Monday, 14 August 2017

What is the real cost of fast fashion?

When we buy a piece of clothing, is the price simply the number on the tag, or has it cost people and the environment more than that? 

We might not think about the glitzy fashion industry as being alongside the oil industry, but it follows oil as the world's second largest polluter. It even relies on oil, to produce synthetic fibres such as Polyester and Nylon (which by the way, take between 20 and 200 years to decompose once in landfill). I find it hard to believe that out of the 80 billion pieces of clothing brought each year, 15% of this is wasted in manufacturing before clothes even reach the shops!

My wardrobe is made up of second-hand and vintage clothing, but also a large percentage of clothes from popular high street brands, yet over the past few months, my frequent, almost daily visits to the constantly updating store websites has slowed to a stop.  For example, in my last two visits to a Zara store, I didn't pick anything up at all! What has happened? 
I have started to realise that there is a greater price for clothes - that I don't want other people or the world to pay for. The price of Fast Fashion. 

Fast Fashion is harmful in many ways but it is clever. The fashion industry is worth over a trillion pounds a year so you can see why big high street brands want a part of this huge market. Though as such a huge industry, with clothes traveling all over the world to be produced and sold, the fashion industry is like a giant web, with many things happening that shouldn't - things that are easy for manufacturers and brands to gloss over and hide, such as child labour and pollution from factories. It is easy for brands to source through other companies, becoming dis-connected from the people and processes behind their clothes.

So what is 'fast fashion'? 

Businesses are constantly churning out huge volumes of cheap clothing with designs that are more affordable versions of catwalk clothing. It certainly is a 'fast' industry as new clothes appear in stores on a weekly basis. Fast Fashion is a way of persuading the public to continually buy new items at a tangibly cheap price. Once the season changes and trench coats are replaced with denim jackets, then last season's pieces move to the back of the wardrobe and most are eventually found in a landfill, even though 95% of clothing is recyclable or able to be up-cycled. A crazy 2.5 billion pounds worth of clothing goes to landfill each year!

'Clothes aren't going to change the world. The people who wear them will' - Anne Klein

'Fast Fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying' - Lucy Siegle

A common misconception, is that the cheaper the clothing is, the worse the conditions of the factories and the pay is for garment workers. This isn't always the case. Luxury brands such as Hugo Boss and Prada have been picked out for having their clothes made by workers payed under the minimum wage (you can read more about that here). 

 It isn't as simple as boycotting brands!

But should I stop buying from high street shops such as Zara, and would it even help if  I did?

The answer that I found was that it isn't as simple as boycotting brands. A brand might notice and take action if large numbers of people stopped buying from them on account of their low pay for workers, but real change will come from challenging the brands to improve the lives of their workers. Not buying from high street stores might make a valid point, but if brands pull out their factories from countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia due to a loss of sales, then it will be the workers that are effected.

For me, I personally feel wary about shopping from brands, with the uncertainty that the people who made their clothes got a decent wage (the average wage of a Bangladeshi textile worker is £338.71 compared to the annual wage in the UK which is £27,600) or the knowledge that I might not want to wear it in a month's time. Maybe I would feel differently if they knew themselves and could publish a list of their suppliers?

'Demand quality. Not just in the product you buy, but in the life of the person who made it' - Orsola de Castro

I want to make the clothes that I buy last longer and to take better care of them. If I buy something from Zara (for example), I need to know it will be durable and I that I won't just wear it once. 
I was pleasantly surprised about what I had forgotten about in my wardrobe, and it felt like I had gained new clothes. I found out on the Global Fashion Exchange website, if you wear something 50 times instead of just 5 (the fast fashion average), you reduce the carbon emissions for that item by 400% per year!

We all need to challenge the brands that we shop at - contact and question them 'who made my clothes?'. If they don't know, then why don't they know? We need to encourage them to find out. As I have learnt through the 'Who Made My Clothes?" online course, the more 'transparent' a brand is about where its clothes are made, who made them and the conditions in which they were made, the more they can be held responsible for improving the lives of their workers.

What price is the world paying for fast fashion and is it worth it?

                                                                                           Beccy x

P.s. If you want to find out a bit more about the effects of fast fashion and what we can do to reduce them, have a little look at Fashion Revolution's 'White Paper' :-)


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