Everything is fast nowadays. We can get places really fast, order food, download movies; we can even turn on our lights with a simple voice command, much quicker than actually walking to the light switch. It’s truly an interesting time to be alive.
When it comes to clothing, things have never been faster. Trends and fashion cycles are running at break-neck speeds. Outfits have never been cheaper and more accessible. In a few clumsy clicks of your phone, you can have a new ensemble delivered to your doorstep tomorrow for an event this weekend, and it’s incredibly likely you got some form of a discount on it. But what is the true cost of all this convenience?
Yes, we’re living in a time when everything is fast and convenient, but the environment is also in peril, so we need to ask ourselves what impact does this fast fashion have? What exactly is it? Why is it so bad? What can we do better?
Read on to find out all this and more.
What is Fast Fashion?
It might be a new term for you, but you are definitely familiar with fast fashion. You’ve bought it, you’ve worn it, you’ve swapped and thrifted it. Fast fashion is clothing that isn’t very expensive to make, and it’s produced on a massive scale.
Without naming particular brands, our high streets and shopping centres are filled with fast fashion. In the regular cycle of fashion, ideas and concepts normally start on the runway in the form of couture, then over time, this is passed down through fast fashion to us regular people. Here’s Meryl Streep explaining that process in ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’
The fast-fashion model makes sense if you are a business trying to make a profit. You produce things as quickly as possible for as little as possible, then add a markup to the end customer and ‘BOOM’ money.
It’s also not really necessary in the fast fashion model to make sure clothing has a long life; it just needs to last a little while because if it rips or tears, you are still making affordable, fast fashion and your customers will come back to buy more.
Why is Fast Fashion Bad?
It’s probably not very helpful to view things as good versus bad. Fast fashion has worked for us for a long time. When fast fashion first appeared, people suddenly had access to different looks and styles that they had only ever seen in glossy magazines. Fashion used to be something that only wealthy and influential people had access to. With fast fashion, the playing field was a bit more levelled, and the average person had more options to add to their wardrobe than ever before without needing to break the bank.
The main problem is that we have started to notice that there are some ‘not so desirable things’ that come along with the fast fashion model. At a time when the excesses of our society have led to some pretty serious issues, it is good to acknowledge the flaws in the fast fashion model before it’s too late.
Below are some of the issues related to fast fashion.
We are living in a time where Co2 emissions and carbon footprints are talked about as commonly as the weather. I mean, they do actually have an effect on the amount it rains, the temperature and what kind of environment we will leave behind for our kids.
The fashion industry is responsible for around 10% of the total global carbon emissions. This might not sound like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, this number is huge. This number is more than the number of emissions from planes and boats combined. It’s believed that if there isn’t a change, the fashion industry will be responsible for half of the total global carbon emissions by the year 2030.
Most people don’t realise this, but the fashion industry is the second largest polluter of drinkable water in the world. The amount of water required to make your favourite pair of jeans is staggering. In fact, if you collected all the water needed to make just one pair of jeans, it could keep an adult human alive for almost a decade. The problem is that by the time the jeans are finished, most of the water is undrinkable and can’t be used.
As the world’s population keeps growing, access to safe, drinkable water is becoming a massive problem that won’t be going away any time soon and the fast fashion model isn’t really doing anything to curb this issue.
Unsafe Labour Conditions
As the fast fashion industry has become more industrialised and more competitive, some companies have started to cut corners in an effort to save money. This often means that large portions of the production process are completed in the developing world. In many cases, the working conditions for those involved would be deemed unacceptable in the countries where the clothing is eventually sold.
Sure, many companies do whatever they can to ensure their subcontractors are treating their staff humanely and not violating any human rights laws, but there’s plenty of room for ‘grey areas, ’ especially in the race to beat the competition to the shop floor.
Online shopping has only increased the demand for cheap garments at discounted prices, and while this might mean a bargain for you, it could have huge ramifications for the people running the factory where that garment is made.
Most of us have been taught since we were young that we should appreciate the things we have because there are plenty of people who are going without. Unfortunately, in the modern age, this saying doesn’t have the same impact, at least when it comes to clothing.
We have been led to believe that we should send all our unwanted, used clothing to developing countries. How many times have we heard of clothing drives for people in African countries? There’s just one problem with that, Africa doesn’t want your used clothing.
There has been a switch in recent years as some countries (especially in Africa) have begun to develop their economies. They now have their own textile industries, and their citizens want to support local businesses, so a lot of those clothing donations end up in landfills.
In fact, textile waste is responsible for 5% of the world’s landfill space every year, and that number is growing exponentially. It’s easy to see why when you can buy a shirt for a ‘fiver’ on any given day of the week.
At the risk of sounding like the biggest’ Debbie Downer’ in the world, recycling is also something that hasn’t turned out to be what we thought.
Yes, recycling is a great process and helps to limit a lot of things, but when it comes to clothing, the problem is that large portions of it cannot be recycled at all. This is all because of synthetic fibres.
You might not realise this, but man-made fibres like nylon and polyester are actually made from plastics, and we all know that plastic is something we can’t seem to get rid of right now, no matter how hard we try.
As for clothing made from natural fibres, recycling them isn’t the easiest process in the world. Clothes aren’t like paper. You can’t just heat them, add some water and mould them into something new. Once threads have been spun to create a fabric, it will most likely stay in that state (unless you somehow find a way to unravel it all and make usable thread again).
So, unfortunately, a lot of the clothing we don’t want to wear ends up going nowhere. Most of it sits in landfill forever, and if it’s made of synthetic fibres, forever is way more literal than you might think.
Expensive for Consumers
So you scored a bargain on those jeans at the Black Friday sales. Congratulations, it’s always great to save a few quid, right? Except it’s entirely possible those jeans you bought will either be out of style or completely unwearable within the next 6 months.
This will mean that you will then have to go buy another pair of jeans to replace the ones you got on sale, and then the replacement jeans will most likely fall into the same pattern, and by the end of a year and a half, you have paid for three pairs of jeans. I’m not a math genius, but it sounds like that Black Friday sale didn’t save you that much money after all.
The truth is that fast fashion is inherently designed to not last that long because the brands that are selling it need you to come back and buy more. The savings might seem amazing today, but if you added up all the transactions, you would find you spend an unnecessarily large portion of money on clothing that barely stayed in your wardrobe for one season.
What We Can Do to Stop Fast Fashion
Stopping the fast fashion train is going to take a lot more than just putting on the metaphorical breaks. It’s an enormous industry that creates jobs for millions (if not billions) of people.
It seems that the best way to curb some of the damage being done by the fast fashion industry is to make some personal decisions that will eventually let big brands know that in order to keep your loyalty, they will need to make some changes.
In a world where Google is just a voice control away, it’s never been easier to find out if the shirt you’re about to buy is made sustainably. Choose clothing that is made of natural fibres and is produced with minimal environmental impact.
As you’ve already discovered from all the information above, there’s a surplus of clothing in the world looking for an owner. This means that it’s incredibly easy to find an outfit at a thrift store for a fraction of the price that it would cost you in an established fashion chain.
Shopping second hand is the easiest way to save money while minimising your contributions to landfill and carbon emissions.
The easiest way to send a message to someone is to hit them in the wallet. When it comes to the environment, many of us feel overwhelmed and think, ‘But I’m just one person, what exactly can I do?’ The simple answer is that you can just stop buying clothing you don’t need.
Loads of people buy clothing they will never wear or will only wear once simply because it’s cheap or on sale. If more people started shopping smarter, the fast fashion industry would start to notice that their profits are getting a little smaller. In basic business, there’s a rule of supply and demand, and if the demand dwindles, you have no choice but to slow down or figure out what you need to change about your product to get people to want it again.
Resell Unused Items
A great way to try to keep clothing out of landfill is to resell garments you no longer need or want. Not only does it help reduce your carbon footprint, but it can also bring a little bit of extra spending money into your household.
If you don’t need clothing that still has life left in it but aren’t really concerned about making money from it, donating it is still a viable option. If you decide to donate clothing, it is important to take into consideration who exactly you are donating it to and what their plan is after you have dropped off your garbage bag of glad rags.
One thing to take into consideration is to start with local charities. At the local level, the organisation you donate to is more likely to understand the surrounding community. They are more adept at knowing what items people need and when, so it’s less likely your donation will end up in a dump.
How myTOT Supports the Fight Against Fast Fashion
When it comes to fast fashion, one of the biggest contributors to the negative impacts it has on the environment is the children’s clothing industry. Kids’ clothing will often only be worn a few times before it is discarded, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Children grow fast, and keeping them clothed can be expensive, but myTOT was created to help ease that financial burden, reduce environmental impact, and maybe even make you some extra cash.
myTOT is a parent-powered app that gives you access to a marketplace of people just like you who want to save money but also care about the environment. Creating an account is easy, and once you get started, you can buy and sell kids’ clothing and products easily.
myTOT is all about building a community of like-minded, environmentally-conscious parents who can also make a few quid on the side. To find out more, create an account today.
The big positive takeaway is that we are living in a time where we now know that there are some problems with fast fashion, and we do actually have the power to fix them. It’s all about making better conscious decisions and thinking about the world we want to leave behind for our children.