Growing up I turned to fashion as a form of self-expression and creativity. However, there were many things I was ignorant of when purchasing clothes for my wardrobe.
Quick fact: Did you know the fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry after oil
Looking at the very nature of the fashion industry, it’s one that is always changing and constantly moving. A traditional industry itself has two seasons/collections: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. However, the fast fashion phenomenon has disrupted the industry and influenced how many consumers shop.
What Is Fast Fashion? What Are Examples Of Fast Fashion Retailers?
Fast fashion refers to retailers that sell inexpensive designs that move quickly from the runway to the stores, bringing new trends in as little as 2 weeks. This model of retail emphasizes on low quality and high volume. Known and popular fast fashion retailers include Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Topshop, etc. These businesses usually hold total control over the whole value chain.
What does this mean? This allows for extremely short cycles of design to retailing and usually take as little as 2 to 4 weeks. That is 12 to 24 collections per year.
In order to move this quickly, these retailers optimize all of their steps. This means the fabric sourcing, product design, quality, etc. are all outsourced and done at minimum cost humanly possible. You can already see the implications this can have on labour and how these companies treat their workers.
Social And Environmental Implications Of Fast Fashion
Cost & Production: Fast fashion operates at the lowest cost possible in order to offer garment prices that are much lower than the competition. However, these garments are cheap with a sacrifice. They are not paying the price it costs to manufacture clothing in a reasonably responsible manner. (Yes, there are exceptions to this case and higher fashion brands are not immune to these practices. However, the frequency of such violations is associated with fast fashion way more often than others).
These companies outsource their production in countries where labour cost is very low, and safety laws/ethical human rights laws are far less well enforced. These are the people who pay the price, and not just in terms of low wages. Garment workers are in remote areas such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. A documentary that you can watch to learn more about this is The True Cost, where it highlights the dirty truth about the garment industry after the Rana Plaza tragedy in April 2013 that killed over 1,000 garment workers.
Additionally, fast fashion brands pre-produce everything as they sell collections every two weeks. If there are remaining products retailers either cut prices or the garments goes to waste and landfills.
Design: Many fast fashion brands do not have a real design team and just copy what ready-to-wear designers do. Zara is notorious for stealing designs from other big fashion labels and even aspiring artists. These are designers and artists who spend countless hours working to create innovative new designs, sourcing high-quality materials and employing garment workers in fair working conditions.
Biggest Influence Fast Fashion Has Had On The Consumer?
Fast fashion has created a constant need for consumers to shop, and shop more. It has created a distorted perception of fashion, about how to build a wardrobe, how long a trend stays ‘new’, the value of a garment, and the price a piece of clothing should/could cost. As consumers, we have come to expect fast, cheap, trendy fashion.
In our defence, it is easy to forget the human rights abuse, violations of workers’ rights, environmental damage and corrupt business practices, or to just shield ourselves from these things. I mean, countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam are far far away, and that $20 knit sweater looks great on you, especially when your clothing budget is limited. It is easy to ignore the ugly reality that comes with it, but that can’t continually be our excuse.
My Own Story
Two years ago, I wouldn’t have given fast fashion a second thought. Being a student with a limited budget, Zara was my go-to retailer as it satisfied all my fashion needs. I fell into this endless cycle of stockpiling my closet with season-specific clothing which I would have worn literally for one season, grown tired of, moved on from, and discarded or pushed to the back of my closet. I even have garments where the price tag has not even been taken off. My wardrobe was so disposable and filled with low-quality pieces that were not sustainable for my style and future self. (As such, I am not writing this article to shame fast fashion shoppers. I am solely sharing my journey with it and telling you that I also get it!)
As I became more conscious of my shopping habits, I tried to change my purchase habits. It was a gradual change, but I am happy to say that I no longer shop at these fast fashion retailers.
Fashion for me is something that can bring confidence, beauty and happiness, and I don’t feel any of those things knowing that I am wearing a garment that was made in such horrible conditions. Whether we like it or not, what we wear says a lot about us. It is one of the first things people notice, and so, in a way it defines us. I no longer want to be defined by fast fashion. I don’t want to wear clothing that’s connected to the pain and suffering of others. I don’t want my clothing to fall apart after a few wears and washes.
Nowadays, instead of shopping every month or so, I make purchases on garments I know are the highest quality and still within my budget. Shopping ethically and sustainably doesn’t need to be expensive, you just need to shop less and save more on quality products that you know will last longer than 2 weeks.
At the end of the day, you can’t buy style. And although retailers are continuously making it easier for us to shop in more responsible and ethical ways, you cannot buy a willingness to try to shop smarter or remove yourself from the cycle of fast fashion. However, it’s something we can work towards gradually. Simply thinking about where your clothes come from and taking the conscious effort in building a wardrobe that values quality over quantity is already a great way to start.
To summarize: Since starting this blog, I’ve grown a lot. I’ve gone from a materialistic teen obsessed with fashion, brands, designers and shopping to a young adult who is more focused on making this world a better place, and myself, a better person. I am now more conscious of my actions and how each decision I make has a butterfly effect that affects the rest of the world. Fashion has been a huge influence in my life and it just felt like the right step to learn more about the ethics of it and maybe one day help improve it.
Moving forward, I will be using this blog site as a space to share my journey in becoming more conscious about my purchases and the companies I choose to share. This will be a gradual process, as I myself, will be actively trying to shop less, but better.
In my next blog post, I will be sharing simple tips on how you can shop more sustainably and ethically so stay tuned!!
For now, here are more resources for you to learn more!
– The Richest Criminal In The World
– Why I Stopped Shopping At H&M
– TED Talk: Changing the World Through Fashion
– TED Talk: Sustainable Fashion is a Shared Responsibility
– The Story of Stuff
– Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet & You
– TED Talk: How to Engage with Ethical Fashion
– Say NO to Fast Fashion / Sustainable Fashion Consumption + Capsule Wardrobes
– The True Cost Documentary Trailer
– TED Talk: Changing the World Through Fashion
– TED Talk: The High Cost of Our Cheap Fashion
– Overdressed: The Shocking High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline
– The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black
– Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes by Andrew Brooks
– Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes by Michael Lavergne
– See the full reading list here
Instagram accounts you can follow:
– @made_inland (promoted shopping locally and Canadian made clothing)
An app you can download:
– Good On You: an app that shares thousands of fashion brands
and how each brand performs on labour rights, the environment and animal protection
Thanks for reading,