Fast Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion
Updated: Apr 7
Sustainable Overton volunteer Holly talks about her frustrations with the fashion industry and considers how we can shop more sustainably.
I wasn’t going to write this. I don’t believe that I should force my views on people if they don’t want to listen (total pacifist me) BUT… I’ve seen people sharing a meme about being excited to blow £80 in Primark. Whilst I understand that for many people, shops like Primark are the only affordable solution, especially for those with growing children, I don’t think it’s the great Pandora’s Box that so many people seem to glorify. If you can afford better, then why not buy better?
Before I explain the various issues surrounding Primark and the like, I’d like to explain that I grew up on hand-me-downs. We might have had the money to afford new clothes for me but it wasn’t a priority in my family. It was the 80s and I was too busy climbing trees or making things from rubbish to even care. I wore clothes from my cousins, brother or my mum. I wasn’t cool or trendy but it didn’t matter. Later as a teenager, I would dart into charity shops and buy clothes, hoping that no one from school would see me. Second-hand clothes were shameful in those days. The charity shops always smelled musty, and vintage wasn’t upmarket like it is now. The only “cool” clothes shop near me was New Look. I remember saving up for a couple of slogan t-shirts for £10 (it was the mid 90s). Bearing in mind that a t-shirt for £5 was a special offer twenty-five years ago, you can start to see the issue here.
Fast fashion retailers such as Primark, ASOS and H&M (to name a few) are deeply flawed. Firstly, they are too cheap. Not only does this £2 top strategy mean that people will buy 5 tops that they don’t need (and might not even wear), but you have to question how much the people sewing these items are being paid. Well, barely anything. This is one of the biggest problems with the fast fashion industry – modern slavery. The workers are poorly paid, harassed and in horrific working conditions (for example, the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 ). When the pandemic started, various high street retailers refused to pay for their orders, leaving the most vulnerable even worse off. If you’re tempted to buy cheap, take a moment to think about #WhoMadeMyClothes.
Designed to last four washes
Fast fashion is fast – designed to follow the latest trends, made quickly and cheaply so shoppers can get knock off designer styles before they go out of style. Not only does this mean that they’re very quickly outdated and discarded, but also the quality of the items is poor. They are made to only last a few weeks. I repair my clothes so they last longer, but these fabrics are so thin and cheap it’s not possible. They are only fit for the bin (or textile recycling, which is often not quite what it seems).
The process of making clothes, the water to grow the cotton, the plastic to make polyester, the inks used to dye the fabric, the plastic used to wrap and transport the clothes, the fuel to ship products around the world – this is why fast fashion is a disaster for the environment.
Many retailers also dump or burn last season’s unsold stock and returned items. Yes, it’s awful, and yes, there needs to be more regulation and transparency in the fashion industry.
As a consumer, you have the power of choice. Firstly, and most importantly – you can love the clothes you have. Keep them, treat them well, wash them less, mend them! Is that style not really you anymore? Could you keep it until that trend comes back around again?
Buy sustainable – before you buy new clothes, think about what you need and research the companies offering that item. Need some new leggings? Check out Rapanui! For £35 you can buy 2 pairs of cotton leggings made in their solar powered factories. Their website has masses on info on their staff working conditions, environmental impact and how they work. Remember that cheap clothes are a false economy. It may seem like a bargain but if you have to keep buying more because the clothes break, wash badly or wear out, then maybe it’s not.
Buy second hand – whether you want to look on Ebay, vinted, Depop or Facebook, there are loads of online resources to find second-hand clothes. It’s easier if you’re looking for something specific but you can also search for words like “unusual”, “vintage”, “boho” or “rainbow”. If you’re heading into a charity shop or second-hand market, look for patterns or fabrics that appeal to you. Ignore the size label, try it anyway! Be open minded – you never know what you might find. If you don’t like the idea of wearing something that someone else has had, don’t worry, there are loads of brand new items in charity shops too.
By all means donate your unwanted clothes to a charity shop, but they rarely can sell Primark clothes unless they’ve still got the tags on. Savvy charity shoppers know how much clothes cost, and they know that Primark clothes don’t last – they’re looking for quality textiles and brands.
Ask questions: email your favourite brand, ask them to do better, post on social media and call out any greenwashing. Plenty of retailers are now selling organic cotton or recycled textiles but they’re sometimes not as eco-friendly as they’re making out. Keep asking questions. Look for Fairtrade labels on clothes and normalise transparency in the clothing industry.
And remember, just trying to buy better is a step in the right direction. We all fall off the wagon every now and again, but simply making a start will make a difference.
Fashion Revolution @fash_rev (instagram)
White Rose Recycled Fashion www.whiterosefashion.com