Whether you’re a fashion guru always repping the latest trends, someone who rolls out of bed and throws on the first top and pair of jeans they can find, or fall somewhere between these two extremes of the ‘fashion’ spectrum, the pull of the fashion industry affects us all in some way. But how often do you stop and consider where the clothes on your back came from, and what toll their creation may be taking on the world around you?
In reality, the high-street fashion of today falls into the category of ‘fast-fashion’, an industry revolving around constant change and newness and prizing low production times and costs. Clothing brands rely on rapid movement from catwalk to clothes-hanger. Speed is key: production of new trends and a focus on the constant changeability of styles is what keeps consumers interested and ready to buy, even if their wardrobes are already full.
However, though good for the business of your favourite fashion brands, the fast fashion phenomenon is far from environmentally and socially sustainable.
Responsible for 10% of global carbon outputs, the Fast-Fashion Industry’s emissions total five times those of all airline travel combined. What’s more, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter globally following agriculture. Perhaps an even more shocking fact in light of the current movements against the use and abuse of non-recyclable plastics is that every time a garment made of polyester is washed, it sheds tiny plastic microfibres that leak their way into rivers and oceans. After this it is only a matter of time before they are consumed by fish and other aquatic organisms, which often end up on our own dinner tables. A portion of plastic doesn’t sound the most appetizing, even when accompanied by a side of chips and curry sauce.
If this wasn’t enough, the drive of fast fashion to push down prices means that workers in the garment and textile production industries suffer so that the demands of Western fashion brands can be supplied. Estimates show that some 170 million children worldwide are engaged in child labour, marking a shocking 11% of the global population of children; many of these young workers are employed in the garment industry and work long hours without even receiving a minimum living wage to support themselves and their families. Even the adult workers in the industry often work in dangerous conditions such as with harmful chemicals or in buildings that are unsafe and prone to collapse.
While these facts are alarming, they can also leave a high-street shopper at a loss as to what to do in order to make a positive change.
A good starting point is simply to be more conscious of your shopping habits and question how much of what you purchase is bought on impulse rather than for genuine need. Moreover, it can be easy to underestimate the benefits of shopping second hand, but by opting for pre-owned items a buyer can help to keep clothing that has already been produced in use for longer, as well as saving themselves cash. Websites such as Ebay, ThredUp and Depop or local charity shops often sell new clothing that has barely been worn or even still has its original tags intact at a fraction of high-street prices.
As something that is both an everyday necessity and a personal statement of expression, everyone has a personal relationship with the clothing they buy and wear. Today, it is becoming vital that this relationship is a more conscientious one, rather than one funding industries based on destructive and unethical production processes.