We're living in a world where the trends of today are tomorrow's trash. Most of us are under the illusion that fast fashion is cheap, and tend to focus more on the cost-per-item rather than the cost-per-wear. In recent decades this has morphed our opinion of fashion, causing us to treat clothing as a disposable commodity. We invest so little emotionally and financially that when we damage or wear down garments we simply buy something new. This excessive consumption has caused fashion to become one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world.
Why Is Fast Fashion So Damaging?
Items distributed from the East use ships, lorries, airplanes, or a combination of all three during the transportation process, all of which require fossil fuels; dyes run into rivers and destroy plant and aquatic life; and when many garments hit the shelves the origins are often completely unknown. For example, seal skin is frequently miss-sold as suede, unbeknownst to both manufacturers and designers.
The most harmful element of fast fashion, however, is what's thrown into the ground after the manufacturing and distribution process. Discarded clothing is significantly expanding landfills with non-biodegradable and toxic waste. To put it into perspective, in Hong Kong roughly 1400 t-shirts are thrown away every single minute!
Who is Responsible?
Fashion is just as much a political issue as it is an economic issue. Fortunately, some European governments are starting to take action. For example, in September the Swedish Social Democratic/Green Party coalition announced plans to reduce VAT on the repair of clothing -- from 25% to 12% -- in order to combat throwaway culture. However, while governments could do better to enforce sanctions and raise awareness, it's the designers that should be held accountable.
Many are already stepping up to the mark and seeing major economic benefits by embracing the slow fashion movement. For example, Swedish denim producer Nudie Jeans, offer free clothing restoration to customers, and have undergone a major boost in popularity due to the service. In addition, Julie Hutchinson of Mainly Silver makes sure all of their supplies are sourced at home in Britain, "while the price of raw materials may be greater, the lower manufacturing and transport fees make operations cheaper overall."
While it seems to be the smaller, independent fashion houses that are making the most effort, some of the bigger names are also starting to take action due to Greenpeace's Detox My Fashion campaign, which called upon the big players to eliminate their use of hazardous chemicals. With the backing of over half a million designers, bloggers and slow fashion activists, twenty global brands started implementing positive changes, including Zara and Adidas. But it's still not enough....
How Can We Fight The Good Fight?
To win the battle against fast fashion the advertising surrounding it must change. We, as consumers, shouldn't feel unfashionable just because we don't buy into the latest seasonal trends (which are becoming shorter and shorter). The truth is big brands really don't care if we look fashionable or not; all they want is to get their stock out to the masses. That's why there's constantly new national bargain days being added to the calendar -- like the UK's adoption of Black Friday. Fundamentally, we should treat our clothes as valuable long-term commodities, rather than disposables.
It's time for us to spread the word and encourage the broader consumer to take action. Brands aren't evil: they will listen to our concerns if we tell them; they will respond to our spending habits if we change; and they will support environmental causes if we support them. Most of us are willing to pay a little extra if we know that we're getting a good deal. And that's exactly what slow fashion is: a good deal.
Fashion houses need to embrace new, innovative ideas and look beyond tried-and-tested commercial business endeavours to deliver a consumption model that works for the planet. Otherwise it's our children, and our children's children, that will pay the ultimate price.