Hello again all,
I had intended to write this post months ago but I think it's safe to say that things have gone a bit tits up recently. However, the environmental issues we are facing haven't gone away to make room for Coronavirus like your social media and news sources would lead you to believe.
In France alone, authorities have ordered two billion disposable masks, said Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre. “Knowing that … soon we’ll run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean,” he wrote on social media alongside video of a dive showing algae-entangled masks and soiled gloves in the sea near Antibes.
Anyway anyway, that's a whole other conversation that will be had in the near future. I try not to write with a negative tone but fast fashion is an overwhelmingly negative industry. From human rights to environmental damage to irritated consumers, we don't need it. I would be lying if I pretended that I am guilt-free in this department, I certainly spent years buying clothes that I wore once or twice and then eventually donated when it was no longer fashionable. Even now, I will buy an occasional item from a fast-fashion brand, but 'occasional' is the keyword here. Humans are imperfect, but we can do our best, and I hope I will be fast-fashion free soon.
What is fast fashion and why is it so bad?
Let's start at the start. Have you ever gone onto Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing or Asos' websites and wondered how there so many products on there at such low prices and how they can all possibly be made? That's fast fashion. Online-only retailers can keep up with the ever-changing social media trends, without the expense of physical stores, so they can sell at half the price. Boohoo, who own BoohooMAN, Pretty Little Thing, Miss Pap, NastyGal and more add a daily average of 116 items per day to their catalogue. Knowing this, is it any surprise that the fashion industry produces more carbon than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Whilst it is easy to point the finger at major online retailers, stores such as H&M and New Look have been guilty for years and 28% of Britons still clothes shop mostly in the high street and a further 18% exclusively shop in stores, according to YouGov.
Clearly, 116 items per day is a gross excess of what we actually need but our overconsumption of these products and desire for more is what makes companies produce such vast amounts. According to MailOnline, one study of 2000 women found that most items of clothing are worn only 7 times, and many items are only worn once so people aren't seen wearing the same outfit twice on social media. Research done by Bernardos found that one in three women felt that their clothes were out of date after three wears. So what happens to all of the extra? Well, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of textiles and clothing end up in UK landfills every year. Even a large amount of returned goods are ending up in landfill, Optoro (a returns and logistics company) estimates 500 billion pounds worth each year, with only 20% found to be actually defective. Companies don't have the time or resources to sort through the vast amounts of returns, so items are burned or end up in a landfill. It may be more convenient for you to order large amounts of clothes to try on at home and then return, but the likelihood is that those clothes will never be resold. Similarly, many brands feel that markdowns or messy racks destroy their 'exclusive' reputation, or that recycling items opens them up to the black market. A 2017 New York Times article called out Nike for slashing shoes before discarding them, so they couldn't be resold.
Fast fashion produces far more waste than just unwanted items, however. The clothes use a huge amount of materials, water, and fossil fuels. Most of the materials are also polyester, which break down easily to produce microplastics (bits of plastic that are less than 5mm). These plastics are too small to be filtered out of the water supply and are ending up in the ocean and are mistaken for food by fish. Studies have found that these plastics have reached Antarctica, and another study found plastic in every single larvacean (a tadpole-sized deep-sea creature that produces a mucus-bubble around itself to catch plankton) that they examined.
I could go on for a long time regarding the pollution that fast fashion produces, but I think you get the point. The following diagram also sums it up well.
Who makes my clothes?
Our old pal BooHoo recently made headlines as it has been found that workers in a factory in Leicester were being paid £3.50 per hour, and this is not the first time this accusation has been made. I was able to find similar articles dated 2017 and 2019. The factory was also found to be ignoring all COVID-19 safety regulations and putting the workers at great risk. Labour Behind The Label was unable to find any information regarding who makes
BooHoo's clothes, but other main producers include Turkey and China. Estimated 80% of garment workers are women and companies take advantage of the cultural norms and gender inequalities of the countries in which our clothes are made- the idea that they are submissive.
"Women can be made to dance like puppets, but men cannot be abused in the same way. The owners do not care if we ask for something, but demands raised by the men must be given some consideration. So they do not employ male workers." - Bangladeshi worker.
Despite the fashion industry turning over $1.2trillion annually, most workers live in poverty and are unable to pay for basics such as food, housing or, education for their children. They will earn as little as $21 a month and working 10-14 hours days, possibly 7 days a week, with restricted or no access to toilets or water. These women are paying the true price for your £4 dress.
What can you do?
There are a number of easy things you can do to help. You've already done one of the best things, become more informed on the issue! The key here is 'excess'. Companies produce in excess because the consumer demands an excess, and the cycle continues. As simple as it may sound, it makes a huge difference to only buy new clothes when you really need them and when you will wear them more than once. The social-media filled world we live in makes it hard to resist trends as images of gorgeous people in gorgeous clothes flood our feeds every day, so reducing our shopping is easier said than done.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love secondhand shopping. It saves money, gives clothes a second life, and allows me to indulge my shopping habits without supporting fast fashion. It can be true that secondhand shopping was not always so easy. Vintage clothes can be expensive and aren't very size-inclusive, and charity shopping sometimes (but not always!) can mean sacrificing a bit of style. Sites like Depop and Vinted have made secondhand shopping much easier and it only takes a bit of practice. Below are some of my favourite finds!
I hope that this blog can inspire you to give thrifting a try. As consumers, the power is in our hands to make real change for the environment and for the women who are suffering for this industry. And, trust me, no one cares if you wear the same outfit twice.
Gymwear Set, Depop. Came with tags still attached
Dress bought on Depop
Belt bag is vintage, also found on Depop
Jeans and shirt both from the charity shop
Shorts and top from Traid secondhand shop
Suit from Depop, still with tags.