What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion refers to the increasing rate at which clothes are made. A little over a century ago clothes needed to be made with needle and thread by hand. Understandably with the slow rate at which garments were constructed, they were both expensive and laborious. As a result only the wealthy could enjoy many garment options and the majority had access to limited wardrobe choices.
The first mechanical sewing machine was invented in 1830, but it took some time before this appliance was commonly used by dress-makers; and even longer before the expense could be afforded by the average household. With the industrial revolution at the turn of the last century the sewing machine was adopted by workhouses and the first factory line sped up the creation of fashions. This made items slightly more affordable with the ability to replicate styles en masse.
It was this model that saw the expansion and speeding up of the textile trade. Everyday people could now afford to have more choice in their wardrobes as 'off-the-rack' fashion became available. This was the beginning of the fast-fashion model.
Fashion sped up further and have become more cheaper to this day, as companies continue to try to out-bid others for cheaper labour costs. In 2014, compared to 2000 people brought 60% more clothes and kept them for half as long (Source- https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/fashion-industry-carbon-unsustainable-environment-pollution/). With social media marketing these fashion cycles are speeding up even further!
Originally industries were very much localized within the area that the garments were sold. However with globalisation, better communication and faster shipping options, western businesses could access the cheaper labour and textile costs of other markets. The result is huge amounts of poor quality clothing made from unsustainable textiles at locations far from the consumer; which is having devastating results on our planet!
How is fast fashion destroying the planet?
In Ireland alone half a tonne of unwanted clothing goes into landfill every minute (Source- The Irish Mirror, https://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/half-billion-tonnes-unwanted-clothes-26822534). The problem is that most of these garments are made of non-biodegradeable synthetic materials that could take up to 200 years to disappear naturally. An alternative is to burn it, but this releases carbon emissions and other dangerous chemicals that are directly contributing to global warming (aka. climate change).
If we look at the journey of these clothes from textile creation to disposal there are many negative environmental impacts, such as-
- 25% of the world chemicals are made for use in the fashion industry.
- The waste water that pollutes many water courses.
- The amount of electricity needed to create the fibre, then the fabric, then the clothing= all carbon emissions (often in places that don't have access to 'green energy')
- The transportation needed to move the fabric to the manufacturers; and then to move the garment onto the seller.
- The transportation in the sampling process whereby companies go forward and back with manufacturers (often far away) to perfect designs.
- The electricity required for the correct warehousing and storage of goods.
This list is not exhaustive, and that's all before you even purchase the item!
So you can see why the fashion industry is in need of lots of energyand contributes significantly to Climate Change.
(There is also a huge unethical burden on fast fashion in developing countries, but we'll deal with that in another post.)
How can you avoid fast-fashion?
- Know your wardrobe- avoid doubling up on pieces you already own. If you have a black flowery dress, do you need two? Consider your wardrobe as a curated collection filled with unique pieces that give you joy! (Making disposing of items really hard!)
- Learn to mend or upcycle- Make the lifecycle of a garment last longer by mending it, or consider modifying it to give it a new lease on life!
- Buy consciously- Look for items that are of quality and will last you a long time. Ask yourself, can I see myself wearing these for the next few years? Consider avoiding trending colours or styles, as these can go out of fashion as quickly as they come in. Quality over quantity is key!
- Try a clothes swap- Get together with friends to swap garments, giving you all a new wardrobe to enjoy.
- On-sell your items- Try Depop, Vinted, Vestiaire Collective, Ebay or many other on-selling sites to turn your old clothes into cash! This keeps them out of the waste pile.
- Try second hand- buy your clothes on second hand website or in charity shops. Irish site Thriftify help charity shops retail online and is a great place to start!
- Know your retailers- Don't be afraid to ask questions. Where were your garments made? What is the fabric? Was this item produced ethically?
We hope you found this useful! We'd love to know your thoughts!