The Ugly Truth Behind Fast Fashion
Throughout my life I’ve always been a big consumer, but without a doubt the thing I consumed most, was clothes – every month I’d have a new piece to show off, from ASOS, New Look, H&M, Primark, or another high street store of a similar vein. I’d buy cheap clothes, which obviously meant cheap quality, but at the time all that mattered was the one-off price tag as I didn’t give the future of the item much thought. My clothes catered to the trends of the fashion industry at that moment, or the hottest print or piece of clothing at my school or amongst my friends – when I was 11, I had to have patterned leggings from Primark because I saw a girl in my class wearing them on non-uniform day; when I was 15, all I wanted was the cute crop tops in Topshop because it seemed that everyone had them but me; when I was 18, I needed an off-the-shoulder top because the style was making a comeback. But, as quickly as some trends enter fashion, they leave (though, in truth, I’m wearing an off-shoulder dress as I write this), and the high-street welcomes a newer, trendier array of items to take the old ones’ place; and thus, I present to you, the fast fashion industry.
Since I’ve learned more about sustainable living over the last few months, I’ve found it ever more difficult to practice the same level of consumerism I have in the past – I still buy from the same shops, but when I purchase an item I’m left with a feeling of guilt that I would never have felt before now, so I feel it’s time to make a change.
The fast fashion industry is detrimental to the people on the production side of things as well as the environment we live in; it’s emphasis on speed and low cost means quality is non-existent, both in the product and in the way the industry creates its clothing. Factory workers are often paid extremely low wages and neglected while on duty – in 2018, it was found that H&M and Gap female garment workers in the respective companies’ factories in Asia faced regular abuse, from bullying and slapping to rape and sexual assault, with 540 incidents being reported between January and May of that year. Women working in fast fashion factories have historically been more likely to receive less pay than male workers, and most receive a salary too low to provide basic care for their families. This problem isn’t exclusive to the East though, as a recent study found that in the Manchester area some garment workers were being paid a meagre wage of £4 per hour.
Though the disregard for human life by the industry is horrifying, you might argue that the cost to the environment is even worse. The ‘it’ colours or prints of the season are often achieved through dyeing fabrics with toxic chemicals, ‘polluting clean water globally’, not to mention the potentially fatal effects these dyeing processes can have on factory workers. Polyester, often used in fast fashion products, when washed distributes microfibres that contribute to rising levels of plastic in our oceans, entering the habitats and poisoning the digestive systems of marine life. The rise of online shopping has also contributed to an increased number of delivery vehicles on the road, leading to higher carbon emissions, noise pollution, and vehicle congestion in neighbourhoods that previously would have seen little-to-no freight vans and lorries passing through.
The colossal amount of waste created by the fashion industry is unparalleled – in 2017, H&M was ‘accused of burning 12 tonnes of new, unsold clothes per year’. This issue, however, is not just present in the fast fashion industry, but also the high-end market; many of us will remember the scandal that hit Burberry last year in which it was found that the company had destroyed £28 million worth of clothes and perfume, and as the scandal gained traction more brands were discovered to have done the same. Not only is destroying perfectly good clothes a slap in the face to those out there on a low-income who could have benefitted from the clothing, but the process of combustion also releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
As if fast fashion wasn’t already costing us our environment and our health and safety, it’s also costing us our hard-earned cash. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always gravitated towards fast fashion brands like New Look and ASOS because they were cheap in the short-term, but in terms of quality, their cost-per-wear is often higher than if you were to buy a more expensive item from an ethical brand. Recently, I’ve been wondering whether to purchase a pair of jeans from Everlane, a transparent, sustainable fashion brand that produces its clothing in the US, Europe, South America, and Asia – the average price for a pair of their jeans is around $80 (or £65), but while this is more expensive than the average amount I’d spend on jeans from ASOS (around £30), the quality would mean the Everlane jeans would no doubt last me much longer than the year-or-so that my jeans from ASOS usually last.
Getting out of the vicious fast fashion cycle then is about trying to turn our eyes away from the latest style or piece of clothing being reproduced all over the high street, and towards the atrocities that the industry commits every single day. Like I said, I’m new to the game and am by no means a saint, but recently I’ve taken to purchasing more items from Depop and local charity/thrift shops instead of online fast fashion or in-store retailers. For those of you who may be put off by purchasing second-hand products, saving up for more expensive pieces could save you money on cost-per-wear, while combining this with one or two items every season from a fast fashion brand where before you might have bought ten is a great start.
Image credit: freestocks.org