I’m sure by now, everyone connected to the internet is familiar with the term “fast fashion” and its detrimental impact on the planet. I’m here to tell you that it’s not your fault, but the fault of millionaire fashion companies that successfully brainwash us. The fast fashion industry is a mind-game, advertisement is more convincing than ever and as a society, we have the largest sum of disposable income than ever before.
eBay and Amazon launched the e-commerce industry back in 1995, when the entire online shopping market was valued at only $131 million. The Fashion and Apparel Industry Report estimated worldwide e-commerce revenue to reach $712.9 billion by 2022. We are living in an age where social media can make us feel so irrelevant for something as normal as repeating an outfit.
With the rise of social media and companies recognising a loophole to profit millions, the fast-fashion era began. With our ever-increasing demand for new items at affordable prices, it is workers on the supply chain and the environment that are paying the true cost. I get it, I’ve scrolled through endless fashion websites myself debating whether I can really justify spending £100 on clothes I didn’t know existed an hour before, but with the right information we can disconnect from this consumption-based (and extremely damaging) mindset and make better choices for ourselves and the world – that’s all we really want isn’t it?
We now consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing a year – 400% more than just two decades ago. In order to meet the growing demand, our clothes are now typically created from synthetic materials in sweatshops – factories that lack even the most basic human rights. We know all about the negative impact of single-use plastic, but what about our clothing?
Fashion companies enforce “planned obsolescence”, meaning they purposely create items that will lose their shape or fall apart, forcing customers to spend more. This hasn’t always been the case and vintage clothing is proof that when garments are produced from quality materials, they have the ability to last a lifetime. Marketing is the issue we are currently facing, as we’re convinced it’s essential to stay on trend and own more if we have any desire to feel important in this world, all at an “affordable” price.
With this information, it is obvious to see why the fashion industry is the second largest polluter on the planet. Polyester is one of the major contributors, a non-renewable fibre that is extremely carbon-intensive. Research has shown that a typical washing load can release over 100,000 synthetic fibres into our water systems. Not only is this life-threatening to the aquatic eco-system, but before long, this plastic will enter our own food chain (if you eat meat, of course). This is just one of many perilous acts of the fast fashion industry.
With all this said about our shopping habits, there was a 100% increase in google searches for “sustainable fashion” in 2017. So, it is clear we do care and for fast fashion companies, this was the perfect opportunity to accumulate more profit. The United Nations defined “sustainable” as the ability to make development sustainable for the present generation, without compromising future generations of their own needs. This contradicts everything we know about the fashion industry so far, with their gas emissions exceeding those of flying and shipping industries combined.
With labels such as “eco” and “ethical” gaining popularity, we are led to believe that clothing brands are beginning to make a change – at surface level at least. A prime example is H&M’s “conscious” line and their use of recycled and organic materials. It really is great that fashion is becoming more circular with materials used but is this just a ploy to make us feel less guilty for our shopping habits? It was discovered, that in 2017, H&M burned the equivalent of 50,000 pairs of jeans labelled as ‘obsolete’ clothing (basically ‘no longer trendy’). Are these really sustainable practises? It is these advertisement tactics that make us feel like we are doing good, when in reality we are still in the midst of being brainwashed, or ‘greenwashed’?
Greenwashing is a technique used by companies to deceive customers into thinking they are more environmentally friendly than they truly are.
H&M’s CEO quoted that “in order to remain a successful business, we need to keep growing and at the same time respect the planetary boundaries.” An oxymoron if I ever saw one. The intense consumerism that creates profit is the complete opposite to protecting the natural world that we are in fact, rapidly destroying. It is crucial to think logically about everything portrayed in the media and to do our own research. What is sustainable about a t-shirt sold for £10 on the high-street? Sure, it may be made from organic cotton, but I bet it is still produced by the masses in sweatshops, and severely impacting the environment.
For a brand to claim they are sustainable, they must be on all levels. In 2013, more than 1,100 workers were killed in Bangladesh. A factory collapsed due to negligence from the garment-factory owner, who ordered staff to continue manufacturing for companies such as Matalan and Mango and to ignore the warning that the building was incredibly unsafe. Fashion Revolution Week commemorates the Rana Plaza factory collapse, taking place every year, they campaign for transparency and highlight the devastation the fashion industry has on lives and the environment.
There has never been a better time to start asking questions. Even COVID-19 is connected to the fashion industry, with consumption reducing (which is great), many retailers have abandoned all orders and left factories on the other side of the world to deal with the backlash, leaving them unemployed and without pay for the thousands of items already produced – that will probably now end up in landfill…
So, what can we do?
The status quo of fashion needs to be broken. Every penny we spend in society directly impacts the kind of world we want to live in. We should take inspiration from brands such as Patagonia and their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” advert for Black Friday, endorsing that to lighten our environmental impact, we should only buy when necessary. There has never been a better time to explore our own morals and begin supporting brands that truly reflect those. Companies at the forefront of sustainable shopping are Know The Origin and People Tree, they offer complete transparency for all items and the ethical standards they meet. A little pricier, but my favourites for inspiration are Base Range, The Wylde and Arkitaip.
For a societal change, it is compulsory that we reduce our consumption habits. The materials become irrelevant if we continue to over-consume and buy things we don’t need, simply because advertisement makes us feel like we have to. We are better than that and are all capable of saying no to fast fashion manipulation. I know it isn’t easy to shop totally sustainably and to be honest, no company will ever be 100% perfect but with a desire to change, we can make this world a better place.
If you really want or need something, then by all means, go for it! Just remember to always consider the ‘cost’ of an item – if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. It’s crucial to keep in mind how deceptive companies can be and those that are truly sustainable will remain transparent in their practices. Rank A Brand makes shopping easier than ever; it does the work for us by creating sustainability reports for hundreds of clothing companies.
With every conscious purchase we make, we are choosing to care for the environment, we are choosing to be compassionate and we are choosing to live in a better world. Now more than ever, it is the perfect time to discover and support smaller businesses.
This outlook and love for the planet doesn’t need to stop at our fashion choices, it is a mindset that can be extended to all corners of our lives. It’s all about constantly bettering ourselves, with our health, our choices and lifestyles and in turn supporting the lives of workers and animals all over the planet.
We can’t be selfish, there is more to life than the latest fashion trends.
Right now, during this pandemic, we have proven how much can be done when we all come together – we really can make a difference.