The Case agaisnt fast fashion

What is fast fashion and why is it important to talk about?  I've examined the effects of fast fashion,such as the social and environmental impact, but also how fast fashion brands get away with stealing designs from smaller artists.

This post may contain mature or challenging content.

‘Fast Fashion’ A term that seems to have become a buzzword. 14-year-old me would not have known anything about this word, so let’s define it. Fast Fashion: an approach to the design, creation and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers. To start, I want to make clear that I’m not critising people who are on low incomes, and fast fashion is their only option for buying clothes. I’m talking about figures of authority within the fashion industry, I’m talking about and directly to people who can do better than fast fashion but choose not to. 14-year-old me, was blissfully unaware of the impacts of fast fashion. I would be ecstatic to go to the shops every weekend and pick out another £5 dress at H&M, not because I needed more clothes, but because of the way shopping made me feel. It made me feel up to date, it made me feel like I was on trend and part of something. And as Orsola De Castro (who is a fashion designer) said: “We communicate who we are to a certain extent through our clothing”. But this experience doesn’t just apply to me, in fact, clothing consumption per consumer has more than doubled in the last 10 years, and collectively consumption in the UK is rising, a 200,000-tonne increase from 2012 to 2016. What does this mean globally? That clothing consumption will increase by 63% by 2030, from 62 million tonnes to 102 million tonnes a year. All according to traid.org. There are two main categories for what issues fast fashion creates which are social and environmental issues. Let’s start with the social costs and sacrifices that fast fashion has. There is a price we don’t know we’re paying when we buy that jumper at River Island, and that’s the welfare of the garment workers. Put simply by John Hillary from the Executive director of ‘War on want’ he states “Globalisation of production means that companies are outsourcing production to low wage economies (for example China) so the top of the value chain get to choose where products are being made, and switch if production costs aren’t low enough in a particular factory, for example”, this leads to factories being coerced into ‘squeezing’ their prices and costs of production. This not only compromises the quality of the garment, but also there’s no guaranteeing that the garment workers will even have work and therefore income, if they don’t compromise everything to appease the brands. They work in tight, cramped conditions, as essentially, anything goes in the name of cutting costs. “We don’t have any other options” said Arif Jebtik, who is a garment factory owner. Yet another consequence of fast fashion is the amount of brands, shamelessly stealing off smaller, independent artists. Brands such as Cider and SHEIN have been guilty of this many times, where they’ve given no credit, nor shame for stealing their designs. Usually the copy will be cheaper as fast fashion doesn’t aim for ethical, it aims to beat competitors in terms of price. (In this case it would be the smaller artists.) Let’s give an example, on etsy, a chunky crochet cardigan is £70. It usually takes about 4-6 hours for the back, and 3 hours for each of the 2 fronts. After that you will knit the sleeves probably twice each 4 hours, let it dry, and then complete it about 2 hours after it’s finished. This means that in total around 18 hours to make, and only £3.88 per hour if it’s sold at that price. Some of that money made from the sale will go towards materials to make the next cardigan, so by massive brands copying their work and selling it in large quantities for less it must be simply insulting. One example of the horrific conditions faced by these workers is the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which was an 8-story building that collapsed outside of Dhaka in India, which killed more than 1,100 people, and many were injured and left with lifelong debilitating injuries. In April 2013, garment workers were removed from the building when cracks started appearing in the walls. The owner made all the workers return when after an engineer inspection, the building was structurally sound. The morning after this, workers persisted, telling the management they had concerns about the cracks, but the managers threatened their pay and jobs if they refused to go inside. Early into the workday, it took less than 90 seconds for the 8-story building to collapse. Some physical traumas that occurred almost 9 years ago, still needs attention to this day. Now this did spark international outcry, prompting companies whose clothes were being made in the factory to respond. Primark was one of them, and one of their responses to the disaster has since supported the Accord on fire and building safety. But we must ask ourselves, would these massive, transnational corporations respond like this if the EU didn’t threaten trade sanctions, if it wasn’t all over the news, and if it wouldn’t have damaged their reputation if they didn’t take any action? The second issue that fast fashion creates is the sheer environmental damage that it imposes. As I’ve already mentioned, consumption is increasing rapidly, and not at a rate the planet can keep up with. But it didn’t always used to be like this, in World War 2, there was a government campaign called ‘Make do and mend’ which urged people to repair, reuse and reimagine their existing clothes to save resources as there was clothes rationing at that time. It was originally a pamphlet which had 30 design ideas and advice on how to rethink clothing you already owned. But now, we have an abundance of campaigns from fast fashion brands, which are advertised everywhere. But what I think is the one of the main culprits that accelerated consumption of clothes lies in social media, particularly tik Tok. As Salem Tovar says on her YouTube video “The horrible aftermath of the SHIEN-Apocalypse" she mentions that every few weeks a new product or look goes viral on tik tok, which makes a lot of people want to buy it, when the trend is over, so are people’s interest with that product. A prime of example of this, is the ‘I spent $1000 on SHIEN’ trend, where influencers would as the title suggests, buy a truckload of ‘trendy’ clothing, to try it on for the video and when that trend passed, they would send them to Goodwills – a charity shop in the US. This led to Goodwills being flooded with cheap clothes, that simply aren’t made to last. The appeal of SHIEN is that is mostly out competes many other competitors such as H&M in terms of price, leading to people buying more for the same amount of money. The cheap quality of the clothes and low price is what makes these clothes so disposable, and consequently, in the EU in 2015 alone, generated 195 million tonnes of CO2. – according to WRAP. As you’ve seen, fast fashion is keen on cutting costs wherever possible, so increases in the use of synthetics such as polyester have happened, which are energy intensive, and have been produced using fossil fuels meaning they don’t decay. So it’s not only about the intensive production of the clothes, but the issue of disposing of them. However, another major issue caused by fast fashion is the culture of plagiarism created. An example being Zara and Tuesday Bassen in 2016. Tuesday Bassen called out fast fashion giant Zara, which spurred an outcry from Instagram, by getting over 42,000 likes and comments such as “I’ll never enter another Zara store again”. She showed a response from Zara, who claimed she wasn’t famous enough to have her work stolen from her. They wrote “makes it very hard to see how a significant part of the population anywhere in the world would associate the signs with Tuesday Bassen”. This is only one example of fast fashion brands stealing designs from smaller creators. This presents a pressing issue within the art community. Smaller creators do not have the resources, the platform, or the time to challenge these brands, essentially giving them unchecked power to steal these designs. This goes against what art stands for personally. Art is all about expressing yourself and feeling confident that your efforts will be a force for reaction within the art community, or social and political commentary at times. By large fashion brands stealing these designs, it not only discredits the creator’s work, but also discourages smaller creatives from wanting to gain popularity and recognition from their work, out of fear that their designs would be stolen. Cheaper, more available alternatives of smaller creatives’ designs sold by fast fashion brands will be more enticing for consumers, which turns support away from smaller creatives who need it more than fast fashion giants. You might be thinking that this situation is hopeless, or that we’re simply too far gone, but there is an action plan for different players in this issue. For Governments and state actors, they must ensure some tragedy like the Rana Plaza does not happen again. They must impose legislation that holds big TNCs to account, you must never allow them to exploit their workers and the planet in the name of profit, they should never exploit or steal small artist’s work in the name of profit. I will remind you that economic growth can still happen, with far few consequences. For companies, we must hold them accountable. They must accept responsibility and change for the better, and moving forward be transparent about how they conduct themselves within their supply chains as well as crediting and cooperating with smaller creatives, rather than steal from them. And for individuals, we can vote with our money. If you can, I implore you to explore second hand fashion apps such as Vinted, Spock, and Depop. It can be fun actively looking for clothes you’ll love and getting satisfaction when finding a good price, and it’ll be good for the planet, the garment workers and smaller independent artists also. We all have collective responsibility to fix this issue and a part to play, as it affects all of us.

(All statistics and facts are not mine)

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Hannah Blair

Hannah Blair

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