Opinion

Fast Fashion: Why Your Shopping Addiction Needs to Stop

Written by Becky Waldron

Illustrated by Shazmeen Khalid

It would prove difficult to find a person in the first world who hasn’t gone shopping in the name of retail therapy. The annoying thing is, it actually seems like it (temporarily) works. There’s nothing quite like trying on a new outfit that looks so good on you and gives you that self-esteem boost you’ve been craving. 

However, buying an endless stream of brand new clothes doesn’t combat a hole that we’re trying to fill. The same as using alcohol, drugs or food to medicate, shopping is the same; it’s superficial and short-lived.

Westfield, London, source: FashionUnited.uk

Innocently trundling around Primark, Topshop or H&M on a Saturday seems like a harmless activity we’ve participated in for years. Although now it’s probably more like sitting on ASOS, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing for hours in the evening – or after a few too many glasses of wine – chucking stuff in your trolley in the hope that it’s going to fit.

If it doesn’t fit, you can send it straight back, right? Well, this also contributes to a harmful process that pumps tonnes of CO2 into the air with a vast majority ending up in a landfill.  

There is a very sinister side to fast fashion we really need to wake up to and act upon. Quickly.

We purchase garment after garment, week in and week out, with usually the reality that we’ll probably not wear them for more than a year. Max. Do you ever stop and think, “do I really need this?” And if you don’t, how many times do you still buy it anyway?

Our relationship with clothes and fast fashion is incredibly toxic. Not only when considering how it can negatively contribute to our cognitive behaviour, it’s also toxic for the planet. Abused and underpaid labourers in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia and Indonesia further contribute to the list of the things wrong with fast fashion.

Sweatshop in Bangladesh, 2018, source: treehugger.com

Of course, there are a lot of great jobs provided within the fashion industry and a thriving culture, I can’t deny that it’s a wonderful form of creativity and self-expression. What needs to change is the way in which we produce, sell and buy – if we want to see into our 50’s that is.

To break it down, here are some fast fashion facts:

  • Fast fashion refers to the marketing, designing and creation of clothes to meet ever-changing fashion trends quickly, to be readily available and cheap to consumers. 
  • Fast fashion is the second biggest contributor to pollution in the air, after oil, emitting 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.
  • To produce 1 kilogram of cotton we use 20,000 litres of water.
  • One pair of jeans on average uses 7000 litres of water.
  • The industry produces 1 billion items of clothing per year.
  • There are around 3500 chemicals used during the production of textiles.
  • 40 million workers are involved in the production of textiles, 85% are women, of which are extremely commonly abused and mistreated.
  • 97% of our clothes are made overseas, usually in third world countries where labour is cheaper.
  • The death toll in Bangladesh (alone) is around 1800. Usually caused by unsafe and poorly managed working conditions.
  • Our unwanted clothes end up in other countries across the globe in shocking amounts, polluting their environment so we don’t have to deal with it.
  • It takes around 12 years to properly recycle textiles that the industry creates in only two days.

You can read on up some more facts here.

Fast fashion pollution in Ghana, source: itv.com

Of course, not all of the blame should be with the consumer and governments could be doing more to implement big change. However, until we see this, fast fashion companies will respond to our behaviour as consumers. If we buy less, they will notice. If markets see that we are migrating to second-hand and recycled garments, the gap fast fashion will leave in the market can be filled with this kind of merchandise.

What Changes Can We Make?

Buy less! It’s time to start contemplating what we actually need. We must really think before buying something that we probably won’t wear more than a couple of times. Is all the pollution produced, workers harmed and water wasted worth it?

Buy second hand. There are plenty of charity and vintage shops out there. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Apps like Depop are also beneficial when it comes to the circulation of used clothes.

Depop campaign, source: zippy.digital

Recycle. If you no longer want your items, make sure they are going somewhere worthwhile. Donate to charity shops and less fortunate families. (Also see The Family Gateway.)

Check in with friends and family to see if anyone wants your old clothes. Setting up a clothes swap is also a cheaper and less damaging way to sort used clothes and get some different ones in your wardrobe. 

Upcycle. Get more sussed on how to alter your current clothes to make it something you want to wear still. Collectives like Stitched Up work to encourage sustainability, creativity and important skills to encourage people to buy less from the fast-fashion industry. 

Source: Stitched Up

Wash your clothes only when absolutely necessary. 1.7 million tonnes of microfibres will end up in the ocean each year because of plastic filled clothes. These are tiny fragments of plastic that do not biodegrade. Every time we wash our garments these eventually end up in the ocean, harming wildlife, the food chain and our own food consumption.

Change needs to be made and while it can seem daunting, it’s doable. Never ever think that your actions alone won’t make a difference. 

I am not anti-fashion, I’m anti-fast fashion. The fashion industry is a huge part of our culture and it is clearly artistic and fun. However, fast-fashion (as much as we hate to face it) and the mentality surrounding it, is rapidly eroding the planet.

Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous

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