Glamour, beauty and fashion have been one of the most consistent tropes of humanity across cultures for thousands of years. Exhibiting our wealth through these things was a way of showing our peers that we were worthy, special, different, and most importantly, our high status. Not a lot has changed.
But what has this to do with climate change, you may ask? Sadly, even the clothes on our bodies have a vast carbon footprint. However, it isn’t just carbon we are worried about when it comes to the fashion industry. There is huge water waste in production, our clothes are made of unsustainable materials (like plastics), and ultimately, there is an enormous wastage of clothes. This means that despite all the emissions that go into creating garments, at the end of the production cycle, they might not even go to the commercial shelves, and are instead burned. Yes, burned. In fact, 92 million tonnes of textiles are wasted each year. This also creates greenhouse gases – this makes the industry responsible for 8-10% of annual global emissions.
But why, you may ask? It’s simple, the companies are overproducing – 30% of clothes produced are never even sold! The sad thing is, pretty much all companies are doing this! In 2017, it was discovered that H&M had been burning 12 tonnes of unsold product every year since 2013.
The term fast fashion was created in 1989 when Zara (the first fast fashion company) boasted that it took them only 15 days to get products from designs to the shelves. The industry itself is entirely unsustainable – the idea that people need new clothes and the “latest fashion trends” every 13 days, as Zara in 2022 likes to boast, is both insane and inherently unnecessary. The industry is a symptom of excessive consumerism. Misguided brags about dropping 1000 new styles every week. The entire business model of this industry is centred around waste – the garments purchased from these companies are designed to fall apart within a few wears to encourage you to buy more. Clothing has never in the history of humanity been like this.
Outside of the environmental issues that fast fashion creates, the insanely cheap price of the clothes from Boohoo, Misguided, Topshop etc etc is in itself both unethical and unsustainable. Who is making those clothes and what are they getting paid to make them so cheap? Unfortunately, the people making these clothes are often exploited peoples in poorer countries, getting paid well below minimum wage in horrible working conditions. Or, with the case of the umbrella company of Boohoo, the workers are generally people from immigrant backgrounds working in factories in Leicester for around £4 an hour, well below minimum wage. This is happening on our own soil. So not only are these companies trashing our environment (literally), they are also trashing our country’s legal labour practices, and exploiting their workers. All around, pretty awful.
But what can we do about it? Well, the solution is simple. Don’t buy into the hype. Do you actually need 1000 new styles every week? Do you actually need a wardrobe full of garments that you wear twice? The answer is simple – no.
So where can you get your clothes? Buying once or twice from a fast fashion outlet is not the end of the world – having it as your main source of clothing, however, is. Since the truth of fast fashion has emerged, hundreds of sustainable clothing brands have emerged. Sometimes, it’s rather tricky to distinguish which are actually sustainable. If they are a brand that has hundreds of new garments on their website every week, they simply cannot be sustainable, no matter whether they are using recycled products or whatever they tell you they are doing to combat the climate crisis.
Thousands of new designs and clothes each week can simply never be sustainable. So, a brief Google of sustainable clothing brands can provide you with your new favourite brands. Unfortunately, these garments won’t ever be as cheap as something produced by a fashion conglomerate. This is because the business model is not about mass producing as quickly and as cheaply as possible – these clothes are meant to last and they are ethically made, both in terms of sustainability and the labour gone into the garments.
How can we mitigate the impact of fast fashion? The good thing about this business model is that it is entirely based on people’s consumption of the garments – if we stop consuming, they will eventually have to change their model in order to remain profitable. Our power to not buy is our best weapon in a consumer world. There are so many alternatives to fast fashion – buying secondhand, whether on Ebay or from charity shops, is a good affordable way to keep up with fashion.
If, like myself, fast fashion truly scares you and you want something to be done about it. First, take individual action – stop buying from these companies. Second, encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do the same. Third, since fast fashion is a newer contributor to climate change, select consumerism as your avatar for Get2Cop and alert our UN representatives that this is an issue that you deeply care about.