What is fast fashion? Another buzz word? A corporate trick to make you spend more on clothing than you can afford? Or a guilt trip that society has contrived, shaming you for spending the same amount on a t-shirt as you would on a Happy Meal?
While that feeling of guilt is a common side effect of consuming both fast food and fast fashion, there seems to be greater public awareness of the range of consequences relating to the former and why they might justifiably provoke such an emotion. However, this doesn’t stop most of us from indulging in a cheeky takeaway every now and then. But what about fast fashion? Can it be consumed in moderation too?
Purchasing even one item from a fast fashion chain helps to prop up one of the most pollutive and exploitative industries on the planet. The way in which our clothes are produced affects everything from workers rights, to the environment through to your own sense of value in the world. Which is why The Fair Cottage has compiled a list of our top reasons for quitting fast fashion.
Intensive Cotton Farming
Fast fashion clothing often contains non-organic, intensively farmed cotton that is grown with chemicals that are known to cause eutrophication - a process by which lakes and rivers become overly enriched with nutrients causing a dense growth of plant life that damages the ecosystem. Furthermore, cotton crops are also commonly treated with harmful pesticides and carcinogens and are bleached, dyed and finished with further toxic chemicals, causing harm to workers in the production chain.
Synthetic Vs Organic Fibres
Clothes made from non-organic fibres are bad for the environment because they do not break down under natural conditions once they are thrown away. Even if you keep your plastic containing clothing for a long time, an average wash cycle can release more than 700,000 plastic micro fibres, with up to 40% of this plastic pollution making its way to our rivers and oceans.
While it’s not only fast fashion brands that use synthetic fibres, it tends to be more ethical and transparent brands who use recycled plastic, such as Ecoalf, who procure it from the bottom of the ocean. Despite recycled fibres still being pollutive due to washing, overall they help to reduce the consumption of virgin oil. Some manufacturers take a different approach, like sustainable outdoor brand Vaude, who substitute plastic with high performance organic fibres like TENCEL. This wood based material biodegrades naturally after its useful life.
Not since the hunt for bigfoot have footprints been so important. But unlike hairy, forest dwelling giants, climate change is real. However, most people are not treating the problem with the seriousness it deserves - especially when it comes to fashion and its carbon footprint.
Every single piece of clothing we buy leaves a carbon footprint and with that, consequences for our planet’s air, oceans and delicate ecosystems. Fast fashion retailers often produce in poorer countries like Bangledesh, China and Thailand, meaning the distances clothes cover to reach our European shelves are immense, releasing huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere.
Fair Trade and Workers Rights
Fast fashion exploits people and communities by employing cheap labour in unfair working conditions. If you choose to buy a brand new sweater, the price should be representative of the sweat and hard work that went into producing it, rather than the minimum it can be sold for in order to generate a profit.
The people who make clothing deserve to be fairly remunerated for their time, effort and skill in order to support at least a minimum standard of living, as defined by the Fair Wear Foundation’s standard on living wages for textile workers.
Transparency and Ethical Standards
You might have heard it being bandied around; fashion transparency is a hot topic right now. It’s about consumers being able to see exactly what materials go into a product, where and how it is manufactured and if people across the supply chain are fairly treated.
The brands that The Fair Cottage champions make information readily available, allowing consumers to make informed decisions. Often this transparent mindset is also reflected in collaboration between such brands, as they work together to tackle the complex problems the textile industry faces.
But what about high street brands? How can you tell if their practices are fair and sustainable if they do not publish data? The answer is, you can’t. That’s why we shouldn’t support them until they do.
For detailed statistics and information on the disclosure and transparency of big brands, you can check out Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2018.
Durability and Lifespan
It’s obvious to most of us that the less you spend on a t-shirt or a jumper, the quicker it will either become stretched, worn out or full of holes. But still there remains the temptation to put perceived savings over sense.
Illogic aside, we are living in a time when the planet is so threatened by human activity that it’s no longer morally justifiable to make spending decisions based on the cheapest price you can acquire something for. We have to look at the bigger picture, choosing products that we can wear for years rather than weeks or months, thus helping to preserve natural resources and reduce carbon emissions. Of course, it’s not as simple as paying more for an item. Don’t let premium brands trick you into believing high price equals high quality. It´s always best to do a bit of research and look out for textile certifications.
Value and Happiness
Like a tick, fast fashion cannot survive without a host. It feeds on our insecurities and anxieties, coercing us to keep up with rapidly changing styles and trends. With that comes a reliance on the temporary gratification achieved through shopping, thus distorting our sense of happiness and material value. But with temptation pasted in every magazine and on every billboard, how do we shake off that parasitical dependence on cheap, fast clothing?
The first hurdle is reprogramming your brain, getting rid of the layers upon layers of conditioning that have built up over the years; I need new things, cheaper is better, more makes me happy, designer equals prestige. Even if it feels like the good kind of conditioning, once you start ignoring it and thinking rationally about whether the way you consume fashion is true to your values, you will begin to feel better.
Pretty soon, that ever-present neediness for the one thing that finally completes your wardrobe will disappear, replaced by the contentment you once sought by strolling and scrolling through the endless aisles filled with fast fashion. If you're ready to ditch fast and go slow, check out our guide to making the switch.
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