What is fast fashion?
I don’t know who came up with the term ‘Fast Fashion’ first, but whoever did used the genius of alliteration to coin a name fun enough to talk about openly without putting people off. Imagine if it was called ‘child-abuse fashion’, or ‘earth-corrupting fashion’. Not catchy, and people’ll run for the hills as soon as you bring it up.
Melinda Tually, the coordinator of Fashion Revolution, says you know something’s Fast Fashion if it’s sold in high volume with a low profit margin. New product comes into the store almost once a week, and (unsurprisingly), it’s known for its pace; you can bring an item from the factory to the shop in three to four weeks. And, because it’s as cheap as a cup of coffee, people keep buying it in high amounts.
One of the major downsides of Fast Fashion is it starts to feel disposable to us. Think about it. When I was in year seven, the first iPod shuffle came out. The cheapest version was 512mb and cost $120. For me that was an impossibly large sum. So I saved up half with my pocket money each week for months, and come my birthday (August 5th if anyone was wondering…) my parents paid for the other half. Let me tell you, I treasured that iPod. I used it every day ‘til it’s death.
I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your life. You’ve worked hard to save for something, and once it’s in your possession you really take care of it. But what happens when you walk into a clothing store with racks labelled ‘EVERYTHING $10 OR LESS’, or you walk into Kmart and find $2 t-shirts? In my experience, you buy a lot more than you need, and you don’t stop to consider whether you even like it that much. Then, you take it all home and put it in your cupboard, and maybe you wear each item once or twice. Maybe you don’t even take the tags off.
A new season comes around, and you decide to do a clean out. Almost all that Fast Fashion you bought ends up in the pile to be chucked out, put in the Smith bin, or sent to the op shop (thrift store). A small percentage of those clothes will go to a new home. In the case of the Smith Family, only the best 3-4% goes into stores, with 30% ending up in landfill.
And let’s look at landfill. Every TEN MINUTES in Australia, six TONNES of clothing is chucked out. In the Fast Fashion world, the majority of garments are made of, or blended with, petrochemical-based fabrics like polyester or Lycra. Every single one of those pieces will take hundreds of years to decompose, all the while releasing methane and harmful greenhouse gases.
The other major downside of throwing out our Fast Fashion purchases is the resources those garments represent. You’re not just adding to landfill, you’re wasting all the resources that went into that garment; oil, water, cotton. The water used to make one t-shirt is the same amount one human being should drink in three years.
At this point it’s pretty clear that Fast Fashion is the antithesis of sustainability. And that’s why when major brands like H&M are venerated for their policies on worker’s rights and sustainability, it’s so hard to get excited. Brands like H&M are constantly dropping new product every week- and not of the high-quality, made-to-last variety. This means that style is evolving exponentially quicker than it was in the decades previous. People feel out of style a month after they bought that Zara dress, because there’s now something fresh and new in the storefront. This has pushed society to an extreme use of consumption. It is the H&M’s and Zara’s of the world that are making you feel like you cannot wear that dress to a birthday party because you wore it to a wedding last week and the photos are all over social media. They make it possible to always wear something new- so people do it, and soon it becomes a social expectation.
So what’s the answer? Slow Fashion. Instead of the new millenium’s 52 seasons, in slow fashion, we take it back to four seasons of high-quality clothing that will last. Many brands take it even further- like South Australian label Autark, who releases two seasons per year. Melbourne’s A.BCH label has a curated collection of clothing that has been pretty static since its inception. Every label we write about here at Ethical Made Easy is a part of the Slow Fashion movement.
If you’re interested in joining the movement, it’s easy. Look at your wardrobe. If you don’t have any needs to fill (e.g. a great pair of jeans to get you through winter), then keep using what you already have. When a need arises, pick something that you LOVE that will last you well. This doesn’t have to be exxy- you can buy high quality brands second-hand on buy/swap/sell pages, eBay, or gumtree. Attending clothing swap parties and visiting op shops are other great options.
Personally, I make a point of re-wearing items and posting them to social media. Part of what we need to do is break the stigma of outfit-repeating. Once we’ve achieved that, people won’t feel the overwhelming pressure of needing to buy more and more, and we might actually have a chance of saving the fucking planet.