Is it too late to end toxic fashion culture?

4 Mins read

Since the beginning of the first lockdown, the rise of fashion influencers has catapulted and many fashion brands have gained success; after some forceful stay-at-home mandates due to Covid restrictions, purchases from fast fashion clothing brands have skyrocketed.

But can we blame this excessive shopping just on our boredom?

The recent COP26 summit amplified online discussions about the damaging nature of fast fashion, as the industry is now the second largest polluter in the world. Fast fashion is one of the leading dangers to the environment, and according to the UN Environment Programme, the industry is the second biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Climate change protest in action [Unsplash: Callum Shaw]

“Before being a fashion student, I was so unaware about the bad impact the fashion industry had on the environment. But during my degree, and when I’m designing my clothes, I’ve had to do continuous research about where I get my materials from, whether I’m wasting my products or not, and how I’m gonna get rid of my unused materials sustainably,” said 21-year-old Renz.

“I shop sustainably by asking myself each time before buying something if this is a want or a need. It’s a long debate with myself because fashion is always changing, and as a fashion student it’s expected a bit to have the right garms, but after educating myself on the impact of fast fashion – I’ve changed my outlook. Now, I usually shop at charity shops and car boot sales to find cheap alternatives beforehand to see what I need,” Renz explained.

Like Renz, many of us are changing our lifestyles and trying to be more sustainable. Whether it’s using oat milk in our iced coffees instead of cow’s milk, eating less meat, investing in vintage clothing, or buying our clothes from charity shops – we’re all consciously making an effort to reduce our carbon footprints.

There are companies like Too Good To Go, who are dedicated to ending unnecessary food waste in the UK. The app lets people buy food that would usually go to waste because it hasn’t been sold in time, and at a really cheap price.

Similarly, there are plenty ways to be fashionably sustainable from the comfort of our own home. Platforms like Depop and Vinted allow us to buy and sell pre-loved clothes for an affordable price without having to worry about breaking the bank. Additionally, fashion rental sites have become a phenomenon over the past year, which is extremely beneficial as it minimises our contribution to fast fashion’s carbon footprint.

[pullquote align=”right”]‘The fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions.’[/pullquote]However, the sustainability movement has its flaws and has received backlash for its classism, fat-phobia, and greenwashing. Companies such as H&M and Zara have rebranded themselves as eco-friendly and sustainable. In terms of advertising, both brands hold a striking resemblance to environmental activism campaigns like that of Extinction Rebellion, and they use bold eye-catching phrases — but they fail to actually be eco-centric.

Fast fashion brands like Asos, Zara and H&M have been promoting social and progressive issues without enacting meaningful change — which makes their brand activism redundant, as they fail to align their actions with their new image.

For instance it’s quite hypocritical if a fast fashion brand posts feminism infographics on their social media, but at the same time fails to protect women and continues to profit from their female garment workers.

A quote from Hervé Kempf’s book, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth [Unsplash: Edward Howell]

“Sustainability is becoming somewhat mainstream, and now people are being educated on how the harmful effects of fast fashion are impacting our planet. It creates a conversation where people actually want to better and improve their lifestyle as they now realise how urgent our planet needs help,” environmental management student Katie told us.

“It’s great that there are many sustainable fashion brands out there, but unfortunately most of them exclude plus sizes, which forces plus-sized people who are interested in slow fashion to buy from fast fashion brands, which is completely unfair.”

Katie explained her views on the future for fast fashion: “I think that it is possible to eradicate fast fashion completely, or at least reduce fast fashion consumption in the future. Personally, I support small local businesses, buy my clothes from charity shops and Depop – but I only buy clothes when necessary,” she said.

“Although, the popular sustainable brands are expensive, you don’t need to be mega rich to buy clothes sustainably. But on the other hand, because of how monetised the sustainability movement has become, it does make it harder for those who come from low-income backgrounds to truly participate in slow fashion and then they get condemned for not being the ‘best’ sustainable person out there.”

On top of this, the rise of influencers on social media, specifically on Instagram and TikTok, means that not only has media consumption doubled but the increase of fast fashion has too.

Today, influencers have the power to sway the minds of their audiences, especially their younger ones; when an influencer posts pictures of themselves wearing various outfits daily and makes an item of clothing accessible via an affiliate link, it will only increase the consumption of fast fashion, as they are promoting these clothes to their millions of followers.

[pullquote align=”right”]“It’s great that there are many sustainable fashion brands out there, but most of them exclude plus sizes.” – Katie[/pullquote] This increase in visibility also means that trends are going in and out of style faster than ever, which causes people to quickly buy new clothes and discard old items at an increasing rate. Fashion hauls are another influential trend that increases the ravenous buying habits of consumers.

Normally, these videos are featured on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram Reels, where creators share their honest reviews, try the clothes on and show off a huge quantity of clothing all at the same time. While this can be insightful, fashion hauls can promote over-consumption and poor buying habits.

“There was this TikTok trend about fashion hauls where people would spend over five thousand dollars on Shein clothes, and fashion hauls trends on YouTube, where people can spend more than £1,000 on Pretty Little Thing. And I think it’s especially those types of people, who can afford to spend that money, who should be buying from slow fashion brands instead of attacking those who come from marginalised communities [and are] unable to buy sustainably,” said Katie.

Perhaps completely eradicating this toxic fashion system could only happen in a utopian society, but for now we should all strive to be more sustainable.




Featured image by Rio Lecatompessy via Unsplash CC.
Edited by Lucy Crayton & Ana Drula.

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