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Slow the Fashion

Slow the fashion

In this day and age, it is so easy to get swept up into the blind side of fast fashion, especially overconsuming clothes at discounted prices. For many, fashion is a form of expression and showing individual style to the world. However, the darker side of the fashion industry is its huge weight on the environment and exploitation of garment workers. 

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is defined as inexpensive, trendy clothing that takes inspiration from celebrity culture and the catwalk turned into items that can be found on the high street at low-cost prices.


Fast fashion plays into the idea of overconsumption. Many fall victim to the ever-changing trends, meaning one week an item is all the rage, and the next week it is old news. The Business of Fashion has found one-third of women consider an item to be old after a couple of uses. The ease of fast fashion makes it very appealing, whether that be going into a shop, making a purchase and finding a good deal, or going online and after a few clicks making your purchase. Quick turnaround of items from catwalks and celebrities, whilst a huge benefit to the consumer, is a very damaging consequence to the environment and garment workers.  


Fast fashion allows fashion to be more attainable and accessible, those with income limitations can make cheaper purchases with a lot more choice. Although thrifting is a great alternative to fast fashion, it can have its limitations – not enough stores close by, can’t find sizes and lack of accessibility to thrift.


Another contributor to fast fashion is social media and blogger culture. Of course, the influencer culture allows people to get inspiration with 17% of people are finding the latest trend from online bloggers, many people enjoy the thrill of shopping but often feel overwhelmed with where to start when looking for a new outfit. However, 54% of people believe influencers are part of the reason for the rise of the fast fashion, this number increases to 71% when asking the younger generation (16-24) - Fashion Retail Academy. This culture where influencers/celebrities share new outfits every day from brands and hold great influence over their followers to snap up the piece later feeds into the overconsumption. Often, influencers will hold brand deals and offer discount codes that can be used to entice followers to snap up the latest purchase.


The price decrease has led to an increase in overbuying. The increase in overbuying cheaply manufactured garments and the enticing practices of these brands means peoples purchasing is doubling each year, 100 to 200 billion units a year, which later get thrown away.


Fashion began when humans began wearing clothes, typically made from natural items. Items were sourced, cut, stitched, and worn by each person. New technology being introduced after the Industrial Revolution allowed clothes to be made more efficiently. Seamstresses began to emerge, catering to the higher classes, items were tailored measured and very expensive. Many employed workers and sweatshops began. As time went on, designers took inspiration from major cities, by the end of the 19th-century women became more independent and the demand for clothing increased. As we reach the 20th century, magazines and newspapers began to include pictures of clothes, influencing people’s tastes. After the war, people began experimenting more with fashion, there were many possibilities influenced by film stars, models, and the emergence of teenage culture.

At the end of the 20th century, fashion began to take inspiration from international borders. Western styles began emerging all over the world and vice-versa. Synthetic materials, such as polyester fibres, became more popular. 


Bringing us to the 21st century, the ease and speed of new technologies, influencer culture, and more expendable income has shown clothing production to double from 2000 to 2014. Now, 150 billion garments are produced each year, this is 20 items per person on the planet. The accessibility of social media and online shopping allows everyday people to have the same on-trend looks as those on the catwalk or their favourite celebrities for a lower, discounted cost. 

Environmental Impact

The fast fashion industry is having a colossal environmental impact, it is the second-largest polluter in the world, with 10% of greenhouses gases coming from this industry.


To understand why this is the case we must look at the product lifecycle of items.


The fast fashion industry produces a mass production of garments at a rapid rate. The introduction of new technologies, like sewing machines, has made production easy, quick, and cheap. Whilst this means items are low quality, cheap items are being produced in mass production, it also means there is a huge colossal environmental impact. According to the UN, 8000 gallons of water are used to make one pair of jeans. 1.5 trillion litres of water are used every year by the industry and this is expected to double in the next 8 years - OVO Energy. As well as this, chemical dyes are used to colour clothes and are extremely toxic to our environment, polluting our waters.


Out of the 150 billion items produced each year, 3 in 5 items (per person) will be discarded within the same year of purchase. Most dispose of their unwanted fast fashion through landfill, 92 million tonnes each year. This comes from the consumer and the companies manufacturing the items as well. The Environmental Audit Committee found 15% of the fabric is disposed of during the cutting stage. Some organisations sort through clothes put in landfills to give to third world countries but this only accounts for 25% of the amount that ends in landfills.


This toxic cycle of the tragic environmental impact of making clothes, only for these clothes to be returned to landfills within the next couple of years means an unnecessary pollution cycle that just keeps going, resulting in a huge carbon footprint.


The other part of this story is the garment workers. The sourcing and production of the garments can be unethical and harmful to the environment and on top of this the garment workers who make the clothes are exploited. Paid little to no wage, in terrible conditions, workers are pressured to make mountains upon mountains of clothes. Companies have been quoted stating they pay their workers “the minimum living wage” this means the bare minimum a family needs to survive. The blatant lack of human rights in these environments has caused many issues. One of the first garment factory disasters occurred in New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911. 146 women lost their lives that day due to a fire breaking out. In 2013, Rana Palace collapsed killing 1134 workers due to ‘unacceptable work conditions’. Workers are in a toxic environment breathing in these substances with no ventilation, in an unsafe building. Shifts for workers can range between 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. A lot of these workers are not in a situation to decline over time, garment workers are being taken advantage of because of their situation. These accidents, fires, and collapses unfortunately are very common but completely avoidable.

What can you do?

Fast fashion has emerged in a harmed environment. Whilst it can be beneficial and allow people to purchase items at a more cost-friendly, accessible price, as a society we must do what we can to challenge this overconsumption culture and unpresidential rate of disposal.


Finding alternatives to using the limited amount of natural resources available, developing new methods for recycling, and using renewable energy must be something that needs to be considered. On top of this, fashion businesses must be challenged to make better quality clothing in a more humane, ethical way.

Spotting fast fashion

Some of the key things to look out for are:

- Brands with thousands of styles, which they regularly update to keep up to date with the latest trends.

- Quick turnaround time of bringing selling trends or lines shown on a celebrity/catwalk.

- Manufacturers offshore.

-      Materials to avoid– polyester, nylon, viscose, leather, PVC, and cotton.


When making your next purchase, ask yourself “Will I wear this at least 12 times?” Many can fall victim to making one of the purchases for an event or occasion. Research has shown a shift in peoples’ choices. 65% said they wanted to buy more durable clothing, 57% said they would repair their clothing instead of throwing it away and 71% said they intended to keep their clothing longer. This shift hopefully means the need for overconsumption and unnecessary new purchases is on its downfall.


Another alternative is second-hand shopping. Charity shops or second-hand shops are great places to explore different clothes at a discounted price. Most of these items are preloved, but some are also brand new! Moreover, online second-hand shopping gives a much wider choice! Depop, Vinted, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace offer great choices instead of fast fashion. Independent shops not only support small businesses and help local communities, but they also significantly reduce the environmental impact and overconsumption!


A new up-and-coming choice is to rent clothes, this has been put in place to help tackle the increasing throw-away culture. Customers purchase an item to rent for some time and when they are done return it to the store, the store then cleans the item to be reused.


Quality over quantity is important. Fashion that will last for years to come is not only beneficial to the bank, but to our environment. As trends always turn to the past for inspiration, we should turn to the future for a more forward, sustainable way of thinking.


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