Clothing has become readily available to us now more than ever due to the emergence of ‘fast fashion’. The term is used by those in the fashion industry to describe the changing nature of the fashion cycle; speed and low costs are now the top priorities of high-street companies (e.g. Primark). If they are to compete in the saturated market, they must produce a need for consumers to update their wardrobes by convincing them that their clothing is no longer fashionable.
The increase of disposable income in developed countries means that it is often more convenient or cost effective to throw away garments rather than to mend them. In addition, the rise of supermarket fashion has combined the consumption of clothing with weekly food shops, associating new clothes with necessity rather than luxury. However, with this recent consumer trend on the rise our planet has become increasingly vulnerable.
Vintage and charity shops are a great way to find a bargain as well as recycle old clothing
The fashion industry emits more greenhouse gases each year than the shipping and aviation industries combined, meaning textile production is top dog in terms of pollution. Factories are cheaply and poorly maintained and so their control of waste and emissions are often inadequate. Moreover, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water after agriculture. Greenpeace has brought to light the alarming presence of hazardous chemicals used by fashion brands found in water sources which are extremely toxic to the environment and living creatures.
Another issue is the overuse of polyester to produce garments. The fabric contains microfibers which when washed in a domestic washing machine, shed into our drainage systems. These microfibers are not biodegradable and therefore add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. Microfibers can be harmful if consumed by aquatic life and can even end up being ingested by humans. For example, if plankton consume these microfibers they remain in their system even after being eaten by shellfish and so the fibres ultimately make their way up the food chain to humans.
Cotton is another problematic fabric used within the fast fashion market. Toxic chemicals and pesticides are sprayed on the cotton to prevent crop failure. These chemicals come with a high risk to not just the environment, but also to humans. The documentary ‘The True Cost’ depicts a farmer who developed a life-threatening brain tumour, likely as a result of being exposed to these toxins. The film also reported that there is a higher risk of birth defects in children and livestock if parents or animals are surrounded by these chemicals. Cotton is often grown in lower-economically developed countries due to climatic conditions. The excessive harvesting of cotton, as a result of fast fashion demands, has led to a higher risk of drought in these countries.
Despite this, there are a number of ways that we can help reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion. Vintage clothing has seen a wave of popularity in recent years. Vintage and charity shops are a great way to find a bargain as well as recycle old clothing- you never know when an old trend will come back into style! Alternatively, apps such as Depop and eBay have provided a platform to buy and sell used clothing at the simple click of a button. Designers are also taking steps towards creating a waste free fashion cycle. Patagonia are the first clothing brand to use recycled bottles to produce polyester fleeces and H&M offer rewards for bringing in used clothing to recycle. Ultimately, we need to give fast fashion retailers reason to slow down production and so simply keeping our clothes for longer is the best way to achieve this.