What is Fast Fashion?
Throw-away Culture: A Toxic Love Story
"Buy less, choose well, make it last."
- Vivienne Westwood, British designer
What's in a garment?
Cotton, usually. These days probably a good bit of polyester, and rayon too. Blood, sweat, tears, toxic dyes, and a fate that will see it thrown to the landfill in 10 wears or less.
Fashion these days is dominated by a zeitgeist that, in many ways, has made runway styles much more accessible to consumers. But that accessibility comes at a hefty price. An environmental price. A social price. An emotional price.
Ok, we won't get too doomsday about it. Obviously there are more damaging industries than fashion. But this is our niche, and the battle we've picked is something that deserves at least some real estate in the minds of those who want to live a more sustainable life. So what is fast fashion, and why does it need to go away?
Welcome to the Machine...
Fast fashion is, essentially, a well oiled mechanism - seemingly a perpetual motion machine, except the hidden energy input is the insatiable desire of humans to belong, to be relevant, and to matter.
Running like clockwork for the last 40 years, with big names like H&M, Fashion Nova, Zara, and Forever21 at the helm, fast fashion is all about trend replication at breakneck speed using cheap, low quality materials. These days, a style seen on the catwalk (or draped over Kim Kardashian's bodacious bod) can be made available to the masses within a week at a price that makes it attainable for all.
Democratization of style, or FOMO exploited?
And that's a great thing, right? Fashion, democratized...
Until you take a peek at the nasty underbelly. Fast fashion pays no mind to the supply chain madness that often leads to poor oversight of ethical labor or production practices. It has also created an overwhelming narrative of "this is in, that is out" that feeds on our very natural need to not be... out.
And it is this emotional driver that is the true fuel behind the perpetual motion machine that is fast fashion, encouraging the industry to create clothing evermore in a cycle that ultimately costs us in some of the most devastating ways.
The environmental impact is quite visible, with an estimated 10 million tons of clothing thrown away per year, much of which contains petroleum based microfibers that end up in the ocean. These clothes are quite literally designed to last (in terms of wearability) about as long as the trend of the week, prompting the consumer to always buy more. And why not? It's cheap!
But aside from the fairly obvious environmental impacts, the human impact is quite sinister in its relative invisibility. It is ultimately the bottom line that drives many of the large players in this industry (in any industry). While we are not so naive as to think that money doesn't matter, we will also say this: just because we can, doesn't mean we should.
And what does that mean, exactly? Just because we can exploit a developing nation's lackluster labor laws, doesn't mean we should. Just because we can prey on our instincts as social animals, doesn't mean we should. Just because we can turn a blind eye and enjoy the degrees of separation that prevent us from experiencing the true cost of fast fashion, doesn't mean we should.
How to shop sustainably
Yes, it will take some effort. And yes, you may spend more money in the short term. But that's the thing about cultivating better habits. It is difficult, but the benefits of NOT outsourcing that time and energy to the environment and to exploited people will pay off 10 fold. Just like you can make a choice to meal prep healthy foods rather than cruising through the drive thru on a whim, you CAN make the choice to shop around for sustainable brands, and buy clothing that is made better (in every possible way), will last longer, and speaks to your personal style.
Whether it is from a fair trade clothing line, or a second-hand shop (hi, that's us!), the clothes you buy and wear have the power to become more than just a surface piece of self expression. They can be a loud and beautiful statement against the current order of things, and in favor of our power to determine for ourselves what is important, what is cool, what looks good, and ultimately how we feel about it.