We all need to wear clothes. Sure, we can get away with waltzing around in the nude in our own homes, or, if you’re particularly against clothes, you can live as part of a nudist colony. However, to get by in day to day life in the majority of modern day cities or rural areas, you’re going to have to don an outfit that will cover you up. Throughout history, clothes have shifted in symbolism, importance and have long served as a means of self expression, serving as so much more than cover and coming to reflect your interests, character and personal style. Of course, the majority of us are going to want a few outfits in our wardrobes. For a long time, fashion has dictated different trends that we’ve bought into and grown out of. But over the course of the last two decades or so, significant changes to the fashion industry have seen clothes become cheaper, trend cycles speeding up and clothes shopping has become a much more routine habit. Some people are buying new outfits every single time they go out, wearing an item once and then disposing of it once it’s appeared on their Instagram. Large global chains have come to dominate the clothing market, not even having brick and mortar stores, but instead shipping clothes out at a low cost around the world. Of course, this has started to raise concern in regards to its impact on the planet. So, what is fast fashion, how is it proving detrimental to the planet and what can we do about it?
Fast Fashion: The Basics
Let’s start out by defining what fast fashion actually is. Because it’s a relatively new phenomenon, some of us are engaging with it without even realising it! Put simply, fast fashion is a business model that uses cheap materials and labor to create clothing at a high speed. The focus is on price rather than quality, as wearers don’t intend to wear the outfit more than once or twice anyway, so it doesn’t need to last. Generally, fast fashion takes samples ideas from fashion shows or mimics clothing worn by celebrities, reproducing the designs with low cost materials. It is a mode of mass-production and churns out new products at a much faster rate than the traditional spring/summer and autumn/winter collections that have dominated the fashion industry in previous years.
The Problem With Fast Fashion
Fast fashion poses problems on a number of fronts. Here are just a few that you should be aware of. Perhaps one of the most significant is its environmental impact. We’re living in a society that is growing increasingly aware of its own impact on the planet. We’re growing more familiar with the fact that human activity is significantly accelerating climate change, contributing to deforestation and habitat destruction, polluting the air, land and sea and causing countless other problems. There are a huge number of activities that are contributing to this and fast fashion is one of them.
- Water Pollution – most countries that produce fast fashion clothing dump the waste from the manufacturing process directly into natural water supplies such as rivers. Unfortunately, these waste supplies include untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories and dying processes. This waste can contain anything from lead to mercury, and arsenic. Needless to say, this is devastating to aquatic life, including plants, fish, mammals and birds living in the waterways. This also often leads to the sea and spreads around the globe.
- Excessive Water Consumption – The fashion industry is one of the biggest water consumers in the world. When it comes to dying clothes, significant quantities of fresh water are required. For example, it can take roughly 200 tonnes of freshwater to dye just one ton of fabric. On top of this, cotton is a plant that requires a lot of water to grow. For just 1kg of cotton, roughly 20,000 liters of water will be used. When you consider how many people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, this is outrageous.
- Air pollution – these clothes all need to be transported. When coming up with fulfilment plans, fast fashion companies will ask themselves questions like how fast do commercial planes fly, is freight cheaper, shall we take the products by sea? All of these transport options used create air pollution which damages the environment and health. These companies ship internationally at a low or free cost.
- Microfibre pollution – all clothes need to be washed, but if you’re buying synthetic materials that are commonly used in cheap clothes due to their low cost, you’ll find that you’re polluting the planet with microfibres. Every time you wash a synthetic garment, you’ll find that roughly 700,000 microfibers are released into the water. This all eventually makes it back to the ocean, impacting sea life by making its way into their food chain. This, of course, also makes its way back to people. Some of these microfibres even make their way into the air, with us and animals breathing them in.
- Textile waste – of course, fast fashion encourages the idea that clothing is disposable and can be worn one or two times. This has resulted in huge amounts of textile waste which is difficult to dispose of. The clothes are low quality, so rip, fray, bobble and fade, resulting in them becoming unusable pretty quickly. Now, the average Western family throws away roughly 30 kg of clothing every year. Less than 15% of this is recycled or donated. The clothes can take hundreds of years to degrade in landfill.
What Can You Do?
As you can see, fast fashion is destroying our planet. So, what can you do to counteract it? The good news is that there are a number of steps that you can take. Here are just a few for you to take into consideration.
- Avoid Fast Fashion Brands – start out by avoiding fast fashion brands. Sure, the prices can be tempting, but at the same time, you’ll have to replace the clothes pretty quickly, encouraging you to throw away old clothes and invest in more that you shouldn’t need in the first place. It’s much better for the planet and your wallet to buy better quality, longer lasting clothes in the first place.
- Buy Second Hand- second hand clothes are often in good condition and you can give them a second chance. Browse thrift stores, shop on apps like Depop and look through sites like eBay. Here, you can find good quality clothes without contributing to the production of new clothes. Plus, you can often get things at a better price!
- Shop Vintage – another option for quality second hand clothes is vintage stores. These clothes may even be third, fourth, fifth hand or more. Here, you can find unique pieces that have been created with quality that really stands the test of time.
- Rewear outfits – don’t get dragged into the idea that you can only wear an outfit once. It’s completely normal to rewear clothes and to be pictured in the same items countless times.
- Choose natural materials – where possible, choose natural materials. Sure, cotton may use a lot of water to grow, but if you’re buying quality cotton and it’s an item you’ll wear countless times, this isn’t so bad. Natural materials will biodegrade once they’re worn out.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to fast fashion. There are countless problems that it poses to the planet and to humans. So, why engage with it? It’s best avoided at all costs and, hopefully, some of the advice outlined above will help you to take steps to wear a more sustainable wardrobe.