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Fast fashion and unsustainable shopping

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

When it comes to clothing, fast fashion is the evil genius that keeps people feeling their wardrobes are inadequate. Unfortunately this unsustainable shopping practice has gained momentum, but we the consumer can decide if and when to jump off the money train.

For many fashion girls and boys out there, fashion often comes from within - feelings inspire a look and it changes every day, dressing is a kind of therapy - an art form that allows people to enhance a different aspect of their personality as and when they choose to show it.

Even if you are not a "fashionista" or indeed have any interest in fashion, shopping for clothes is a huge industry that relies on making us feel outmoded by continually updating us with Season's Trends to encourage a feeling of inadequacy if we don't purchase new items. Paired with the ever decreasing cost of clothes, thanks to third world worker exploitation and poor quality manufacture, it has never been cheaper to overhaul your wardrobe.

Sadly for many with low disposable income and high rent or mortgages, convenient and cheap shopping at the likes of Primark, H&M and supermarkets are necessary in dressing their families. Despite our best efforts to shop in charity shops, it is very hard for people to find what they need, when they need it, but thanks to emerging enterprises like Kids Clothes Exchange, Depop and pre-loved consignment stores, this is starting to change.

Oscar Wilde

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.

As with anything made cheaply and quickly, the products from these shops don't last long, they shrink or break so replacements are needed sooner, the time between shopping trips becomes smaller and the cycle is perpetual. This, however, isn't the only downside, sadly many high street brands are able to keep their prices low due to negligence in the welfare of their suppliers. Their manufacturers are responsible for discarding chemical waste into waterways with locals suffering huge consequences as a result.

Although the fashion industry has been labelled as one of the top 5 polluters, pollution is very difficult to quantify and due to the discrepancies in their practices, it is hard to tell which industries pollute the most, however we do know that it takes between 6400-15,500 litres of water to produce 500g of cotton or a single pair of jeans and that isn't helping the planet.

Marketing, PR and advertising are geared towards tempting consumers to update their looks through fashion mags, blogs, influencers and apps like Instagram. Yes there are better ways to shop, like choosing fairtrade shops that use ethically sourced fabrics, however this still comes at a price. Fashion is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and shipping combined. If we continue to use fast, cheap, plastic fashion, the industry’s carbon footprint will increase by 50% in the next 20 years.

Fashion uses the equivalent water consumed by over 5 million people each year, mainly in fabric dyeing and treatment. And it generates over half a million tons of plastic microfibres each year which make their way into animals and plants in the food chain.The fact of the matter is, the sheer demand for fashion turnaround means that even using organic materials becomes unsustainable, the air miles for an organic cotton item versus non-organic cotton remains the same and our need to consume continues. The critical point is at consumer level, we can; choose not to shop in the first place, shop second hand avoiding cheap / fast fashion, only purchasing new when absolutely necessary, then researching to find the best option whilst ensuring products comply with our own ethical requirements. These are all key criteria in adequately disrupting the fast fashion cycle.

Lucy Siegle, Environmental Journalist

Fast fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying.

Some of the ways to update your clothes without contributing to the fast fashion problem is to hold clothing swaps with friends and family, making new items from old, buying from charity and vintage shops and asking friends and family for fabric they no longer need in order to make new clothes. If you are not particularly crafty, there are repair cafes popping up all over the country that can help mend and update your existing clothing so take along an item and speak to the talented seamstresses, tailors and repairers who mostly work for donations.

For more insight into just how destructive fast fashion has become, you could watch The True Cost by Andrew Morgan as well as Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion's Dirty Secrets. These documentaries reveal how the demand for low cost fashion over the last few decades has directly impacted the dramatic increase in cost to human and environmental life.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation as well as the Prince's Trust are both actively pushing for circular economy within the clothing industry but as with the plastic problem, it is up to us, the consumer to stand up first, refuse the goods and let the markets follow our lead.

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