A Conscientious Guide to Fast Fashion
A round up of the best ways to engage with sustainable fashion, that are savvy, realistic, and aren’t going to break the bank.
The big players in the fashion industry and the public alike are paying greater attention than ever before to the relationship between ‘fast fashion’ and ‘sustainable fashion’. The dirty secrets that are woven into manufacturing ‘fast fashion’ - toxic chemicals, dangerous fibres, polluted waters, bad working conditions - have been exposed, to varying degrees. While sustainability is increasingly becoming fashion’s hot topic, with high-street stores such as H&M and designers including Stella McCartney championing a greater consciousness in the industry towards it. But if we consider it a movement, sustainable fashion has no one leader, no one answer and no guilt-free party.
Archetypally, we associate the ‘fast fashion’ label with high-street stores playing into the hands of trend-driven demanding consumers, by producing clothes as quickly and as cheaply as possible. The processes used, the corners cut, and the pressures upon working conditions, to achieve these increased rates of production and variety has inevitable environmental costs. Let’s be realistic, the multi-coloured sequins on your NYE outfit were not created through natural processes. Dyeing textiles and creating different fabric finishes will commonly use toxic chemicals and pollute clean waters.
We can also link ‘fast fashion’ to our buying habits and the changing face of the marketplace. The decline of the high-street is indisputable, with the Local Data Company reporting more than 3,000 fashion stores closing between 2013 and 2017. For the time-poor, purchasing goods as quickly and efficiently as possible lends itself to online shopping - making access to fast fashion faster than ever before.
Within this equation of consumer and provider where does the responsibility fundamentally lie? It’s easy to take yourself out of the relationship and think, what difference am I really going to make. Will a high-street store change its whole manufacturing process just by insignificant me boycotting it? Also, who am I to criticise anyone for buying into a trend-driven bargain? I love a trend, champion the high-street right up to the catwalk designers, and am continuously lusting after my next purchase.
So, how best to adjust our consumer consciousness? Purchasing an item from a guilt-free ‘sustainable’ brand once in a while just doesn’t really cut it. When we talk about the planet, sustainability is not something we isolate to the present moment. Just so in fashion. Often shopping is an impulsive decision, but we need to take our wardrobe, both past and future, into consideration too. It’s about getting more in tune with sustainability and being aware of the conversation - to whichever extent you can.
A quick and accessible first port of call for getting to grips with the sustainability of your fashion purchases is with an app. Try out Good On You, which provides clear and simple ratings for more than 1,100 fashion brands so you can check in on your favourite stores and their approach to the environment. Their ratings range from not good enough through to great, on ways in which brands are treating people, the planet and animals. It also encourages you to pose questions and give positive or negative feedback to the brands you want to shop at. Individually boycotting the un-sustainable culprits might go unnoticed, but tackling them directly and asking for change as a collective may have more influence.
An inevitable consequence of fast-fashion is clothing waste. The charity WRAP reported that an estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year. Fast fashion, cheap and accessible, makes garments far more disposable. Our ever-replenishing clothing stores make buying pieces on impulse incredibly tempting. There’s less need to repair our clothes, let alone make our own and recycle them. However, picking out items that are both trend-led and longer lasting makes for a more sustainable investment. Being a little savvier means taking a different approach and shopping with your whole wardrobe in mind. Some people may splurge on an expensive pair of jeans as their long-term investment, but others may find a wardrobe staple on the high-street that will last just as long. If you can look to brands that use sustainable fabrics, such as Organic Cotton, and are focusing on their environmental practice, even better. Naturally, there will be pieces in your wardrobe that you grow out of, but instead of discarding them, think about recycling them or selling them on. Look to sites such as Hardly Ever Worn It, Asos Marketplace, Shpock and Ebay.
The Absolute Eco-Warrior
If you have the means to shop with sustainability at the forefront of your mind, there really are some exciting designers to invest in. There’s Richard Quinn, shooting to fame as the first recipient of Her Majesty’s British Design Award when the Queen made a legendary appearance at his AW18 show last year. Quinn has established a clear allegiance to sustainability, producing everything onsite, minimising any waste, and leading the way with digital printing (using up to 70% less water and 80% less energy when creating his garments.) There’s Stella McCartney, a leading voice for sustainability in fashion. Finding alternatives for unsustainable leathers, PVC, glues, and even viscose (for which the fashion industry cuts down 150 million trees for every year) she wants to find new ways to make material and fulfill consumer demand. And if you’re looking for variety, delve into sites such as Reve en Vert that showcase the best in sustainable luxury fashion.
Shopping sustainably doesn’t have to be arduous and painstaking. Fundamentally, the crux lies in looking beyond the present impulsive moment and looking to future wear-ability. Embrace a realistic mindset and you’ll be shopping with a little more eco-savvy in no time.