Clothes shopping used to be an occasional event until they became cheaper, started reflecting the current trend, and soon grew as a hobby for many around 20 years ago. Fast fashion and global chains now dominate both the real and online worlds; yet with their affordability and reachability, there are tradeoffs that the environment and consumers eventually have to bear.
Fast fashion is defined as clothes that are cool, trendy, and cheap. The pieces are usually bought without hesitation yet only worn a handful of times until they are thrown away or end up in the back corner of your closet. Due to their relevance to the latest looks and runway styles, they have become very popular, especially among the younger generation.
According to goodonyou.eco, All the big fast fashion brands share some key factors: They have a large variety of styles, a short turnaround time between when they are seen on a model or celebrity to when it hits the shelves, use cheap labor for manufacturing, supply a limited quantity to employ hunger marketing, and being made of low-quality materials (eg. polyester). Some common examples include Zara, H&M, UNIQLO, GAP, Topshop, and Forever 21.
Yet this was not always the reality. Before the 19th century, the fashion industry heavily depended on the individual sourcing of materials, usually wool or leather, and all were hand-crafted. However, once the industrial revolution brought efficient technology, the production of clothing became much easier, quicker, and cheaper. As fashion developed into a form of self-expression, the concept of “trends” emerged and soon did the big fast fashion retailers during the late 1990s and 2000s.
To this day, fast fashion is a large contributor to a system of overproduction and overconsumption, making it one of the world’s largest polluters. The negative impacts include the use of toxic textile dyes that harms the global clean water supply, the use of polyester (which not only contributes to global warming but also sheds microfibres that add to the plastic in oceans), chemically processed leather and cotton, and the massive amounts of waste that consumers are producing.
Although many of the big players in the fast fashion industry are introducing a line of eco-friendly and sustainably made clothing, it does not solve the underlying issue and is far from enough to counter the waste and unethical use of natural resources.
It is impossible to ask everyone to stop choosing fast fashion, but we can begin by simply buying less, selecting higher-quality pieces, and taking better care to reduce disposal. Even so, donating or passing your unwanted clothing to those that need or will cherish them, is a great way to break the negative cycle and begin a trend of upcycling instead.