by Maggie Gannon
Fast fashion is a term which many of us are now familiar with and tend to associate with cheaper, ‘easier’ options of online shopping, with brands such as Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Missguided at the forefront of our choices. However, the true meaning of what fast fashion entails is rarely focused upon, with its unsustainable nature hidden from the perceived benefits which cover these retailers’ websites.
The idea of fast fashion relies upon simply what can be described as a process which is indeed too fast. From the start of production, the quick decision to purchase and for the item to be delivered, culminating in a fast life cycle for one item which is rarely worn again. It is this process which many popular well-known brands base their business model on, with little regard for the environmental and ethical problems which occur with operating in this way. Unfortunately, this is becoming the new normal for many online retailers, as they aim to keep up with constant trends which come around sooner than the traditional four seasons. As brands compete to adapt quickly to changes in consumer demands the ‘new in’ sections can boast around 300 items daily. This strategy paired with the latest influencer partnerships and collaborations across various social media platforms for cheap prices, aid the quick mass consumer culture.
These attractive low prices however, usually do not come without a cost elsewhere. Many of the factories used in the production of fast fashion, compromise in poorer impoverished countries abroad particularly in Asia where workers are paid little. However, in recent years there has been a surge of factories relocating to Leicester in the UK, where similarly workers tend to consist of severely low paid migrants who can earn less than half the legal UK minimum wage, whilst expected to work strenuous long hours. Although there has been some small progress made with many retailers opting to join the Ethical Trade Initiative introduced after a house of commons report, Boohoo, who also own PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal, have expressed no interest in joining. However, the recent consequences of bad press for the brand have been notable, with several brands such as Amazon, Next and Asos all choosing to stop stocking the brand, after allegations of poor working conditions. Reports also contained information to suggest workers were being made to continue producing low quality garments during the localised Leicester lockdown due to coronavirus with little health precautions put in place.
The disregard for responsibly sourcing items and using cheap materials can lead to garments lasting for shorter periods of time and ultimately leading us to dispose of them quicker. The current dyes, synthetics and chemicals which can be present in cheaper items of clothing are beginning to enter our water as they are washed, as well as filling up landfill sites when they are simply thrown away rather than being repurposed, resold or recycled. The fashion industry alone is responsible for ten percent of annual global carbon emissions, with a staggering 2,700 litres of water needed to make one cotton t-shirt. This excessive production is creating an extremely harmful cycle to both human and aquatic life, in which chemicals are destroying the health of those in poorer nations where waste tends to culminate. One country particularly being affected is Bangladesh, where those living on the banks of rivers are exposed to these chemicals daily. On top of this, microfibres found in many fast fashion garments break down extremely easily when washed, adding to the ongoing issue of plastic dominating our waste, as well as the issue of deforestation which occurs from sourcing these materials. It is perhaps these unseen consequences of fast fashion that leads us to continue to buy into the saturated market. Alongside the pressure to keep up with trends on social media promoted by our favourite influencers are making the idea of fast fashion so attractive.
When looking into the future, in order for these unsustainable methods to be cut out of the industry, significant change needs to be made from the front. The last thought of many of us scrolling through PrettyLittleThing would be the potential chemicals involved in making a t- shirt, the potential deforestation of vulnerable land, or poor conditions of those who are made to make it. These factors are rarely reported on, but the power large brands have to support ethical methods of production would have a large impact on this simply unsustainable industry. Perhaps brands need to market the quality of their clothes rather than the quantity on their websites, encouraging consumers to buy for time and not just for one night.