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What's so bad about Fast Fashion?

What's so bad about Fast Fashion?

7th January 2022 | By Greenr

The obsession for the latest trends and 'must-haves' didn't exist 100 years ago. It has led us to make cheap clothing from materials that just don't last like they used to.

Fast fashion

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion retailers spell disaster for the environment, encouraging a throwaway 'haul' culture and creating an abundance of short-lived fabrics made from synthetic plastics.

On average, each person in the UK has 57 items of clothing in their wardrobe that don't get worn.

Cheap clothing items made for the high street is being churned out at breakneck speed. This is creating an artificial sense of clothing 'seasons' and trends. And nowadays, people are worried about wearing the same item of clothing in two separate social media posts.

But it's not always been like this. Let's get into the origins of fast fashion and consider how it all began.

Factory

The origins of Fast Fashion

If you travelled back in time and told someone there was an equivalent of £10bn worth of unworn clothing in UK wardrobes they simply wouldn't believe you.

Our obsession with having new clothing all the time is a new one, and a product of the industrial revolution.

Before the 1800s most people only owned a couple of outfits. Textiles needed to be sourced, spun, sewn and made by hand. There was therefore a much greater emphasis on fixing, mending and darning.

When it came to washing clothes things were different, too. Without washing machines and tumble driers, keeping clothes clean was a labour intensive and lengthy task. And with little understanding of the benefits of good hygiene, washing seemed less necessary to everyday life.

As a result clothes were washed a lot less. While this wasn't great for health, it meant less intense heat or strong chemicals applied to clothing, and certainly no tumble drying, which can often lead to clothes shrinking and fibres warping.

Synthetic-textiles

What's so bad about synthetic textiles?

Driving your petrol car isn't the only way you support the fossil-fuel industry. What we buy in clothes shops can also lead to fossil fuel demand.

Synthetic textiles like polyester and acrylic are made from plastics derived from petro-chemicals. And it's estimated 62% of all textiles are now synthetic.

So while you can cut down on driving and filling up your car, you might be filling up your wardrobe with similar stuff.

But the problem isn't just about where these textiles come from, it's about what happens to them after they're created and turned into clothing.

Up to 700,000 fibres can come off our synthetic clothes in a typical wash, running into our seas, rivers and water supply. Microfibres and microplastics have been found all the way in the arctic. So it's important not to think about them simply going 'down the drain' – they're travelling across our oceans.

But what happens when clothes made with synthetic fabrics end up in landfill? Cotton and other natural fibres only take a matter of weeks to a few months to break down. Meanwhile, polyester, spandex and nylon garments can take hundreds of years to decompose. In fact it's difficult to estimate exactly how long it truly takes because there simply hasn't been enough time to measure it in natural conditions.

Garment workers

Fast Fashion's terrible worker's rights

There's a human cost for all these cheap clothes – cheap labour.

Garment workers rarely have real rights as employees, and they often don't earn even a minimum wage to live properly. And the people farming raw materials for the fast fashion industry don't often fare much better.

Not valuing the human lives that are making clothes leads to dangerous conditions, and conditions like these lead to terrible disasters.

In 1911 New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames, and many workers were locked inside the building. All told, the disaster took the lives of 146 people, and while the incident galvanized a movement for worker's rights in America, there were sadly very few real consequences for the factory owners.

Disasters like these are not simply a thing of the past. As recently as 2013 disasters like the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh remind us that very little has changed – production just goes elsewhere.

Finally, if you think this problem doesn't happen 'close to home', you'd be wrong. Exposés found multiple failings in textile factories in Leicester, UK. Fast fashion firms like Boohoo were found to be involved and promised to take action.

The worst Fast Fashion culprits

Who to avoid? Here's a quick run down.

Shein

Shein

Thousands of new product styles are added to Shein's website every day. The shopping website is notorious for having very little transparency in how it manufactures its clothing.

The Chinese retail company received the lowest score from fashion sustainability rating website Good On You:

"It uses few eco-friendly materials… It sources its final stage of production from countries with extreme risk of labour abuse… There is no evidence it has a policy to minimise the suffering of animals"

Source: goodonyou.eco

H and M

H&M

H&M still has almost none of its supply chain certified by labour standards. And while they have some sustainability targets, they don't appear to be meeting them.

H&M also touts sustainability as a key selling point of its Conscious Collection, but over the years many questions have been raised about how conscious it really is, leading to accusations of greenwashing and misleading customers.

Zara

Zara

Similar to H&M, Zara have targets but don't meet them.

The company started out with the mission to shrink the process of making clothes from design to appearing in store to just 15 days – a sure warning flag for the fast fashion mentality, if you ask us.

Folding clothes

What you can do

Further reading