Please Explain: Fast Fashion
We’ve all heard about climate change, and we all care about human rights. But what do our fashion choices have to do any of that? Grace Joseph explains why fast fashion is changing the way we shop.
Late last year, a woman named Marie Kondo tidied her way into our lives. Her cleaning method was simple and effective – if the item doesn't spark joy, chuck it out. Before too long, we were bulldozing through excess trinkets, books and clothes, well on our way to living our very best minimalist life.
If you're anything like me, you might have stopped mid-Kondo to ask yourself a few questions. Why do I have so many black singlets? Who let me buy yet another cheap Kmart jumper? And why, for god's sake, did tween me want so many Supre slogan tees? Increasingly, however, people across the world are asking a much more constructive question – who made our clothes? Global organisation Fashion Revolution is fighting fast fashion and seeking 'greater transparency in the fashion industry' one company at a time, and they want us to get involved too. But in order to join this movement, we need to understand what exactly we are fighting.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the term for inexpensive, poorly-made clothes that are sewn together at high speeds to keep up with ever-changing catwalk trends. In simple terms, fast fashion items are the clothes found in the Kmarts and Big-Ws of the world; the ones that are cheap enough that you don't care that they'll fall apart in six months. Unsurprisingly, while saving money always seems like an obvious choice, especially for us broke uni students, there is a dark side to our seemingly-sensible purchases.
Effects of fast fashion
There are two main reasons why people are turning their backs on fast fashion brands, and the first one relates to how they are made. The only reason that these clothes are so cheap is because they are created in developing countries using cheap labour, where underpaid people work in unsafe conditions. Actually, low-end brands are not the only ones that source their clothes in sweatshops – Nike has been caught using sweatshop labour in the past, subsequently marking up their products significantly and pocketing the difference. Capitalism, hey?
Sweatshops are generally overcrowded and hot, with unsanitary facilities and insufficient food and water breaks. Workers, who are disproportionately women and children, rarely challenge these conditions, however, as this would endanger their employment. The issue with sweatshops was epitomised in 2013, when over 1,000 people died after a Bangladesh garment factory complex collapsed. This sweatshop produced brands such as Mango and Benetton, which were sold in David Jones, and other brands such as Kmart, Cotton On, Big W and Target produce their clothes in Bangladesh. It was later found that this sweatshop had been built cheaply, quickly and without adhering to building codes, and the workers were forced to return even when cracks appeared in the ceiling – all to keep up with the demand for clothes from rich countries like Australia.
The second effect of fast fashion is an environmental one. Because of the speed at which we replace them, Australians throw out 6000kg of clothes every ten minutes, 100% of which goes straight to landfill. If the clothes broke down over time, this might be less of an issue. But nowadays, the majority of clothes (and certainly the majority of sweatshop-produced clothes) are made from synthetic polyester – a.k.a plastic. Fast fashion is essentially the fashion equivalent of single-use plastics, and we should all know how detrimental those are by now.
Additionally, polyester releases microfibres into the environment with every wash, meaning that each load of fast fashion items puts that much more plastic into our waterways. Additionally, the very plastic itself is often made of toxic chemicals; as a result, the fashion industry is the second-highest polluter of waterways.
Unfortunately, these cheap clothes produce more negative effects than can be detailed in one short article. But enough about their downside – what can we do to fight fast fashion?
What can we do?
The first step is a simple one: stop buying clothes. We've all been guilty of buying a new outfit for every occasion or hopping online for stress relief in the form of ASOS shopping, but it's important to try to break those habits. With every purchase you don't make, you take a stand against sweatshop labour, reduce your carbon footprint, and save a bit of money too! It's important to note also that although you likely picture a shopping-crazed teenage girl making these purchases, people of every age and gender buy fast fashion items. So instead of making excuses for why this doesn't apply to you, get proactive and ask yourself whether you really need that new t-shirt. Additionally, when you're getting your Kondo on and clearing out your wardrobe, give your old clothes to your younger siblings or cousins instead of throwing them out – they'll (probably) love you for it!
Obviously, buying clothes is sometimes necessary. Whether you're going on a job interview, dressing up for a date, or you've just worn out your jeans, it's reasonable to want new clothes from time to time. However, the next time you find yourself in one of those situations, stop yourself from logging into The Iconic and head to your local second-hand store. A lot of people cringe at the thought of preloved clothes, but places like Vinnies and Lifeline often stock new clothes that have just been rejected by the factory. Even if the clothes are old, they will be cleaned and safe to wear, especially if you're looking for something like a coat or a blazer. Additionally, second-hand clothes are always ridiculously cheap, so you'll actually be able to afford to eat on your date.
Finally, if brand-new clothes are necessary, do your research into the ethical practices of each brand and support the best ones with your wallet. This research is actually easier than it sounds, as many organisations rank popular brands and suggest the best places to shop. For example, Baptist World Aid Australia has given 400 brands a letter grade for how well they avoid human rights and environmental impacts in their supply chain. Adidas, Bonds and Kathmandu were a few of the brands that scored an A, while brands like Noni B, Mango and Ally scored a D or below. Fashion Revolution and Ethical Clothing Australia do similar research and certifications, so check them out as well.
Keeping all of this in mind can be difficult, so it's important to forgive yourself for making mistakes. Additionally, try not to lecture people who purchase cheap clothes – it's a very privileged thing to be able to care about where your clothes are from, and judging people for their choices will come off as insensitive and just plain rude. If you are shopping ethically and thinking about your consumer choices, then you're already making a tangible difference yourself.
Grace is a second-year Communications/International Studies student, who majors in Creative Writing because she wants to be a barista for the rest of her life. She's probably the only uni student alive who'd rather wake up at 5:30 am than still be awake at 10:30 pm - an early bedtime each day keeps the doctor away