The ecological cost of fast fashion is wreaking havoc on the planet, so what can we do to start shopping more sustainably while staying stylish?
Some Fast Facts about Fast Fashion
Since the 1980s the way we buy clothes has undergone a total transformation. ‘Fast fashion’ describes the accelerated fashion business model that has become the norm for most mainstream brands. It involves new fashion collections being released weekly rather than yearly, and a focus on quick turnarounds and offering the lowest possible prices.
Fast fashion is the £15 dress you buy online with free next-day delivery for a night out, and then never wear again. It’s the cheap multipack of knickers you buy when you can’t be bothered to do a load of laundry. It’s the infamous £1 bikini sold by Misguided. And it’s not sustainable.
By now we’re all well aware that we are facing a Climate Emergency and if we don’t start making some being changes the whole planet will face catastrophic consequences.
The IPCC has warned that we need to drastically lower carbon emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. But if the global fashion industry continues with its current fast fashion model, by 2050 it’s projected to use more than 26% of the global carbon budget associated with a 2°C pathway.
As if the impact on the climate wasn’t enough there’s the consistent mistreatment of garment workers, unsafe working conditions in factories and the exploitation of child labour – all fuelled by fast fashion’s model of accelerating production and keeping costs down. And that’s all just scratching the surface. It’s clear, in 2020 it’s time to break free from fast fashion.
One of the simplest ways to reduce your fashion eco-footprint is to shop vintage and second-hand instead of buying new clothing. In 2017, the UK’s 11,000 charity shops diverted over 330,000 tonnes of textiles from landfill and according to the Charity Retail Assocation (CRA), charity shops help to reduce carbon emissions by around 7.3 million tonnes per year by reusing and recycling donated stock.
Making our clothes last longer instead of just throwing them away can have a hugely positive environmental impact. Research has shown that extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months could reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20–30% each.
Listen to what some second-hand shoppers love most about buying vintage:
Katie Jones from vintage store Retro Rehab in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter says, “Compared to most fast fashion, the quality of vintage pieces is usually much higher. When you can find amazing clothes from the 60s that are still in great condition and you can still wear them, it’s really telling about how well clothes used to be made to stand the test of time.”
“If you buy a cheap fast fashion item, it might only last a few wears. But chances are, if you bought a piece from here it could last another 40 years.”
‘Eco-Influencer’ Phillipa Norman (@thriftedphil), has been sharing her sustainable style journey on Instagramand encourages others to shop more consciously.
“One thing I’ve found hardest is shopping without the visual cues that fast fashion shops have. In most charity shops there are no mannequins or styling tips so it can really be hard to know if something is on trend or ‘cool’,” she says.
“But that’s also allowed my own sense of style to evolve and become more unique. Instead of focusing on what a brand is telling me to buy, I’m free to choose styles that are outside of current trends and buy items that fit my own aesthetic.”
Hunting through the racks of vintage stores and charity shops for a hidden treasure can be great fun, but if you’re looking for something specific it can be time consuming.
Luckily the online marketplace has opened up to second-hand shopping and thanks to apps like Depop and Vinted you can easily streamline your search through filtering to find the colour, size and price you want.
“I really love a site called THRIFT+, because you can see great quality pictures of the clothes and half the funds go to charity,” says Phillipa, “And ebay will always be a firm favourite of mine as you can find amazing vintage and branded clothes at a fraction of their original cost. Once I found a Dianne Von Furstenburg skirt in for £4 which .was such an amazing bargain!”
Swapping Instead of Shopping
If you’re always looking to refresh your wardrobe and try out different styles, clothes swapping is a brilliant and sustainable alternative to buying new.
Platforms like Big Sister Swap let you to get rid of clothing you no longer wear and in exchange they send you new styles to try from a curated selection of second-hand clothes from other ‘swappers’. Not only do your old clothes end up in a loving home instead of landfill, but you don’t need to rely on fast fashion for replacements.
There’s also the Nu Wardrobe, an app where you can “borrow beautiful clothes and accessories from people in your area and lend out pieces that aren’t getting the love they deserve.”
Clothes swapping events are also a fantastic opportunity to find new looks and meet others with a love for sustainable fashion.
The storytelling platform Stories Behind Things, launched by best friends Jemma Finch and Ella Denton, is opening up the conversation about sustainability and traceability in fashion. They’ve been hosting regular Big Clothes Switches around London, where people come together to trade their pre-loved pieces.
Sometimes we have no choice but to buy something new – it can be a struggle to get the right sizes when shopping vintage, and buying underwear second-hand isn’t really ideal. So how can you make sure you’re making the most ethical choices when shopping?
The website Good On You is a handy database of fashion brands from around the world that provides ratings on their commitment to ethical issues like the environment, as well as animal welfare and workers’ rights.
It’s also a useful resource for finding out what many highstreet brands are doing to tackle the issue of sustainability, so when do you buy from a more mainstream brand you can choose to shop somewhere that’s taking steps in the right direction.