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Dublin: 3°C Monday 6 December 2021

Be a better shopper: Fast fashion kills people, animals and our environment

Our addiction to ‘fast fashion’ is having a detrimental impact on the environment, animal welfare and human rights, writes Siobhan O’Brien-Selway.

Siobhan O'Brien-Selway

YOU THOUGHT THIS would be the year you ignored the siren call of the discount label and stayed at home under a blanket, maybe with a restorative glass of Baileys. But somehow you still found yourself in an overheated changing room full of misery and capitalist guilt.

We love clothes. We shop the January sales because we like how new clothes make us feel. But the fashion world is changing fast. It has moved from two seasons a year to two seasons a month. New stock arrives into stores every week. We are told it is because we are driving the demand.

Bargain bucket high street

Interestingly figures show we are spending less money on clothing than we ever did, but own more garments than ever before. Using this research stores could be clever and look at it in a different way, make less, make better quality clothing, concentrate on the fit and we might be happier to part with a little bit more of our income.

For example last season off the shoulder tops appeared throughout stores. They were cute but as soon as we bought one they were everywhere. Every single shop was peddling an off the shoulder number in some shape or form.

How the fashion industry works

A catwalk show takes months of planning, organising, designing, creating, reinventing, innovation and deadlines. After all that the media can decide to like or hate you, laugh at you or covet you. Once you have gone through the sweat and tears to complete your show this is what comes next:

  • Step 1: Sell to your customers, boutiques, and stores. You have a two to three-week window to do this.
  • Step 2: Collect all your orders together and organise what you sold and how many so you know what fabric you need. You have two to three days to do this.
  • Step 3: Order or create your fabric. This is at least a six-week turnaround.
  • Step 4: Garments are manufactured. Three week turn around, if you get it in on time to get your slot.
  • Step 5: Ship to the stores. This takes another week.

While all this is going on you are marketing, promoting and advertising your label.

Problems in the industry

Fashion Revolution Day - London Fashion students stage a protest in Carnaby Street, central London, for Fashion Revolution Day. Source: Empics Entertainment

The fashion industry has always run this way. But there has been a huge change as mass media delivers fast fashion on a social media platter, and garments can be reproduced before the designer can sell the original to their customers.

Burberry was one of the first fashion houses to create the “See Now Buy Now” fashion show. Tom Ford decided to scrap a season in order to stock up before his next show.

I can understand 100% why designers are trying to take ownership back. The work involved in creating a new collection for somebody else to come along, take your idea, cheapen it and sell it before you can get it into the shops is a slap in the face.

The solution for designers is creating more worries for sustainability. All luxury designers have been undermined by social media. They are facilitating fast fashion with the information it needs as it walks down the catwalk. But if designers are going to stock up on garments before their shows then they are estimating sales. This is great if you sell everything. But when you don’t, what happens to the stock?

It’s the same for fast fashion stores that are filled to the brim. What happens to garments that don’t make it into our wardrobes or never make it to the tills? Much to the dismay of environmentalists and charities, unsold clothes end up in landfill.

Heightened awareness of issues such as the depletion of natural resources and climate change can no longer be denied so what do we do about it?

What can you do?

Simple. You recycle everything else, now add clothes to your list. 58% of the negative impact that fashion has on the planet is not because of the industry, it’s because of us.

How are we the cause? In an ironic way it is because we are throwing away so much. One might argue the irony is because the quality is so poor, but it also highlights what a huge issue disposing garments is.

The age of disposable clothing

The fit is never really right, the fabrics don’t wash well and we throw them in the tumble dryer expecting to be able to wear them again. And yet, every time, we are dismayed when a rag comes out at the end of the cycle.

A lot of garments are sent to the dump, and to be honest, not all are there because they have been used to the end of their life. Sometimes it’s because a button has fallen off. Other items of clothing are dumped because we did not scrub a stain out.

Buy less. Buy better

I don’t mean spend a fortune but look at what you are buying. Social media has also had an impact on consumers only wearing outfits once as we are the most photographed generation in all of history. But we should take a look at celebs and take some inspiration from them.

No matter what their bank balance or how many thousands of photos are taken, many celebs rework their outfits or simply wear them again. But some of us still think that because we put an outfit on Facebook we can never wear it again.

Start recycling your clothes 

Be clever and re-wear outfits in different ways. Bring old clothes to your local charity shop or pop them into a recycling bin the next time you are dropping off your glass recycling. A garment may have a tiny hole that can be easily stitched, so put a little stitch in it. You can’t make it any worse.

Think. Someone who cannot afford a new shirt might just be able to afford to buy it from a charity shop. If you don’t want a garment then give it to someone else instead of the bin. You might think the tired old jumper is ready for the bin but someone else might see it in a charity shop and love it.

H&M will give you a €5 voucher to spend on their Conscious Collection Clothing when you donate your old clothes and are spending €25 in store. This is better than nothing. Do a swap shop in college or at work. Sell your clothes online. Repair them. Just don’t throw clothes into the bin.

Siobhan O’Brien-Selway has worked in the fashion industry for over 20 years, a career which has encompassed all aspects of the industry.  

About the author:

Siobhan O'Brien-Selway

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