Even if you do not care about fashion, it is still important, because what you wear says something about you. Fashion is a major part of our culture, and there are problems that come with a society that loves to shop, because companies are churning out more than we can consume. For example, every one in three young women in Britain consider garments worn once or twice to be old, that’s how fast fashion has changed things for consumers. Fast fashion is essentially a series of chain retailers who look at the runways and make similar garments very quickly, they then put them into a see-now-buy-now retail environment. There is also the fact that fast fashion is ‘fast’ in the sense that it is not meant to last in your wardrobe for that long. The longevity of the items you purchase are determined from the outset, it suggests that these clothes should only be worn once or twice. It’s hard to resist because fast fashion is basically a way of making clothes quickly and cheaply. They have essentially democratised luxury brands by creating knock off designs for cheaper prices and on a wider scale.
There are so many brands to focus on when it comes to fast fashion. You have Fashion Nova, Zara, H&M, Topshop and ASOS. Through any of these brands you can look like a second-rate Kim Kardashian. However, Fashion Nova takes the crown when it comes to copying designers. Does anyone remember when she wore that cut-out vintage dress from Thierry Mugler’s 1998 archives? Then under twenty-four hours later Fashion Nova was selling a knock off version of the dress for $50. Yes, for $50 you can try to look like Kim Kardashian, have fun with all that garment tape for that dress.
This business model affects the world in so many ways, for example on a sociological level. The main ethos of fast fashion is to make you feel luxurious and make you look good without having to pay astronomical prices. In 2017, British women spent an average of £74 per month on clothes, while British men spent £100 per month on clothes. Then there is the other issue that even though the average woman owns 95 items of clothing and the average man owns 56 items, they are only worn regularly 59% and 62% of the time, respectively. It is then obvious how the only mass-market retailer that is able to cater to these desires for more clothing at an average price point are fast fashion retailers. Now we have reached the point where it is the only area of the fashion industry that has actually grown over the past few years.
Let’s compare high fashion brands and fast fashion brands when it comes to production. A luxury brand releases bulks of clothing in seasonal releases. This process consists of designing the clothing, sourcing the materials and fabrics, manufacturing and distributing. This takes a long time, on average it can take a brand two years to bring clothing to release. Then there are brands like H&M and Zara that pioneered and set the precedent for the fast fashion business model. In particular, Zara created quick response manufacturing which effectively reduces release time within a few months. All they need to do is imitate a designer, then use the raw materials they already have and streamline distribution. This is all legal because knockoffs are not counterfeits and the former are accepted in the eyes of the law. Then there is the fact we are showing our interest for these items through social media and these brands have access to how we respond to designs. This all makes it very easy for brands to sell those clothes. That’s a really large discrepancy when you think about it. The high fashion brands are releasing clothes four times a year at most. The fast fashion brands are pushing out products every week or every other day.
If these brands are pushing to meet demands surely there is no waste? In typical futile and fickle human fashion, these industries have created an overabundance of clothing, which ranges into the billions range. Another problem in 2017 was the fact that we disposed £12.5 billion of wearable clothing. You cannot wear the same clothing. You have to continuously change what is inside your wardrobe. God forbid someone thinks you own a washing machine and don’t throw away a top after you have worn it once! This highlights a couple of issues, the first is that we can continue to buy clothes, but the rate at which we consume clothing is out of control and this is not slowing down. The second is that we need to be wearing the clothes we purchase for longer after all, with all the money you have spent on clothing surely you would want them to last for as long as they possibly can?
The fabrics you use to make these clothes are eating away at the environment, too. These fabrics require a serious amount of water to be produced on such a large scale. These synthetic fabrics that we love, especially in our sportswear, require crude oil. The process to manufacture fabrics, process them, dye them and finish them is also incredibly problematic. The garment workers in economically poorer countries use toxic chemicals to put everything together for you to look good for one day of your life. These communities who live near the manufacturers suffer are also then at risk of chemical poisoning. Perhaps companies would be willing to change the amount of clothing that is produced, but that is not likely when profit comes first. Therefore, donating seems to be an answer then?
Well that might not actually be the best solution. If charities cannot shift stock within a certain duration of time they are often sold to buyers in developing countries. Additionally, many fast fashion brands have launched take-back schemes where you can donate clothings, shoes and other materials depending on the brand. In return, you’ll get a voucher for a future purchase, and the usual promise is that these unwanted garments will be made into new clothes. However, these clothes are not remade, they are also resold for the most part. That is not the problem, after all, it can be beneficial for developing countries to purchase the clothes that are in good condition. They can then re-sell these clothes and create their own profit. What happens with ruined clothing or the inability to sell the stock? A problem arises because they have too much clothing to sell and not enough consumers to buy them. It therefore just takes a longer route to being incinerated or dumped in a landfill. The system is not perfect and the secret trade behind second-hand clothing given to charities is something that also needs to be addressed.
At the end of the day, you have options, right? Buy second-hand or vintage clothing. Buy less clothes and wear them for longer. Or continue buying from these companies by purchasing their sustainable clothing. Let me be honest with you the waste generated from the stores you recycle your garments are not actually included in the overall recycling process of the company. They are recycling in factories and in the production process, but they are not actually recycling garments from in-store. The sustainability of high street brands is vague at best. They rarely provide definitions for what they mean by ethically sourced clothing and how they are becoming more sustainable. Yes, we should applaud the efforts of brands who are genuinely trying to be more sustainable, but we should be asking for complete transparency in what happens to our donations. As it currently stands these brands are not making moves to become more sustainable, they are giving lip service, rather than shaking up the fashion industry.
When you see that little sign that asks you to donate clothes for a discount voucher, remember you are buying more clothes, that you will end up recycling. This cycle continues. Remember that these eco-friendly angles brands are now trying to push on consumers is meaningless. Here’s what you’re going to do instead: wear your clothes for longer. If you buy clothing, but it second-hand whenever you can, and those little changes will genuinely have a huge impact. Then there is the change the companies need to make themselves. It is hard to commit to these changes, but it is not impossible, and it requires changing consumer culture and shopping culture. It would be brilliant to have sustainable and ethically produced clothing; these garments need to be high-quality, long-lasting, versatile and priced fairly. It takes the consumer and the industry to change how we view shopping culture and fast fashion.
What is your fashion footprint? Calculate it using this link.