I feel like fast fashion as a term is thrown around quite a lot in the sustainability sphere, but I don’t know whether people really understand the impacts of the daily choices they make. What if I told you that by simply washing your clothes you are polluting the ocean? It is a really horrifying concept. Think of the little fishes.
Seriously though, fast fashion is quite frankly getting out of hand. More than two times as many clothes are now being produced every year compared with 20 years ago. And yes I know there are more people now but we’re talking around 1.5 billion more, not 6 billion more! Although I want to share with you today why fast fashion is an issue and highlight some of the reasons why you should stay away, I am also going to share some of the best ways you and your clothes can have a positive (or at least less negative) impact on the planet.
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What is fast fashion?
I guess this is a good place to start, you might have read the first couple of paragraphs and be totally puzzled. Fast fashion is essentially a business model that means that clothes are made for as little money as possible so they can be sold as cheaply as possible. The worst part of all of it (okay not the worst part but definitely a bad part) is that when we do buy these cheaply made and cheaply sold clothes, quite often they don’t fit us properly. Total waste of money, time and resources. These clothes are essentially made to be disposed of as the companies that make them want you to come back in a few months and repurchase from them. It is simply a disgusting money-making scheme.
Over the years this has meant that people don’t really have a true understanding of the clothes they are wearing, as cheaper clothes are far more attractive to the consumer compared with those that are more expensive but are better made. This has been amplified over the last 10 years or so with many people having financial difficulties with the 2008 recession and now the pandemic. This means many of us don’t have the extra disposable income and yet still deem it the norm to be buying clothes as a leisure activity.
Just think about it, did you ever chat with your grandparents and they would tell you about how they would have clothes that would last them for years? This is because they were properly made to last and they knew the value of what they owned.
Fast fashion and the issue of over consumption are hugely linked, with UK homes owning over £4,000 worth of clothes with around 30% they haven’t worn in the last 12 months. I have made a YouTube video all about over consuming products which I will link below so make sure you check it out if you haven’t already.
Biggest Fast Fashion Brands:
Unfortunately, although it makes perfect sense, some of the biggest contributors to the environment and the whole of the fast fashion industry are those we see as we walk down our high streets. This is by no means a comprehensive list but just a few to make you think.
- Pretty Little Thing
- Forever 21
- New Look
- Victoria’s Secret
- Topshop/ Topman
And just to make it better, supermarkets jump on the bandwagon too as some of the least sustainable and least ethical clothes you can buy.
The environmental impact of fast fashion is an extremely complex issue but for now I am going to break it down into three categories and briefly chat about them: water, microplastics and pollution.
There is of course the issue of disposal of the clothing, however, I will talk about this in a later post.
Water usage and water pollution aren’t something that comes immediately into people’s heads when they think of clothing, however the UN published a report suggesting that the fast fashion industry is the 2nd biggest water user in the world! This is the equivalent of 79 trillion litres of water each year, according to Niinimaki’s study published in the scientific journal Nature. Many of us are becoming more away of the need to reduce our water usage and yet are willing to buy from the fast fashion brands mentioned above. This doesn’t really make much sense, does it?
On top of this, by simply washing clothes made from fabrics such as polyester, we are actually polluting the oceans. This is due to the fact that fabrics like these release microplastic into our waterways. If you do have these sorts of fabrics in your wardrobes a really simple way to solve this problem is use a microplastic bag like this one! It is super clever and will catch the microplastics in it to prevent them going into the waterways.
Studies by the UN have shown that the fast fashion industry is responsible for around 10% of global carbon emission. For some context, this is more than all international flights combined! Not only that but there are many harmful chemicals that are used in the production of clothing, such as toxic dyes used to make our clothes pretty colours (this makes me particularly sad as I love pretty colours.)
There are of course huge human rights issues relating to fast fashion, which I can go into in a later post, but I wanted to focus on the environmental impacts here. Let me know if this is something you would like.
What can we do:
- Buy second hand – seriously you can find some incredible things in second hand shops and you’d be surprised at how cheap you can get them. Sometimes you need to give them a little TLC but you can also find completely unworn items that are just crying out to be loved.
- Buy from ethical and sustainable brands – not everything is good second hand such as underwear and mattresses. When you need to get some more of these why not look at ethical brands. I will do a whole post in the next couple of weeks about how to spot ethical brands because there are too many great ones to mention here.
- Shop your wardrobe – This is the most underestimated way to shop. You will be amazed at the outfits you can come up with by simply taking a look at the clothes you already have. Mix things up by wearing that shirt you haven’t worn in a while with a skirt you never thought it would go with, or pair up a dress with some different shoes. It will give them a whole new life and after all the most sustainable thing to do is to use what you already have.
- Repair your clothes – Hands up if you have thrown away a pair of jeans because they have an unmentionable rip in them. *PUTS HAND UP*. Next time this happens, no matter how well you can sew, just patch them up and give them a new life. Let’s face it they’re either going to end up looking quirky or chances are nobody will even be able to tell in the first place. Especially if it is located in the aforementioned unmentionable location. If you know you know.
- Don’t impulse buy – take a second when you see that uber cute dress on an advert as you’re scrolling through social media. Ask yourself, do you really need this? If you still want it maybe save the item and go back to it later.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s post and it hasn’t come across too ranty!! It can be completely mind-blowing to find out these things if you haven’t heard about it before so if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by this, just be kind to yourself. I have definitely had days where I let myself get sad about the impact of fast fashion. I have talked a lot today so I will leave it there. Speak soon.