and work 14-16 hour days. As well as under-paying their workers, health and safety aren’t major priorities for fast fashion giants. In 2012, a fire burned down a textile factory and killed 112 garment workers. This could’ve been prevented if there were proper fire safety procedures in place. Five months following the incident, an eight-storey commercial lot that housed garment units collapsed, killing 1134 people. Despite having evacuated the building the day before due to cracks found in the building, workers were called in the next day to rush production for orders. Inditex (the parent company to Zara, Pull & Bear and Massimo Dutti) is no stranger to this. The company was fined £5.29 million from the Brazillian government in 2015 for inadequate working conditions, which included 84 accidents and the overworking of their employees. Zara has also been called out for copyright of artwork in the past. The most notable was when Tuesday Bassen tweeted the fashion company for stealing her artwork in 2016.
So how can we do our part?
A good starting point would be to stop buying from fast fashion brands. It’s a simple concept; when there is no demand, supply will reduce. When we stop contributing to these companies, they should, in due time, try to change their business models or eventually shut down. Though it is hard to buy from sustainable fashion brands, especially if you’re living off a student loan. With trends constantly being recycled from previous years, the process of shopping has simplified with the abundance of thrift and charity shops. Thrift shopping has become quite popular in recent years, with vintage clothing stores like WE ARE COW, who upcycle clothing by updating old pieces to better suit current trends and WILD Clothing, a vintage store in Nottingham that has been selling secondhand clothing since the ‘80s. Adding to that, shopping at charity shops, doesn’t only get you a good deal but also contributes to worthwhile causes. However, if you aren’t up to looking through heaps of clothing or just can’t be arsed to get out of the house, there are loads of ways to buy secondhand clothes online. Apps that I would highly recommend for buying and selling pre-loved clothes are Depop, Vinted and even Facebook.
"We are too materialistic in the everyday sense of the word, and we are not at all materialistic enough in the true sense of the word. We need to be true materialists, like really care about the materiality of goods." Juliet Schor
After watching the documentary, ‘Minimalism’, directed by Matt D’Avella; the aforementioned quote really stuck with me. Cherishing the value of material goods and investing in quality instead of quantity. You know that white button-up that you wear to work every single day? Or the pair of sneakers you never seem to change out of? Invest more money in those pieces so they’ll last you a little longer. I have had clothes passed down from my mom that she bought in the ‘80s which have now come back in trend. Clothes last if you invest in quality pieces. We as consumers, however, tend to want more. With Nasty Gal having a constant 50% off sale it’s not easy to resist going on a haul for trendy pieces that’ll go outdated in the next month. Which brings me to my next point – don’t do hauls. Whether you’re thrift shopping or not, haul culture is something that promotes a constant want for more. Buying large amounts of clothing definitely gives you a sense of euphoria. It’s great – shopping in itself is an addictive drug. I have spent more than £50 at vintage kilo sales and, believe me, those clothes have been sitting in my wardrobe untouched for the past five months. However, a rule to follow when shopping is to buy what you will wear and not just what you think is cute. Impulse buying is fun and a great stress reliever but rationalising your purchases is more economical and will mean that the ‘adorable’ fluorescent jumper you’ll never wear will get the chance to be worn by someone who will.
Fashion is something that’s meant to be accessible to all, and fast fashion has definitely made that possible for a lot of us. However, with the current state of the environment and the lack of ethics in fast fashion corporations, it is important to stop the demand-supply cycle that will constantly run. Noting that, it is a big transition to stop buying from fast fashion companies completely. Small steps like donating your unwanted clothes to charity shops or just buying less will help with managing the waste produced from fast fashion. At the end of the day, the goal is to create less waste and reduce the amount of clothing we throw out; and everyone should do their part be it big or small.