A while back I made the decision to no longer put my money in the fast fashion industry. This means, buying no new clothes from unsustainable and unethical fashion brands. This is a brief summary on what fast fashion actually is, how it´s affecting the environment, workers and how we can avoid it.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is a term that refers to clothing manufactured at high speed sold at a low price point. According to Wall Street journal each year the average person will buy 68 garments, that will be used only seven times before disposing. 40 years ago we bought five times fewer pieces of garments and kept them for far longer.
Since the late 1980’s we have seen an decrease in quality and an increases in quantity, as fast fashion has flooded the fashion industry with cheap and poorly made clothing.Brands like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 are all in the fast fashion game. The standard in the fashion industry used to be to launch two to four collections at certain times each year, today these big brands constantly push out new product to keep up with the rapidly changing customer taste.
Ecological cost With these bargain price tags comes some very real ecological costs, fast fashion is destroying the planet, stearing us towards environmental disaster. 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the clothing industry, more than all aviation and maritime shipping combined. (United Nations environment program). It takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt. (Enough water for you to drink for 2,5 years). Fast fashion is also responsible for water pollution world-wide, as they use copious chemicals. Approximately 20% of the clothes produced are never purchased, which means they quickly end up in landfill. In 2018 H&M had 4,3 million USD in unsold clothing. This is a big problem as more garments than ever are made with synthetic fabrics. This compounds the global waste problem as they will never naturally decompose.
The low price points rely on low manufacturing costs, which results in exploitation of workers. A recent report found that garment workers earn as little as 2% of the price of clothing sold in Australia - a $27 billion industry. To keep the cost as low as possible, brands are outsourcing textile and garment production to cheap labour all over the world. This has created a poorly regulated supply chain with unacceptable working conditions.
Social media has only accelerated the problem, with ads and influencer sponsored posts filling our feeds as well as our wardrobes. Fuelling our desire to have the newest and most trendy looks, and our fear to be photographed in the same outfit twice. Fast fashion brands are using social media ambassadors to position the brand in front of high numbers of followers, increasing social reach and brand awareness. This is a highly effective marketing strategy, as consumers tend to value influencer content just as credible as recommendations from friends.
We still need clothes, so where should we buy them? Before buying new clothes, we should try to limit our consumption by asking ourselves if we really need it. I like to use the R-rules: research, reduce, refuse, reuse, repair, rehome and recycle. I have fallen love with vintage shopping, and I now get all my clothes second hand from opshops/thriftstores.
If you can´t find the item you need second hand, do some research to find fair-trade, ethical and sustainable brands. Always choose quality over quantity as good quality clothing will last much longer, and hurt the environment less in the washing cycle. To change this industry we have to be willing to pay what it’s worth, and stop buying unsustainable and unethical clothing just because it’s cheap. We need to be more mindful and intentional in the way we shop, wear and discard our clothing to create a slow fashion future.