The fashion industry is one that has evolved extensively through time. Initially, collating a wardrobe of garments was an expensive and lengthy process, as personal tailoring was the exclusive option for consumers. The beginning of the 20th century was when resemblance to modern-day shopping habits began to emerge, with the promotion of standardised, ready-to-wear clothing. The progression has culminated into the inescapable rise of fast fashion which is familiar to us today, a phenomenon which, as the name suggests, has seen the popularisation, production and distribution of fashion accelerating to overwhelming new speeds. What many people don’t know, though, are the horrors which have accompanied this ascension. Perhaps this is because the horrific consequences generated by fast fashion seem detached from the innocuous looking high street that they hide behind, so much so that most of us will passively invest. They are, however, closer than you may think, so to any loyal patrons of brands such as Zara and H&M, you may want to cover your ears.
Whilst I’m sure you’re tired of hearing the recurrent narrative of social media being the root of all evil, I would argue that the suggestion is somewhat valid in this case. Obviously, it would be naïve of me to assert that style was stagnant in its existence prior to the technological age, but it could still be said that the very formulation of social media is catered to fuel the massively impressionable consumer habits of shoppers. This materialises in the increased ubiquity of persistent advertisements alongside, most prevalently, the huge influence it has had upon the circulation of trends and the fleeting nature of them. Think about it: did you, or did you not own a pair of Adidas Superstars in 2016? If you say no, frankly, I do not believe you. Essentially, social media determines what’s hot, and what is certainly not. Despite this, the fickle approach adopted has ultimately resulted in a dangerous inference that clothes are disposable where, in an absence of justification to purchase quality, higher-priced items, shoppers are increasingly inclined to dive head-first into the seemingly endless utopian abyss of fast fashion.
The heightened consumerist culture which has been partially constructed by social media is eagerly capitalised upon by fast fashion companies, taking advantage of the obscenely lucrative industry which has prevailed. However, the operation of these retailers, immorally prioritising the profitable possibilities, is where the menacing realities of the industry begin to inevitably surface. To illustrate, in favour of reduced labour costs and ethical standards, many corporations will choose to outsource manufacturing overseas, where exploitative practices are viciously rampant. In Bangladesh, for instance, workers have been known to work 7 days a week, up to 16 hours a day, endure poor labour conditions, all for a measly $33 a month. Based on this, I can now reflect on times when my humanity was ultimately forfeited at the vacant exclamation that a jumper on display in New Look was “so cute!”, and feel immensely ashamed.
The human costs, however, are not where it ends. In fact, the environmental ramifications are equally as worrying. The impending risks of climate change have, over the years, become no secret, although the generous representation of plastic bags and “saving the turtles” have perhaps overshadowed the threatening contributor of fast fashion. Through factory pollution, wastage and transportation emissions, the industry is now calculated to cause 10% of total human-induced climate change. Many of this is out of the consumer’s basic control, though our excessive tendencies to waste renders us far from innocent. Of course, we all have those pieces of clothing which, out of pity and guilt for buying them in the first place, are left rotting in the murky depths of our wardrobes. The rest, however, tend to conclude their brief lifespan tossed in the landfill, buried amongst the rubbish. In fact, recent predictions suggest that textiles account for over three quarters of landfill waste, a figure representative of the scarily incomprehensible scale which the fast fashion industry has reached.
Fast fashion is, unfortunately, a highly productive business model operating in a competitive and capitalist cultural climate. I simultaneously believe, however, that the ability to shop exclusively sustainable is a privilege which the vast majority are unable to afford. In spite of this, there are still alternatives to fast fashion available to the average consumer which allow for moral fulfillment at an affordable price. For instance, it is responsible to be selective with purchases, investing in items that possess the minimalism and versatility of guaranteed longevity. Furthermore, the option of shopping second hand is readily accessible, growing with the development of apps such as Depop. Overall, whilst the sacrifice of some convenience and ease is foreseeable when attempting to avoid fast fashion, I would still suggest that this at least somewhat necessary to combat the distressing truths of the industry. Besides, cost equates to far more than just the monetary measure we see on clothing labels.