The UK has the highest consumption of clothing in Europe. On average, a piece of clothing is worn only a handful of times before it is thrown away, and online shopping is continuing to grow. The fashion industry has become a major contributor to pollution and the overuse of land and water.
‘Fast fashion’ refers to items of clothing produced rapidly and cheaply in factories by retailers desperate to be the first to produce the latest trends. We, as consumers of the fashion industry, are buying and discarding our clothes far too quickly, resulting in approximately 235 million items of clothing being put in landfills every year.
Fast fashion is suffocating the earth.
To hear the opinion of someone in the fashion industry, I interviewed Imogen Evans from Edinburgh, who recently showcased her own designs at New York Fashion Week. When I asked Imogen about her thoughts on fast fashion, she told me: “We live in an instant world where everyone wants things as soon as we see them… People are seeing fashion week pieces and then purchasing them online at Pretty Little Thing for £5 the next day.”
Fashion items have become so cheap that they are only used once, even just to take a picture to upload to Instagram. Online retailer Pretty Little Thing stocks hundreds of items under £5, made possible by using cheap blends of materials. It’s encouraging people to carelessly buy a clothing item and then throw it away almost instantly.
Plastics such as polyester and nylon, which are found in cheaply made clothes and take up to 200 years to break down, are going straight into landfills.
This is polluting the earth and affecting wildlife. Landfill sites are taking over natural habitats and plastics are being eaten by unsuspecting animals. The fashion industry is guilty of contributing to air and water pollution in a major way. This, in turn, is contributing to climate change.
The fashion industry is currently creating more pollution than all of the aeroplanes in the world.
We should be extremely worried. According to scientists, we have 12 years to stop climate change. Fighting fast fashion is one major way to do so.
Several British Influencers, such as GraceFitUk and Zanna Van Dijk are now using their social media platforms to encourage people to shop in charity and vintage shops. Their influence will hopefully slow down the rate at which clothes are being bought.
Another example of an influential person using social media to change people’s views on fast fashion is Alice Wilby. Wilby is a Sustainable Fashion Expert for the BBC, as well as the founder of Future Frock – an online editorial platform focused on sustainable fashion. Through her Twitter profile, which is almost entirely dedicated to sustainability, Wilby explains how we can reuse, repair and recycle clothing.
There are several innovative plans being created to help reduce the impact of disposable fashion.
American Eagle has launched a new clothing rental scheme. For $49.95 a month, customers can rent items for a certain amount of time before returning them to be reused by someone else. The aim is to reduce fast fashion while still being able to fulfil customer need, and will hopefully decrease the number of items that are thrown away.
Another idea is a ‘penny per garmet‘ levy, which would require retailers to pay a penny for every item they sell. The money would then go towards recycling the clothes instead of throwing them away.
Only 1% of material from clothing is currently recycled for new clothing and only 12% is recycled for other uses.
We are slowly waking up. We’re getting rid of plastic bags and single use coffee cups and we are reducing the amount of meat we are eating. Hopefully, we will begin to phase out disposable clothing and the climate-changing emissions it produces.
There are some companies who are already trying to do their bit for the environment, such as Adidas, who have said they will only use recycled polyester by 2024. H&M have begun mending clothes for free so that they are not thrown away.
When speaking to Imogen Evans, she rightly noted, “the main problem is trying to educate millennials who aren’t necessarily interested in fashion because these are the people who are mindlessly buying from Pretty Little Thing and Misguided every other week.”
As consumers, we need to change our attitude towards clothes.
We need to stop seeing items as disposable and start buying fewer better quality items which will last longer. This way, we will reduce how much we are all contributing to climate change. Buying less clothing at a slightly higher price and recycling old clothes is a small price to pay for better quality products and reducing our carbon footprints for the earth.