Slowing Down Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is defined as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers to meet demands of latest trends. The fashion market is constantly changing, and so brands have to keep up by continually producing new products for the mass market. This translates to roughly 80-100 billion items of clothing being produced annually. For all of those items to be homed, every single person in the world would need to buy 10-13 items every year. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot to you, but think about the millions of people in the world who don't have access to clean water, let alone high street fashion. Because of this mass production, the fashion industry generates 4% of all global waste, 92 million tons. Furthermore, a report by the Global Fashion Agenda in 2017 found that the fashion industry is responsible for the emission of 1.715 millions tons of carbon dioxide, roughly 4.3% of global carbon emissions.
The ecological and carbon footprint of the fashion industry has been in the firing line in recent years. Many people were likely unaware of the impact this industry was having, as it is so far removed from your typical environmental discussion. Talks of climate change tend to focus on planes, cars, steaks, and oil, not dresses, labels, fabrics, and blazers. But anything and everything has a carbon footprint, and it just so happens that fashion has a big one.
Many of our favourite high street brands are guilty of cent
ring their business around a model of fast fashion: mass production, quick turnarounds, high waste. H&M is a perfect example. Their business model involves producing high volumes of clothes, and moving them from the production table to the shop floor as quickly as possible. H&M outsources production to factories throughout Asia and Europe. In Bangladesh and Cambodia, they purchased 100% of their factory outputs for 5 years up front, making them the sole customer of those factories. This enables them to have a stronger grip on improving working conditions, but also maximising productivity. H&M also produces 20% of their products based on-present day trends, whereas the other 80% is produced in advance based on expected trends. Using IT technology, they are able to produce that 20% on the go, and ship it out to their stores as and when. This reduces their lead times and posits them ahead of competitors on latest trends. This has been a key strategy for the success of the brand, but highlights how quickly the fashion industry can change. The fact that brands feel the need to be able to produce 20% of their products and have them in stores in real time shows that they believe people will not buy them later down the line. They have to have them now. This now-culture is what makes fast fashion such a problem environmentally.
We live in a consumerist society, where we can buy something we want today, and have it at our front door tomorrow. While these advances have arguably improved our daily lives and economies, they have allowed for a cultural shift in expectations. Living through COVID-19 strict lockdowns, where we can't always get the exact groceries we want, and we can't always have something delivered the next day, and the frustration and damage this is causing demonstrate how accustomed we have become. The carbon footprint of this now-culture is making waves, and more and more articles (like this one) are published expressing concern, and some even attacking industries like the fashion industry for their environmental impact. It's not the fashion industries fault; it's ours.
Successful business has always worked off basic principles of supply and demand. Technological advances have created a world where unreasonable and absurd demands have become the norm. You can consume as many products as you want, have them delivered the next day (or even the same day) without ever leaving your bed. Everything is literally a couple of clicks away. As long as this demand exists, businesses like H&M will supply products to feed it. And, why shouldn't they? Yes you could argue about the moral ramifications of manufacturing products when you know roughly 80% will eventually end up in landfill, or running a business which is polluting the atmosphere with CO2. But, you could make the same moral argument to every single one of their customers. If their business is thriving from their fast fashion now-culture model, how can we expect them to change? Money makes the world go round.
If we truly want to do anything about fast fashion and the wasteful nature of the fashion industry in general, we have to put our money where our mouth is. Stop investing in fast fashion. Don't give a single penny/cent of your money to an industry that knowingly dumps 10 million tons of clothes on landfills, where dyes can leach chemicals into the soil to be washed elsewhere and cause ecological damage.
The slow fashion movement focuses on sustainability, and considers the impact of clothes before buying them, on people, animals, and the environment. Much of the slow fashion movement centres around the environment, but what is so great about it is the incorporation of the humanitarian aspect too. The fashion industry is sometimes known for appalling working conditions and unfair treatment of workers, particularly brands who produce their clothes in lesser developed countries. Their working conditions are often sub-standard (to put it nicely) and they often do not pay their workers anywhere near enough for the hours/work they do. This is often the appeal of locating factories in certain places, and explains why products can be priced so low. We absolutely should not be supporting brands that use such practises. The slow fashion movement takes into account the treatment of staff and thus, often the sustainable choice is the humanly ethical choice too.
We've all been guilty of supporting fast fashion in the past (if you can truly say you haven't - bravo). But there are really simple ways to ensure you don't ever have to again, and still have a bomb wardrobe.
Slow fashion dos:
Shop second hand; buy nothing new. Charity shops are stocked with gems and your money is going to a good place; apps like Depop have tons of great stuff and a lot of it is in perfect condition. If someone else has shopped from fast fashion brands but is now selling them on and you buy them second hand: that's slow fashion! You are preventing those items becoming waste and so it may be fast fashion brands, but its slow fashion!
Swap clothes with your friends/family, including younger generations when you outgrow something
Mend your broken clothes! Such an important element of the slow fashion movement is to upcycle: reusing materials what would otherwise be considered waste
If you are buying clothes, buy high quality items you will keep for years
Donate your old clothes: charity shops/shelters
Buy from ethical, sustainable brands. Some great examples are Patagonia and TALA (click here for more). It is also good to support local/small businesses/designers.
Shop local!! A major issue with the fashion industry is that th
e products are flown/shipped all over the world. The transport of clothing wracks up a major carbon footprint and so if something is local made, then it hasn't travelled far to get to you and so it's carbon footprint is substantially lower
Know your fabrics. Silk for example has a low carbon footprint; Denim and cotton are highly water intensive; wool is biodegradable but often sheep farming practises are damaging for the environment, but sustainable wool is a great choice. Understanding the materials helps you make smarter choices.
Fashion is something that is important to a lot of people. Many choose to express themselves through their clothes, perhaps through the colours they wear or the style they represent. Many consider it an interest or thousands make successful careers in this booming industry.
Whether you would say you're particularly interested in fashion, whether you follow the latest trends, have your token style, wear pink on Wednesdays, or live in activewear 24/7, we all wear clothes every single day. We are all stakeholders of some sort in the fashion industry.
If clothes are how you express yourself, then express yourself as someone who cares about the environment, people, and animals. Be a conscious consumer, and we can all slow down fast fashion.
CWJ London wants to thank Kate Sheridan for being our guest blogger this month. We hope you found this post as inspiring to read as we did! For more fantastic blogs like this please check out Kate's work at: Conservation With Kate.