Buying clothes has never been easier – and cheaper. 80 billion items of clothing are made per year. By 2050, clothing sales could triple because as today’s consumer, we are hungry for more, cheap fashion.
A £4/$5 bodycon dress epitomises a fast fashion industry that pumps hundreds of new collections on to the market in a short time at rock bottom prices, with instagram influencer endorsement to boost consumer demand. On average, such dresses are discarded by consumers after five weeks. FIVE WEEKS. Our shopping behaviour needs to change.
How do you define fast fashion?
Clothes shopping used to be an occasional event but about 20 years ago something changed. Clothes became cheaper, trend cycles sped up and shopping became a hobby not a luxury.
Fast fashion is a term used to describe high street retailers such as Zara, H&M, ASOS, Topshop, Primark, Boohoo, Nasty Gal etc. They create cheap, trendy clothing, sampling ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture, and turn them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.
So, what’s the problem?
Fast fashion brands make up to 500 garments a minute but they aren’t selling at that rate. The industry is the fastest growing category of waste in the UK, with almost 300,000 tonnes of clothes ending up in landfill every year.
The retailers make cheap stuff that breaks and needs replacing, and they are well aware of this. Customers are conditioned to seek out the best price, so still buy into this model and keep the cycle going.
I’m sure many of you might be thinking ‘But I don’t throw my clothes away, I give them to charity so they don’t end up in landfill.’ Although better than binning, unfortunately charity shops are becoming a dumping ground for poor quality fast fashion items that won’t re-sell. According to research, at least 50% of clothes donated to charity end up in landfill.
We live in a culture where replacement is king. As consumers, we buy, wear, dispose, and repeat far too often – and it’s driving us towards ecological bankruptcy. As long as we see clothes as disposable, we will have a problem.
Nowadays, the power of the social media influencer is huge. They are at least partly to blame for the soar in disposable fashion, posting stories with new outfits daily, encouraging their enormous following to ‘swipe up to shop’ with their own 20% off discount codes on every purchase.
It’s hard not to get sucked in. It would be a lie if I said I hadn’t swiped up to shop in the past. A £9 bikini with free delivery? Absolutely – swipe up – checkout – Apple pay – sold. Now, I realise just the extent of the hidden cost these deals have.
When we’re on a mission to get beach ready or find a last minute jumpsuit for our 25th, we’re not thinking about the severe consequences on our planet and the workers involved in the production of that bikini or dress, in order for it to hit that rock bottom price.
11% of the world’s children are in situations that deprive them of their right to go to school without interference from work. Many of these child labourers work within the fashion supply chain, making the textiles and garments to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the US, and beyond.
Don’t be fooled by Greenwashing
Greenwashing is when a company or individual influencers attempts to make their business seem more environmentally friendly than it really is, fooling consumers to invest, thinking they are doing good.
I’m not saying influencers are bad people at all, as at the end of the day influencing is their full time job. However, as consumers, we have the power to decide who to invest our time and money in, so choose your instagram role models wisely.
There are eco-conscious influencers changing the world for the better. However, many may post ‘Sustainable Fashion Hauls’ and claim to be sustainability advocates yet still get paid to promote fast fashion brands. At the end of the day, it’s a money making opportunity, but if you’re going to tell your followers to shop sustainably, you have to follow through.
Retailers are also culprits of Greenwashing. ASOS’ ‘Responsible edit’ collection and H&M’s ‘Conscious Collection’ are prime examples, persuading customers to shop from them in order to feel as if they are investing in the good of the planet whilst making the purchase.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if a fast fashion brand has an eco-line, or is contributing some profits to sustainability. Until it stops making 10 lines a year, it will always be unsustainable.
Next day delivery
With the likes of Amazon Prime and irresistible deals like ‘£1 next day delivery ends in 30:00′, express delivery can often seem like a no brainer. Now it’s an option, we feel like we need it, when in reality we won’t be needing any of these clothes on a dead planet, let alone next day.
Research has indicated that online shipping has indeed a smaller carbon footprint than traditional shopping which would make individuals drive to the store, BUT if you choose the option of express delivery then this is no longer the case.
This is because if the shipping companies know they have a 5-day delivery window, they can wait for multiple products to come in from different sources, consolidate the shipment and send it. You can also wait for more customer orders and consolidate that into a full-truck load. Express delivery means smaller vehicles, but more trips, more fuel, and more often than not, delivery drivers working overtime with no break.
So next time, ask yourself if you really need yet another little black dress sent overnight with next day delivery.
Solution? Start behaving like owners not consumers
If we want to change the industry, we have to aim at changing the corporations, and if we want to change corporations, we have to first change the consumer behaviour. That’s all of us.
It’s easy to sit back and say ‘Well that skirt has been manufactured regardless, so it’s better I buy it and wear it, than it go straight to landfill.’ For fast fashion brands to change, we have to stop giving them our money. Only then, will they not be able to afford to make 500 garments a minute. While the profits are being hit, there’s no incentive for a company to become sustainable.
We need to get off the trend train and invest in smaller brands doing good, or buy used clothes from charity, or online vintage sites like Depop and thredUP. I’ve been a big fan of Depop and you won’t believe what you can find on there – I got some Adidas trainers worth £80 for £15, barely worn.
But, how can the fashion industry continue to grow while addressing the environmental need for people to buy fewer clothes?
It’s difficult to imagine an economy that satisfies all 7.5 billion of us, yet doesn’t destroy the earth. As it stands, by 2050, we will be using up the resources of 3.5 – 5 planets. Impossibly unsustainable. We can’t continue to recycle failed systems hoping this time it’ll work. We can’t continue to consume in the manner we do. To change, Restraint, Quality and Simplicity is key.
I want to touch on three companies that not only really impressed me with their commitment to the environment, but are also proof that businesses can grow without causing our planet to choke.
Teemill was founded by two brothers, Mart & Rob Drake-Knight, who from the age of 5, had worries over where ‘away’ was when clothes were being ‘thrown away’. 15 years on, clothing brand Rapanui and T-shirt platform, Teemill was born in a shed with £200 on the Isle of Wight in 2008. In the process of building a brand, the brothers realised that if they were going to do it right, they’d have to do it themselves.
Their vision was not to dissuade people from buying fashion, but change their shopping behaviour. “Rather than saying, ‘don’t buy clothes, that’s bad’, we were thinking to change the materials and the processes,” said Drake-Knight.
Teemill is a platform that lets you build your own online store and sell t-shirt designs online. It prints & ships direct to your door and sends you the profit. The best part – it’s free to use. FREE. So far, over fifty thousand store owners, start up brands, YouTubers, Charities, and students have joined to build sustainable brands.
It’s contributing towards a better world through:
- Use of GOTS certified organic cotton & plastic-free packaging
- Use of renewable energy throughout supply chain
- Contributing to circular fashion through making new t shirts out of old
- Zero waste – every part of cotton plant is used, real-time printing, recirculated water
- Guaranteed fair price to cotton farmers
Finisterre is a pioneering sustainable outdoors clothing brand based in Cornwall and inspired by a love of the sea. It was founded by surfer and lifeboatman, Tom Kay, and exists to help facilitate and connect people to the sea through designing fashion to enable and inspire that connection.
It’s broad product range from knitwear and jackets to swimwear, wetsuits and accessories is designed through circular sourcing, which includes renewable and recyclable textiles and biodegradable natural fibres and finishes.
For example, Finisterre’s bikinis and boardshorts are made from ECONYLⓇ, part-recycled fishing nets and office carpet tiles, rather than traditional nylon, which is quite a dirty material. This also addresses coastal and marine pollution, with an estimated 640,000 tonnes of discarded fishing nets floating around the ocean.
They’ve also launched their own marine biodegradable packaging called ‘Leave No Trace’. Unlike biodegradable packaging, which can still cause harm if it makes its way into a marine environment, ‘Leave No Trace’ fully dissolves in water and is harmless. In addition to the packaging, Finisterre offers a repair service with free shipping on all its clothes to encourage us all to own not consume.
Ethical shoe brand, Po-Zu, creates footwear that uses naturally renewable and responsibly harvested materials and ensures safe working conditions throughout the supply chain.
Po-Zu is using some incredible materials in its shoes, including Piñatex™, made from the discarded leaves of the pineapple plant in the Philippines, and Frumat™ Apple skin made from the waste produced by the apple juice industry, from apples grown organically in the Italian Alps. Both materials have low water, chemical and carbon waste, and are 100% vegan!
They are also donating a proportion of their profits year on year to Environmental NGOs including Environmental Justice Foundation, Pesticide Action Network UK and The Resurgence Trust.
Only fashion businesses like Teemill, Finisterre and Po-Zu, operating with a sense of urgency, constantly evolving, and open to new ways of doing things, will be here 100 years from now. The fashion industry needs to grow ethicaly and sustainably stronger, not fatter.
About the author:
Sophie Johnson is a British Zoology graduate and conservation blogger, keen to raise
awareness for the biggest environmental issues of today. She has undertaken conservation
projects in Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Vietnam, and has collaborated with NGOs globally. Last
year, she lived and taught English in Vietnam, and prior to this, worked for BBC Wildlife Magazine.