For her local project, Cohort 4 BGFer Jessica has created a blog, Climate Habitat, to raise awareness of the environmental issues she is particularly passionate about addressing. Read on for one of her latest posts: 'The Flaws of Fast Fashion'...
I’m not what you might call ‘fashionable’ but I have always liked to shop for clothes and hunt for sales or bargains even if I don’t need or really love the clothes. Even so, I do feel I may have fallen victim to fast fashion. Brands are everywhere with adverts constantly popping up on social media for cheap and trendy pieces.
But what is ‘fast-fashion?’
‘Fast fashion’ is the rate at which clothing stores change their stock creating new items and lines regularly to stay popular. In order to sell clothes quickly before they ‘go out of fashion’ so to speak, shops use cheaper materials and cheap labour in order to sell their clothes at low prices. Take any high street store, such as Primark, for example. Primark is the epitomy of fast fashion with new clothing coming in ‘every day’, according to a cosmo’ interview with an employee. Their clothes are also some of the cheapest around and so it isn’t a big surprise that most of them aren’t the highest quality. This encourages people shop more, buy more and waste more. It is reported that over 65% of British people spent between £50 and £500 in 2018, whilst 10.5% of the population spent between £500 and £3,000 in that same year.
Clothing can be made from a variety of different materials. To reduce the manufacturing prices companies often use synthetic fibres (non-natural fibres such as acrylic) or a blend such as cotton (natural) and polyester (synthetic). These cheaper materials can also have other advantages to both producers and consumers such as; being quick drying, keeping their shape and keeping their colour. Cheap materials + cheap labour = cheap clothes and higher profits.
Whilst most of us imagine that cheap labouring only takes place in developing countries, such factories, have been discovered in the UK. This is due to the high shipping costs associated with foreign labour. Workers are paid, on average, £3 an hour to manufacture clothes that are distributed nationwide, a horrifying thought.
Are There Environmental Consequences To The Clothes I Buy?
Both natural and synthetic fibres can have detrimental effects on the environment. In 2015 it was estimated that global clothing and textiles resulted in the consumption of 79 billion cubic metres of water, 1 715 million tons of CO2 emissions and 92 million tons of waste. It also estimated that these numbers would increase by around 50% by 2030.
Natural fibres such as cotton or silk have a high environmental impact due to their growing requirements – space, water, fertilisers and pesticides. This problem can be reduced somewhat by the use of small-scale organic farming. Another natural fibre, wool, is detrimental due to its source. Whilst some sheep breeds can occupy space where crop farming is impossible (due to climate or relief) they release large amounts of green-house gas emissions which accelerate global warming. On an unrelated note this non-vegan fibre can be pretty itchy so not that difficult to avoid.
Synthetic fibres have various negative impacts. Polyester is one of the few that can be recycled however, it can decrease in quality. Most are also non-biodegradable meaning they, like lots of synthetic materials, exist for very long periods of time. These materials are mainly sourced from crude oil or coal, limited resources which are harmful to source. By increasing the synthetics we consume (and cannot recycle) we increase the amount of fracking required and risk of highly detrimental oil spills.
So, making and disposing of synthetic clothing can be harmful to the environment but its okay while we have it, right? I’m afraid not. Tiny microplastic particles and fibres found in clothing come off into a washing machine with every cycle. Polyester releases as many as 700,000 plastic particles with every wash cycle. Microplastics can carry toxic chemicals from our clothes out into the environment where they can poison small marine animals and fish and even work their way up the food chain to us.
How can we be more fashion conscious and sustainable?
1. First of all buying less is a good place to start. Maybe try a capsule wardrobe with only a few items in it or simply cut out things like sale or online shopping.
2. Try to buy organic materials, that way the clothes are far more sustainable, although they might be a touch more expensive. This also goes for buying from ethical or sustainable brands.
3. If you’re still looking for cheap clothes you could always look for second-hand. Charity shops are a given but you could look to sites such as Ebay, Facebook or Depop.
4. You can use a number of apps or sites, such as Good Guide, to check how sustainable an item or a brand is. This way you can help ensure that you aren’t purchasing from companies that use or support sweatshop labour.
5. Don’t bin your clothes. Try to keep them in good condition, repair them if needed and, when you want to get rid of them you can sell them or donate them to charity which is far better than in landfill.
I hope this article was interesting and helpful. I’d love to hear any comments on what you think or any other facts that I didn’t include here.