Time to phase out fast fashion

An Cailín Rua

NO LONGER IN VOGUE  With growing awareness of the ethical and environmental impacts of fast fashion, cheap mass-produced clothing is going out of fashion.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Who amongst us isn’t guilty of splurging in a low-priced high-street fashion retailer, either to bulk-buy the basics or to enjoy a relatively inexpensive shopping binge? Picking up a vest for €2, a bra for €5 or leggings for €7 is very tempting.
But the days of bargain-bragging might be numbered. Growing awareness of the multiple negative implications of fast fashion is putting pressure on the textiles industry to clean up its act.
Until recently, we could all be forgiven for being unaware of the damage that our shopping habits cause to the environment, and to people.
It turns out that your average cheap cotton T-shirt causes quite a bit of harm; its production consumes enormous quantities of water and power, only for it to be dumped into landfill after very few wears. Not to mention the environmental negative impact of transporting these products across continents, and the paltry wages paid to factory workers in what can be hellish environments.
Don’t be fooled either by ‘sustainability ranges’ – greenwashing is rife. It’s easy for a company to claim they are greener, but who’s really verifying these claims?
Greener production does not equal green, but it’s hard to visualise the damage caused when it’s not in front of our faces. It is estimated that less than 1 percent of discarded clothing globally is recycled into new textiles. Depressingly, most of the rest goes into our bins, contributing to landfill – and many of the fabrics (such as nylon, acrylic, lycra/spandex, and polyester) are plastic-based.
As well as the environmental and ethical concerns, our obsession with fast fashion is a symptom of our wider obsession with consumerism, as fed by influencer marketing and ‘shoppable TV’ shows like Love Island, with its relentless parade of fast fashion. Not that the contestants wear much, but they still manage to power through multiple tiny outfit changes daily. A simple click on our TV remote or our Instagram feeds serves to easily fill the pockets of the owners of huge international clothing brands with poor sustainability credentials, supplied by factories with dreadful human rights records.
Neither is this consumerism limited to clothing. Interiors is another area in which consumption is promoted. Social-media influencers display their online shopping ‘hauls’ as entertainment and an obsession with re-styling and refreshing their décor, are contributing to that compulsion we have to buy, buy, buy.
This writer grew up in a house where you decorated once and that was it for a decade, but we now apparently live in a time where your home must completely change appearance every season. Just how many times in a year is any one person expected to change up their cushion covers?
The backlash has begun, however, and mindsets are shifting. It’s becoming trendy to wear and promote second-hand clothing, and attitudes towards excessive consumption are now being questioned, accelerated by lockdowns.
It’s becoming cool to be seen as sustainable, but it’s rather telling that the increased interest in it seems to be driven by trends, rather than by any real ethical concern, though there is some evidence that this is perhaps changing for the better.
Locally, Ballina-based sustainable clothing company Pure Clothing has just announced an initiative to take back any of their clothing that has become damaged or is close to the end of its lifecycle, for a free repair or upcycle, thus achieving a circular economy.
There are plenty of other options available to us to reduce our clothing consumption, including clothes swaps, outfit rental and indeed, charity, second-hand and vintage shops – a hugely undervalued and highly environmentally friendly resource in our communities. There is also an argument to be made in investing in fewer, ethically and sustainably produced high-quality pieces.
It is, however, vital to acknowledge the fact that there are households for whom budget clothing is the only viable option; this is a wider problem and the responsibility to change does not lie with them – it lies with producers, buyers and marketers.
Frequently, though, it boils down to how much ‘stuff’ we really need. The most sustainable clothes are the ones already in our wardrobes, ditto furniture and household accessories.
If nothing else, the sustainability trend might soon mean that cheap disposable clothing ‘hauls’ are no longer something to be proud of, and that can’t happen quickly enough.