Fast Fashion Habit– What can we do?
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Fast Fashion is accelerating the arrival of an unsustainable future; but there is hope
By Mehr Sohal
H&M. Primark. Forever 21. UNIQLO.
I am confident you have heard of these brands, if not bought clothes from them. But did you know that these come under a category called 'fast fashion'? According to Investopedia, the term can be defined as– "[Fast fashion is a term] used by fashion retailers to describe inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. As a result of this trend, the tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is being challenged. Today, it is not uncommon for fast-fashion retailers to introduce new products multiple times in a single week to stay on-trend."
Luxury brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel usually have 5-6 seasons in a year. Fast fashion brands, on the other hand, have 52 seasons– a new fashion line each week, as noted by Hassan Minhaj in one of his 'Patriot Act' episodes. Hypothetically speaking, if Tommy Hilfiger releases a jacket of x style on the 1st of June, a brand like H&M would probably release designs of the same x jacket on the 7th of June; of course, with a few modifications, lower quality, lower cost, and in 10 different colours. This isn't even illegal as with minor modifications, the jacket of x style becomes y style.
Now you may be wondering: What's wrong and unsustainable about fast fashion? If anything, they're bridging the gap between those who can afford Balenciaga shoes (yes, "the ones that look like socks), and those who can't...right?
Yes, that's true. But the fact that retailers like Zara can release several new styles every week (with a compromise on quality) creates an "easy come, easy go" attitude. Which in essence means that people end up throwing away clothes at a much faster rate than they normally would, and consequently buy products more frequently. Hence, fast fashion is unsustainable in terms of both the creation of textiles and the disposal. To give you some context, let's take the example of a pair of leather shoes– they require 2,110 gallons of water to be produced, and on top of that, they take 25-40 years to decompose. Therefore, being a great environmental strain going in and going out of this world.
The price tag of a t-shirt from Forever 21 may be really cheap, but it also comes with an intangible environmental cost. The environmental damages of this new and yet fast-growing industry are more than I can possibly count; I'm sure you can get the picture. The traction fast fashion companies are seeing is also, unfortunately, pressuring 'slow fashion' brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Gap to reconsider the speed of their seasons.
A large population of consumers have entered the vicious cycle of fast fashion habit, which encourages overconsumption and waste. However, as 'The Joyful Peach' is a happy platform, after all, I want to remind you of what we can do to alleviate the damages of fast fashion. For there is still hope.
It might be too big an ask to recommend not shopping from the brands mentioned above. Hence, the World Economic Forum has instead recommended 7 easy and sustainable steps we can implement.
1. Buy less and wear more
You should, by all means, continue buying from the shops you used to. However, according to a WRAP report, "extending the active life of 50% of UK clothing by nine months would save: 8% carbon, 10% water, 4% waste per metric ton of clothing". Another statistic– by wearing an item for 9 months longer, you can reduce the carbon footprint for that clothing by 30%. So try and wear your clothes more often and repeat outfits. It doesn't matter if your friends or a group of people have already seen you in something.
2. Read the label
Look for products that appear to be more "eco-friendly". While it is hard to always trust a mere little label, checking the fabric of what you are buying can make you a more conscious consumer. One thing to be noted is that petroleum-based synthetic fibres (like polyester) require less water than cotton, but emit far more greenhouse gases/kilogram. Some brands try tricking users. Hence, be aware. Read about the various fabrics out there, and what can or can not be recycled.
3. Vote with your feet
Some shops "claim" to be more sustainable than others. Again, one does not know how true this statement is. However, do try to look out for brands that use more recycled polyesters.
4. Shop and drop for charity
If you're not using your clothes, make sure someone else who needs them can. I am sure there would be charity shops around you willing to take in your donations. Make sure you don't donate something that is totally unwearable as it will merely end up in the landfill through a longer route. I know some of my friends have been recycling their old clothes by transforming them into something new during the lockdown. This is an amazing, sustainable, creative, and eco-friendly idea.
The below video is an example of Preksha creating shorts and a top out of a pair of paints...hitting two birds with one stone. We need more of this sort of creativity :)
5. Choose organic cotton
According to the Soil Association, "increasing organic cotton production could minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry, as it would reduce the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and water."
6. Rent or borrow clothes
I can not stress how important this step is. You don't necessarily even have to buy a used item; you could instead just borrow something from your sibling or friend if it is of no use to them. As found by one study, (featured in the Patriot Act) if each person in the United States introduced one used item into their closet in a year, it would save 6 pounds of CO2 emissions. Which is equivalent to removing half a million cars off the road.
7. Watch your washing
Turns out, even over-washing your clothes in the washing machine is harmful for the environment. Hence, we must stop throwing things for a wash if clean after wearing once (something I am horribly guilty of). And when you do wash your clothes, try using a lower temperature.
To conclude, fast fashion isn't going anywhere. Being aware is one of the most important things we can do. Nonetheless, by implementing at least 2 (if not all) of the above steps, we can definitely slow the acceleration of an unsustainable future :)