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Fast fashion is so last year: Why it’s time to get ethically stylish

Fast fashion is a huge part of our daily life and now sustainability needs to be too. We enjoy fashion, indeed. But at the same time, we often tend to neglect the negative impact that the fashion industry has placed on the environment.

unsustainable fashion
PHOTO CRED: Graham Tuckwell. Image via Financial Times.

Don’t get me wrong, fashion is good but sustainability is better. Fashion cultivates more enjoyments and offers more options to our personal aesthetics. However, on the dark side, the fashion industry also carries a destructive power. The fashion industry is notoriously known to be unsustainable.

According to World Economic Forum, each year, the fashion industry “produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.”

The prevalence of fast fashion practices makes fashion become more accessible and affordable in today’s society. Yet, in order to attain such a reality, the process of production in the industry is in fact questionable. Here’s why.

Fast fashion = Unsustainable fashion

Many of us might think, if we do not participate in harmful deeds, we hold no responsibility for consequences that happens to the environment. Therefore, we don’t leave any human carbon footprint behind. Well, this is not true.

As consumers, if you participate in any consumption activity, you become part of the cause. By buying their products, you support the brands’ productions and the ethics they promote. And because of your demand and purchase, you’ve helped grow the market.

Brands such as H&M, Shein, Forever 21, and Zara are convenient places people go to when they look for inexpensive cute clothing. Clothing from these brands is usually made of very cheap materials and doesn’t endure well after 2-3 times washing.

That’s because these clothing are not made to be long-lasting. They are supposed to be thrown away after several wearing and when new trends come up. Consumers will then keep on buying more clothes to try on more new styles.

fast fashion
Image via Mehreen Tariq Ghani Medium.

In this case, fast fashion creates burdens for the already polluted environment. It is an industry that is unsustainable and unethical by nature.

Fast fashion garments are often overproduced, due to the industry’s manner to avoid empty inventories. Furthermore, workers who produce the clothes are usually exploited, earning an hourly wage much lower than the average. Working conditions are unhealthy, and there are no rules or regulations that protect the workers’ personal safety.

“In Bangladesh, the legal minimum wage for workers in the fashion and textile industry is €16 per month, that is around 0,50 cents a day for 14-16 hours a day. Actual living wage in Bangladesh for a single person is €72 per month.”

Fixing Fashion, One Army.

What is ethical or sustainable fashion?

fast fashion protest
PHOTO CRED: T2T Solutions.

Unlike fast fashion, ethical/sustainable fashion is a movement that renders an opposite purpose and fosters change. There is no set definition of what ethical/sustainable fashion is.

But in general, it is “garment design, production, and distribution that focuses on reducing harm to people and the planet,” as The Good Trade defines. It aims to provide a more sustainable future for everyone.

As the term suggests, ethical/sustainable fashion is concerned with the ethics behind a brand.

The idea of ethical/sustainable fashion is created to bring social awareness and create social impact. Most importantly, it questions the transparency of the process of production and if workers are earning a fair living wage.

How do sustainable fashion brands cope with eco-anxiety?

Sustainable fashion tends to get people coming up with images of unflattering clothing, but many of them are now changing that view.

Sustainable fashion brands take action in minimizing the industry’s carbon footprints. Instead of the traditional mass production or overproduction strategy, sustainable brands produce in small batches and some only take on-demand orders.

They use recycled and biodegradable materials to make pieces and to reduce carbon footprints.

Brands that support the sustainability and fashion movement

More and more fashion brands have joined the movement throughout the years to invest in happier production and shopping experiences. It is not just the brands; consumers have also played an important role. Consumers support the initiative through their consumption decisions and activities.

Brands that are known to be ethical and eco-friendly include Stella McCartney – a designer brand that brings vegan and cruelty-free materials to the high fashion market and Boden, a British sustainable clothing brand whose products are shipped in recyclable packaging.

Canadian brand Tentree plants 10 trees for every purchase and Californian brand Reformation whose each item comes with a description of its environmental footprint…

Christy Dawn, Levi’s, Kotn, ABLE, Sézane, Pact, and many more.

What can we do?

It’s necessary for brands to change, for now, there is a sustainable fashion movement going on out there.

However, the solution to the fashion problem does not solely depend on the brands. We live in a consumer-oriented society, brands always want to sell us more stuff and get us to consume more.

The most important and effective step is that we consumers are willing to change our ways of thinking. Buying products that are made of eco-friendly and recyclable materials and renting or buying used items are in fact much more practical and responsible than just spending money on cheap quality.

Consumers’ decisions matter

“Consumers absolutely have the power to change the industry, the industry packs a surprising punch.”

Linda Greer, scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, for Refinery 29.

Fashion is made by humans after all, so sustainability efforts can be achieved.

However, this is not saying consumers should stop purchasing new clothes. Boycotting is not going to fix the problem and not buying will not make a sound impact or change.

As Greer says, it’s more powerful to tell a brand that “I’ll buy from you again if you take steps to fix this” than “ I’ve never shopped here and never will.”

Therefore, buy clothes that last long, carry a purpose, and tell a story. Surely, the clothes might get a bit over your budget, but when you do good, you feel good. We should all manifest this vision – as Olivia Wilde puts it, “ethical clothing isn’t a fashion fantasy but an attainable reality.”