We buy and buy and buy, and then we throw away.
Our current fashion climate is fuelled by the constant desire to have what is new and ‘in style.’ There is a pressure to keep up with the latest fashion trend; we need to wear whatever is in season. This desire to be up-to-date and the fear of being ridiculed for being left behind has created an environment where we rely on fast fashion.
Fast fashion is a term used to describe inexpensive designs that move quickly from catwalks to stores to keep up with the trends. It is usually priced much lower than the competition, and is based on a business model of a having high volumes of low-quality product for a low price. Unless you purchase from a sustainable ethical brand or high-end retailer, chances are you purchase from a fast fashion retailer. It’s not a sin, we all do it; however, it is something that we need to think more about. What are the true costs of supporting fast fashion? Is it doing more harm than good? Are the $10 t-shirts really worth it?
The price of a pair of jeans in Kmart is around $15, roughly the same as lunch in the food court. Roy Morgan Research found that 1.7 million Australians are buying at least one pair of jeans a month. Often when we buy a pair of jeans or a t-shirt we don’t think about what we already have at home or what we will do with the clothing once we tire of it. In a day and age where you can purchase clothing from a vending machine, it’s almost too easily accessible.
According to the ABC, Australia is the second largest consumer of textiles. We make 27kg of new clothing and other textiles per year, meaning our consumption of textiles is twice the yearly global average of 13kg. The advent of fashion seasons created a new habit of excessive purchasing; each new season meant a new line to buy. With new clothing lines added on a weekly basis, accessible and affordable fashion causes consumers to purchase more than ever before. The number of garments bought by the average consumer increased by 60 per cent between 2000 and 2014. The fast fashion industry’s business model is dependent on our desire for whatever is new; the increase in demand drives the increase in sales, and the cycle continues.
We throw away clothes like they are nothing. In Australia alone, more than 500 000 tonnes of textiles and leather end up in landfills each year. We buy more clothing because the prices are so cheap, but this low price comes at a cost. Low prices allow for poor quality items, which leads to new clothing being thrown away after a few years or less. According to a YouGov Omnibus study, 75 per cent of Australians threw away at least one clothing item over the last year, and one in five threw an item away after wearing it once. The study found that one quarter of millennials threw away clothing because they were bored of wearing them, and 57 per cent because they no longer fit. Millennials are more likely to throw away clothing because their, or society’s, tastes change. This pressure to keep up with trends drives the cycle of purchasing fast fashion.
Fast fashion is not environmentally sustainable and all the clothing we ship off to landfills adds up. Two-thirds of clothing and textiles are made of synthetic fibres that are derived from petroleum. These plastic-based clothes do not decay and are not biodegradable in landfills, meaning they do not completely breakdown and actually shed micro plastic particles in the breakdown process, which often end up in oceans. Clothing made from polyester takes up to 200 years to break down, and natural fibres like wool are not designed to go in landfills, so when they do, the conditions are not right for them to breakdown and compost, leading to wool leaking ammonia.
We may think we are doing the environment a solid by donating our clothing instead of throwing it in the bin, but only about 15 per cent of donated clothing is actually sold again in op-shops, the remaining of which is sent to landfills with some sent to developing nations. There are things we can do to combat fast fashion; buying clothes from expensive yet sustainable fashion brands is not the only option!
Not only is fast fashion degrading to the environment, but there are detrimental ethical impacts. Fast fashion disempowers women, it traps a generation of young women into poverty. Of the 75,000,000 people who work to make our clothes, 80 per cent of them are women aged 18 to 24. Our cheap clothes are made by underage workers making below-minimum wage; many earn less than $3 a day. Many of those who enter the industry are as young as 14 and work an average of 14-hour days in sweat shops. It would take one of these garment workers 18 months to earn what the CEO of a fashion company would make on their lunch break.
Owner of local Instagram second-hand clothing store Does Your Mother Know Vintage Maisie Evason said raising awareness is the first major step when it comes to fast fashion.
“There are so many people who have no idea what they’re supporting when they buy clothes from a franchised store, and with online shopping I think we’ve become even more disconnected from the reality of it,” she said.
Maisie started her online store earlier this year as an attempt to get rid of her overflowing wardrobe and do her bit to combat fast fashion. She said the change in the fashion industry will start with the shoppers, “once they stop purchasing from these big businesses we will begin to slowly alleviate the problem.”
As a student herself, Maisie’s advice to others looking to reduce their involvement with fast fashion is to do their research.
“I know people are put off by the idea of spending hours in op-shops and not finding anything, but if you actually look around there are a number of stores, especially online and Instagram stores, that are promote ethical and sustainable fashion,” she said.
Students especially lean towards fast fashion because it’s something we can buy on a budget. It can be daunting to make a wardrobe change in an attempt to become more ethical in your shopping choices. An important activity to consider is re-using and recycling clothes.
“On average an item of clothing is worn only 7 times. Keep re-wearing them, give them to friends and siblings, or try and sell them on,” Maisie said.
So, on your next shopping trip try to stop and consider, do I really need this or is there something at home I could wear instead? Is there an ethical and sustainable brand that I can save up and support? Try and raid your nearest op-shop, or check apps like Depop and Caroussell! Fighting fast fashion doesn’t have to be a tiresome battle, but there are small things we can do. It’s our Earth, we all should do our part.