We live in a world where being able to access cheap clothing is easier than it has ever been. It is quickly becoming one of the most disastrous man made events that is happening in the 21st century. Why are we not talking about it more! To understand the scale of the Fashion industry combined, is estimated to be worth 1.3 Trillion Dollars. ‘Fast Fashion’ states, ‘inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.’ On first thought the idea of fast fashion if one that was positive and used to appeal to me. It is a concept that allows the general public to be able to wear similar designs to high-fashion but at a fraction of the price. It has created a generation to stay on trend and allows people from all backgrounds to be involved in fashioning their personality through affordable clothes. Whats not to love about wearing the same item of clothing as someone that you look up to? The basis behind fast fashion is something that is approachable, however, we are now at a point where discount and sales from high-street fashion is being thrown at us from everywhere we look.
One of the main reasons that pushed me to write about fast fashion is that I was surprised and curious by articles that were being published in relation to how it was affecting the environment. I felt that I was in the unknown and therefore needed to educate myself, and so I did my own research. The first real look I got into the profound quantity and volume of this throw away trend was while I was travelling around Vietnam in October. While myself and my boyfriend were there, we went and visited the large well known markets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The first market we visited was called ‘Dong Xuan Market’. I was flabbergasted by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that was squeezed into these indoor markets. There was everything and anything you could possibly think of, and not just one of them, there were thousands. On top of that every other stall you walked past was selling almost a replica of the previous one. Out of curiosity I stopped to have a look at what was being sold and the quality of it. The T-shirts were made out of cheap materials and there was a lot of fake designer merchandise being sold. (That is a topic I want to go into more detail in another post). Picture this, you are walking down a corridor that is narrow, and you are having to fit past other people coming at you from the other direction. Instead of walls, there are mountains of thousands of folded T-Shirts, bags, shoes, scarves, shirts, trousers, shorts, dresses … the list could keep on going. It was claustrophobic and disorientating, with people shouting at you to stop at their stall to buy their garments and produce, but also extremely eye opening. While I understand that the sellers are only making a living and selling the quantity that they are, because people are buying it. I couldn’t help but think what this was doing to the environment, whether all of this stuff would actually be bought. However, this theme of cheap easily accessible clothing was not limited to just Vietnam, this ranged from Bali all the way to Costa Rica.
Once I returned home, the enormity of fast fashion of what I had seen didn’t go away. I was much more aware when walking down the high-street in England, or even Jersey. It becomes impossible to escape the quantity of stuff that is needlessly being thrown at you through advertisements in every window. (Below are photos from Dong Xuan Market)
What I had started realising is that we are being made aware of how problematic plastic is, and the way that we are constantly using it is needlessly. However, the same cannot be said for fast-fashion. While my interest grew in finding out fast-fashion is so problematic, I watched a lot of youtube videos and read some very informative articles online. They were extremely easy to find and it really isn't too hard to make yourself aware of such an urgent problem.
A Brief History of Fast-Fashion:
Fashion used to be only produced by seasonal collections. This is still currently the same principle for high-end fashion retailers, where a collection will come out only 4 times a year. Pretty much all clothing used to be made of high quality materials and was made tailored to you, and was understandably more expensive. It then shifted onto a ready to wear basis, and now in 2019 we use fashion the same way we have fast food. Consuming and then swiftly chucking. Fast Fashion now uses the designs produced by the seasonal high-end designers and some retailers will turn around 2-3 collections every week. We are looking at a yearly turn around of 52 plus collections, which is completely unnecessary. In a lot of the articles that I was reading, it is believed we are buying so much because we are being fed the information that if we don't consume it now while it is on trend, then we will not be able to access it again.
What are the Statistics:
To really give you a look inside the shocking truth of how damaging this industry is to the environment I have found some eye opening statistics.
- Number 2 - Fashion is the second biggest polluter on the planet and is also the second biggest water pollutant
- 150 Billion = The number of new garments produced every year, that is more than 20 garments per person on the planet.
- 2.5 Billion = The number of pounds of fabric waste removed
- 3 in 5 garments end up in landfill or incinerators within a year
- From 2000 to 2014 = The amount of clothing we now own has increased 60%
- Half a million tones of micro-fibres enter the ocean ever year
There is a very unapologetic and unforgettable documentary called, ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’ by Stacey Dooley on BBC3. It is great if you were, like myself unaware of this crisis that is going on behind the scenes of all of your favourite high-street labels. Stacey opens up the documentary perfectly and states, ‘we have an addiction to fast fashion’. This word ‘addiction’, really resonated with me. Addiction is a chronic disease, and although you may not feel like you are addicted, it is only once one has stepped away from the situation can you realise the harm and the devastation that it has caused. During the programme we are confronted with the fact that it apparently takes 25,000 litres of water to make 1 pair of jeans. What a waste of water! We are taken along with Stacey as she travels to Kazakstan and goes to view first hand the environmental damages that has dried up the Aral Sea. Once was one of the biggest inland seas in the world it is now famous because the cotton industry as has sucked it dry. After driving for 3 hours on what was the sea bed, Stacey and her guide haven't even got close to any body of water. It has changed peoples lively hoods, but has also changed the seasons. The ecosystem has died away and instead of water covering the area there are now toxic dust storms.
What really left me with a tight throat was the nostalgic footage that was played after we had been presented with all of the facts. Black and White footage of people in the 1960s swimming in the sea with wildlife flourishing, to the stark contrast of the empty, sandy desert that now penetrated our view. It isn’t only Kazakstan that has had such a dramatic impact from the fast-fashion culture, but also Indonesia that Stacey takes us to. Here we see a different side to the industry, through the waste of toxic materials that is being dumped by the factories into the Citarum river. We see first hand purple toxic dye’s being pumped into the river, with Stacey and the activities reeling in pain from the smell and heat it is letting off. It has got so bad, that we see one of the factories has tried to hide their pipe that they use to pump waste, and it has been installed under water so you cannot see it from above.
The horror that I was completely unaware of was how toxic and bad the chemicals that factories are using on the garments and how they dispose of them. Because this area in Indonesia is so poor, the river is a lot of peoples main source of water that they use in everyday life. We are introduced to an array of people that live next to the river that have got visible rashes and skin problems because of the toxins in the water. Similarly to the situation in the Aral Sea, people that live nearby or next to these developments are getting horrendous health problems because these companies do not care. As shocking as this is, when Stacey tries to contact a lot of these huge brands to hear what they have to say about sustainability within the company, every single one came back to her and says no. Even when she goes to a sustainability summit in Denmark, and asks to speak to the same brands, they refuse in person. I found this one of the most heartbreaking parts of the documentary. We have watched as the locals discuss the devastating impact of the industry on their bodies and livelihood, while the companies that are behind a lot of it refuse to say a word.
While I think the big companies have a lot of explaining to do and need to make urgent changes, we the consumers, play an enormous role in the fashion game. We need to make sure that we are consciously buying from brands that aren't taking advantage of cheap labour and are not carelessly polluting the environment. However, this is a lot harder than it sounds. With the help of Instagram and Youtube, fast-fashion is reaching record numbers of individuals through the platforms that influencers hold. For example, an influencers video of their huge High-Street haul they have been sent, gives their viewers ideas to go out an splurge carelessly. Just because they can. Dresses are literally as cheap as £5 and we are spending only 3% of our earnings on fashion, as apposed to in the 50s, where we spent 10% of our earnings.
What can we all do?
There are many adjustments and options into how we can improve on our spending and the volume of clothing that we purchase.
Buy less and spend more = Being a lot more thoughtful with each purchase, and spend more on a good quality garment as it will be with you forever
Shop in charity shops = Some of the best purchases I have ever found have been in charity shops, and its good to know what you are spending your money on is not only
Use renting retailers = If you are going to an event and don't want to buy an outfit to wear once, there are companies all around the world that allow you to rent a product for about a week. A well known company is ‘Rent The Runway’. They have a community of 10 million members, that help change the mindset of consumers and tackle an increasing throw away culture.
Use Depop = I absolutely love depop and its a great way for people to give their unused items a second home. It is an app that anyone can access and start selling and buying their used goods, whether they are clothing, accessories or shoes.
I realise the main problem is, that we, as the consumers have not had a conscious connection between the clothing that we buy from the high-street to the history that one piece of garment contains. The environmental footprint that it leaves. But this is where we need to take a step back and really make sure we make the effort to change our ways. Stacey ended the documentary confessing ‘for me to tell you that I’m never going to ship again is completely dishonest’. She wants us to go back to loving clothes and not just consuming them. It is about the power that we have through the way we have the ability to change our buying habits. Instead of going out every week and buying multiple items, change it to only once a month, or even less. If everyone was able to change their habits enough it would send a message to the big corporations to make changes within their company. If we sit around and do nothing, there will be no change. And we need change urgently. It is through these small changes that we can actually make a big impact. Are the cheap deals that we buy really worth whole communities loosing their health to? Worth loosing their ability to have access to fresh water? Worth loosing mother earth to? I think not.
It is time to take action and make a difference in how we buy fashion, as it will make a difference to how the next generation gets to experience our amazing planet.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko_BZhIpI1Q - Fashions toxic thread - The Economist
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqOKsiTc9fs - A Beginner’s Guide To Sustainable Fashion - i-D