The Unfortunate Case for Fast Fashion
There’s no doubt fast-fashion is having a significant role in the escalation of our environmental crisis. You’ve seen the statistics: the fashion industry accounts for roughly 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it’s the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply and it pollutes our water supply with 500,000 tonnes of microfibres each year. The list goes on, obviously.
That’s before we even begin to account for the mass socio-ethical repercussions of the industry.
But (this is a big but) we need the fast fashion industry. Let me tell you why...
You start a new job on Monday! Congratulations! However, the news has come pretty abruptly and you realise that you don’t have appropriate workwear that fits you anymore (you are fresh out of university, this is a retail job that’ll tide you by until something more suitable comes along). So you need trousers, preferably two pairs since long hours on foot can get you reasonably sweaty and working 6 days a week would be a stretch laundry-wise with one pair.
You consider where to purchase these trousers. Being the sustainably-minded person you are you look through The Good Trade for ethical workwear that will be affordable, perfect! They suggest you try Kestan, a site they flag as affordable, you feel optimistic but then you see it - $90 for one pair of work trousers. For two pairs of trousers that’s $180 straight off the bat. Completely unaffordable, you’ve just left university, you’ve only just secured a part-time job on minimum wage.
So you’ll have to settle for the next best thing: charity shops. You pop into around three or four and you find one pair that could be suitable but it’s a size smaller than what you are, it’d be a dire squeeze. Apart from that, you can’t manage to find anything.
Absolutely defeated, you give up and resolve to just paying £15 for two suitable pairs of trousers from H&M.
It’s just one scenario of many why fast fashion has been my only resort. This happened to me.
With sustainable fashion costing on average three times more than typical high-street price tags we have to ask: is it affordable to everyone?
The short answer is no. An article by Varsity sums it up best: “high prices [of sustainable fashion] exclude a large demographic and isolate the sustainable market, reducing its potential impact”. 14.3 million people (22%) within the UK are in poverty, and unfortunately a lot of others aren't necessarily in the right circumstance to buy ethically.
Ethical fashion currently isn’t accessible to everyone. So we need fast fashion of some form, which is an uncomfortable truth.
We shouldn’t, however, need to exploit workers in other parts of the globe and worsen our environment to be able to afford our clothing. This is where we need change.
The UK charity shop market is a lot more competitive than we often think about. The challenge that charity shops have: to stock and display a wide range of goods that can draw in growing revenue, whilst promoting their brand, is a tough one to overcome. Whilst the sector is churning in large, growing profits, £295m in total for the financial year 2017/18, the number of charity shops have been declining.
This may be a step in the right direction.
Charity superstores, new, sprawling stores that can in some cases be 12x larger than the traditional charity shop, have been found to turn in almost three times more profit then their smaller counterparts and we can learn from them. It’s about variety.
Expanding and diversifying stock is highlighted time and time again as an essential to increasing revenue so this should be a priority for all of us. Donate to charity shops so that they always have a wide variety of goods, check out your local superstore if you struggle to find what you're looking for normally and shop online through charity outlets...
This is the big bad beast - multi-million pound companies who just aren't simply doing enough to combat their impact on our planet.
They are trying.
From Primark's array of sustainable lines and ethical worker initiatives to H&M's reuse and recycling programme, it's clear that some leading brands have brought it to the forefront of what they do. Scepticism is rife however, and we can't take the claims of these brands lightly, we need to consistently investigate them and hold them accountable if they aren't holding up. We also need to celebrate when they do good, it's easy to generalise fast-fashion as truly never being sustainable however recognising their efforts to make their brand more ethical is still important: it's the only way to encourage more change.
The world of fast fashion may not currently be enough to offset its footprint but with the right encouragement we can truly begin to inspire these companies to keep making innovative steps in the right direction.
This could potentially be the biggest, baddest beast of them all - challenging your own behaviour and attitude towards clothing. Again you've seen the statistics: 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year and people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000 even though they now only keep them for as half as long. It's clear that we as consumers still need to alter how we think about clothes.
There are many common ways you can start to think about clothes differently, and whether you really want those sunflower print shorts or whether it's impulse. Try the Thirty-Wear-Test for example - can you really imagine wearing these shorts more than thirty times? Will they last that long? If you think they'll withstand the year will you want to wear them next summer?
Secondly, just don't throw clothes in the trash without checking if they can't be recycled first, Recycle Now has a great tool to help locate textile recycling banks for those living in the UK and if they are in satisfactory condition then just pop them to your local charity shop or superstores!
Thirdly, buy ethically if you can (and only if you can). If I know I want a staple piece like some colourful dungarees or some interesting shoes then I typically will try to research more ethical, sustainable and local brands that I could get them from. Again, do what you only feel able to, you can help alleviate this fast fashion crisis in different ways!
We could champion charity shops and help them flourish, we could pressure our favourite fast fashion brands to keep looking for innovative ways to keep their prices low whilst being sustainable, we could only buy the things we know we’re going to wear time and time again…
There are plenty of things we could do but berating the working class and other disadvantaged groups for only being able to buy clothes from high street, fast fashion retailers isn’t one of them - because ultimately for many of us it is still a necessity.