Consumers seem to take the bulk of the blame for fast fashion but the onus of reducing the impacts should be placed as much on the industry as on shoppers.
We’ve all heard about the horrors of cheap labour; the exploitation of overseas workers has been well documented over the last few years and rightly so. In 2013, over 1,100 workers were killed when the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, which provided a stark and shocking reminder of why the clothes of fast fashion are so cheap. The factory provided clothes to numerous Western brands, including Zara, Walmart and Mango, however, it was just one of thousands of textile factories in Bangladesh, many of which feed clothes into the British high street.
The reality is, even if we all knew the truth about this industry, avoiding fast fashion is extremely difficult. While high street brands are investing in ‘eco-friendly’ clothing lines; sourcing garments made from sustainable sources is still not always easy and can be expensive.
When thinking about organic clothing, I still get flashbacks to an itchy hemp and cotton t-shirt I tried to avoid wearing as a child, however, I know fabric technology has come a long way from the coarse, raw fibres that made up my old scratchy tee. This was proven to me by the ridiculously soft bamboo socks that mum now seems to gift me each Christmas (very much recommended for a cosy evening.) Socks aside, this doesn’t avoid the fact that creating a wardrobe that manages to completely evade fast fashion would likely not only take a long time to source, but also cost a lot.
The argument against fast fashion often results in a class divide. Many people simply cannot afford to buy purely from sustainable brands, so the expectation to be eco-conscious is unrealistic and unfair. While charity shops can be a great cheap way to buy sustainably, as it utilises second hand clothing and reduces landfill, you’re unlikely to find the latest trends in your local Barnardo’s. The never-ending need to follow the latest trends is not something to be supported, but it’s idealistic to expect people to only wear the fashions that have been donated to charity shops. I know amazing vintage pieces can on rare occasions be found in charity shops, but the rise in a desire for ‘vintage’ clothing has led to shops specifically for branded second hand garments and they are often far from the prices in charity shops. These items, despite being second hand, are still a lot more expensive than online giants Boohoo and Missguided, so it’s not surprising people will still head there for a new and fashionable hoodie.
As a student on a low budget, I have become a lot more conscious about what I buy, partly for sustainability reasons, partly for financial. I have never liked shopping in Primark or bought extremely cheap clothing, but I must admit I have a weakness for Zara and ASOS. While I know this is still classed as fast fashion, I make sure that my habits don’t constitute the phrase. If I save for a £50 jacket from Zara, I expect that jacket will last me years. If I am buying a new dress for a party, it will have to be a dress that would work for many occasions; I can’t guarantee all my occasion-wear will reach the #30wears goal, but they will certainly be worn more than once and will last the fashion test of time, at least for a few years. I also will lend items to friends or give them away if I don’t want them, whether it be to friends, charity shops, homeless centres or, if damaged beyond repair, then into a recycling bin.
I believe there is a lot more to be done in the fight against fast fashion and I intend to make sure my wardrobe investments are spent on sustainable clothes as I begin my career, however, I will inevitably still buy from fast fashion retailers. With the ever-increasing amount of sustainable lines on the high street and shops such as Zara pledging to only use sustainable fabrics by 2025, I feel less guilty about this spending habit. While I will still buy fast fashion, I will never treat it as such, things will be repaired and re-worn rather than buying new replacements and will always donate at the end of my use of them. This attitude needs to be accepted, otherwise the class issue will widen and the fight for sustainability will result in segregation and alienation of those who can’t afford to live the ‘ideal’ eco-lifestyle.