Written by Christine Zanon
What is fast fashion?
Fast Fashion used to be described as the action of copying runway looks and bringing cheap designs to stores as fast as possible. Nowadays, Fast Fashion is ruled by social media, from the influencers who decide over new trends to the easy and quick swipe purchase function.
Fast fashion is fast
Taking the words in a literal sense, fast fashion is fashion that comes into a consumer’s visual field at a rapid pace and exits it equally as fast. By definition this requires a fast design process, fast development, quick production, few consumer wears and fast disposal. Fast, fast, fast and faster. Mediocre quality, low price points and exploitation of workers are enabling this speedy process. Consumers are incentivized to buy more, more frequently, being blasted with online ads and newsletters about new collections arriving in store around the clock. Indeed, some brands launch as many as 52 collections per year. You got it, according to Fast Fashion brands you should buy yourself a new outfit every week. And where does the outfit from 2 months ago go: out of sight, landfill. It has left the visual field. As fast as it had appeared.
As a result, shoppers today buy five times more garments than they did in 1980. According to a report from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, clothing sales have doubled in 15 years (from 2000 to 2015), while the number of times a garment is worn by its buyer has decreased by 25%.
It nearly goes without saying that this trend has an impact on people and the planet. But let’s have a closer look at just a few of the social and environmental problems arising from throw-away fashion.
Covid19 has emphasised some of the problems. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, several factories in developing countries had to close due to big brands pulling their orders. Workers lost their job, wages and pension payments have not been payed. Many are no longer able to feed their families and are being evicted from their homes due to an inability to pay their rent. It is estimated that fashion brands are responsible for $16 billion order cancellations due to Covid19 with a direct impact on the textile workers.
But it’s not Covid19 that has turned Fast Fashion into a troublesome phenomenon for garment employees, and worker exploitation is not exclusive to developing nations. Fast Fashion brands in the UK have been accused of engaging with unethical local establishments, that employ temporary or migrant workers, who are underpaid and overworked.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The environmental impact of fashion is undeniable. Greenhouse gas emissions from textile production alone are 1.2 billion tonnes annually; more than emissions of international flights and maritime shipping (pre-Covid) combined. The equation is simple: the more we produce, the higher the greenhouse gas emissions.
Pesticides & chemicals
Pesticides are often sprayed over cotton fields and harmful chemicals are applied in the fabric dying process, textile treatment and printing. These substances are harmful to workers’ and consumers’ health and leak into the environment either during production or once the items decompose slowly in landfill. They are banned for a good reason in many countries, being disruptive to the human endocrine and nervous system.
Synthetic textiles, like polyester and nylon, release microplastics in the washing process. These particles are so small, that they pass through wastewater treatment plants and end up in the ocean. Since synthetic fibres don’t biodegrade, they become a threat for sea life and eventually make it through the food chain into the human body. Half a million ton of microfibre contribute to ocean pollution each year.
Whenever the cost of a clothing item is low, the cost to the environment and humans somewhere is high. Though it might look like a bargain, fast fashion doesn’t save customers money in the long run.
As human beings we shop for clothing to satisfy a basic need but also for simple pleasure. We use fashion to help us create our identity and shopping has become a leisure past time that is fun. What’s important to note, is that it is less about the object but more about the motivation associated with the experience of shopping.
But where is the fun and the experience, when shopping for a new outfit is detrimental to the environment and creating even more social injustice?
As consumers, we have an incredibly powerful role in changing economic systems. We don’t need to invent a new product or re-invent a company; the aim is merely to extend a product’s life cycle. In simple words, we need our clothes to be around for longer before they go to recycling and avoid landfill as long as possible. This is about reshaping our consumption habits with what we already have and make more informed buying decisions.
So, where to start? Here are 3 tips to set you on the right path.
1. Buy intentionally and buy well
Choose quality over quantity. Rather than buying three sweaters, buy one really nice one of superior quality and from an ethical production line. In this way you will honour the true cost of materials and labour, avoid damage to the planet and support factories that are safe for workers. It will last a lot longer, too!
2. Choose materials wisely
Choose natural fibres over synthetic fibres as much as possible (organic cotton, linen, wool, hemp…) and whenever that is not an option (swimwear, activewear) choose the eco-friendlier version, i.e. recycled polyester over virgin polyester. Watch out! Even natural fibres are not necessarily sustainable. Choosing organic over conventional cotton would save 2457 litres of water per cotton t-shirt.
3. Upcycle, recycle, swap
Once you have worn your item enough times, find a different use for it, don’t discard it. Fashion is fun and an experience! Psychologically it’s true, we all want what we don’t have. But that’s not to say that what we want is not already out there. We just need more solutions like the The Fashion Trade App to connect us and make it convenient to find what we want.
The Fashion Trade App is a credit-based exchange platform, that makes fashion swaps easy, fun and convenient, while maintaining the value of an item. Through the credit system, which serves as a gamification component, the otherwise sometimes cumbersome process of trying to sell second-hand items at half price (when still in perfect condition) turns into an entertaining and playful experience. The best thing is that your quality, designer items keep their value! Now, all you need to do, is start selling items. Once you sold a piece, you’ll earn credit that can be used to purchase other items. And then the fun begins, by trading in your own pieces you can build yourself a whole new wardrobe, without having to purchase anything new from a store. The possibility of saving the environment and making the world a better place is in your hands (literally), it’s an experience, it’s easy and it’s fun!
A solution to slow down fast fashion
The Fashion Trade App is one solution of an enjoyable and motivating alternative to the current overconsumption. You’ll also be able to engage in a community of likeminded people and trade pre-loved quality design pieces while keeping their value. Last but not least, exchanging clothes rather than buying new ones, will save you money. Who doesn’t like that?
About the author
Christine Zanon is a Brand Expert in the fashion & retail industry, advocating for consumer education about sustainability and responsible leadership. Christine consults startups on strategy, communications and creative work.
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