Fashion has always been one of my passions. After film, environmentalism comes fashion. When I was nine years old I watched my first fashion show on FTV. After that, I became obsessed with fashion and I wanted to be a fashion designer.
I didn’t know the impact of the fashion industry until I joined Instagram and Pinterest. Fashion bloggers rule most of these social media platforms. Fashion is everywhere. Fashion is a way of expressing ourselves. There are so many styles and brands available for us to dress according to our personal tastes.
My Shopping Journey
I used to go on shopping sprees almost every weekend. I would buy stacks of dresses and t-shirts, mixing and matching and I would buy more if I wasn’t impressed. I used to buy new clothes for almost every event I attended. I wore new clothes for parties, dates and holidays. Unfortunately, most of the time I would wear those outfits once and let them hang in my closet for months.
At least twice a year I purge my closet. I take out clothes I don’t wear anymore and I donate them to charity. I’ve been doing this since childhood. Now I know that that seems like a ‘good’ life, but recently I’ve been wondering how long can this cycle go on? Is buying, donating and buying again a sustainable cycle?
This year I learnt about sustainable and ethical fashion. Before May 2018 I hadn’t heard about fast fashion and slow fashion. I know, I’m an environmentalist and I should have known, but better late than never right?
I discovered many ethical fashion bloggers on Instagram and I learnt a little bit about the fast fashion industry. Then I watched a documentary called ‘The True Cost’ which shook me. You can watch the trailer here. I learnt everything about fast fashion and the devastating impact it has on the environment, human rights and on consumers (us).
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the fast cycle of designs that move from the catwalk to retail outlets, to keep up with the latest fashion trends. These trendy clothes are made available to the public at low costs, and are constantly changing. Fast fashion clothes are made in factories in third world countries such as China and Bangladesh. Some popular fast fashion brands are Zara, H&M, Cotton On and Forever 21.
Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?
There are many factors in the making of clothes that contribute to the degradation of the environment. Fast fashion is like fast food- it’s cheap and available at all times. Because it’s fast the production needs to be fast to meet the sales goals of the brands. Materials such as cotton are natural fibres and are not always available throughout the year. However, because of fast fashion these natural resources are modified to grow faster. Instead of humans waiting for nature, nature is forced to move according to the demands of humans.
There are more details concerning the growth of the cottonseeds, but I will give you the basics for now. Pesticides used in these plantations alter the natural cycle and further poisons soils and the air. More and more farmers die per year due to the harmful chemicals released. Most suffer from cancer and brain tumours. The production of clothes also pollutes water systems. The clothes are washed off from dyes and other chemicals, which end up in water of developing countries. Most of the clothes also end up in landfills, as people are quick to dispose them instead of donating them to charities.
How does it affect people?
It’s no secret that workers in sweatshop and factories are treated poorly. Workers are paid below the income rate, most of the time only earning maximum $10 a month. This is not enough to live stable lives. They are also overworked for the little money they earn. These workers work for long arduous hours without a break. Women earn less than men, even though 90% of the workers in these factories are women.
The factories are also in poor conditions and are life threatening. In 2011, a factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 11 000 workers. Workers who survived suffered from severe injuries. This went down as the worst factory disaster in history. What makes this tragedy even worse is that the workers notified their bosses about the frail structure of the building but they were forced to continue to work. To this day there are still factories that threaten the lives of its workers. Workers also get physically abused and women and children are subject to even worse treatment.
People outside of these factories also face dangers from the pollution of air and water released from these factories. Studies have shown that there has been an increase in birth defects, miscarriages, mental illnesses and retardation, cancers and more diseases. Because the people earn such little money, they either spend all their income on healthcare to treat these diseases, or end up dying, lending to the high death toll.
How can I help?
This information is overwhelming and shocking, I know. There is a solution to end the cycle of fast fashion and that is slow, ethical and sustainable fashion. Most people think of slow fashion as plain, white linen clothes and wooden flip flops. While there are ethical brands like that, slow fashion is not exclusively white linen.
We can’t exactly go to these factories and protest, or save every worker. But we, as consumers, can make the decision to stop supporting fast fashion brands. I know that most slow fashion brands are so expensive but you don’t have to buy from them – for now.
I understand that these workers need money to survive, however, they need more than what they are earning right now. If more people boycott these brands that exploit their workers and the environment, then hopefully they will reconsider their process.
Here is my game plan to stop supporting fast fashion and to living a sustainable –and stylish- life:
- Step 1: Stop buying more clothes.
I have more than enough clothes to last me for the next 5 years depending on how I handle them. I know that I don’t need more clothes. The urge we feel to go on a haul is to satisfy our own selfish needs, to feel included in a changing society, and to be accepted by others based on what we wear. But like fast food, it feels good when you get it but you end up regretting it afterwards and ultimately feel empty. So what do you do to fill this void? Shop for more clothes! You can decide today to stop buying more clothes. Stop spending money on clothes that look expensive but are actually cheap. Imagine how much money you would save if you stopped buying clothes as often as you currently do?
- Step 2: Embrace what you have.
Okay, so now I am left with a bunch of clothes and I haven’t worn most of them yet. What I’m doing now is accepting what I already have and owning it. It’s challenging in this day and age of social media where people get judged for wearing the same clothes in almost every picture. But, who cares? Those who criticise slow fashion don’t understand it. As Yves Saint Laurent said “Fashions fade, style is eternal”.
- Step 3: save up.
Now that I have stopped buying clothes I have begun saving up for the future. Maybe once I’ve outgrown everything I would have saved up enough money to buy sustainable and ethical clothes. It would be worth it in the end.
- Step 4: Raise awareness.
Spread the word and let people know that supporting fast fashion brands are no good for the environment or for people.Change will come when the consumers pay for the world they want.