Fast Fashion V Slow Fashion
Hope we are all well!
This may be a bit of a controversial topic but we all love a bit of controversy don't we!
Everywhere you go you read why NOT to buy into fast fashion and why we MUST all go Eco Friendly and Sustainable. However I discuss why it's ok to continue to buy from the fast fashion brands you love and dissect the whole sustainable movement; how much do we really know about what is considered sustainable and what isn't? How is it regulated if at all and are we basing are views on fast fashion on old standards?
Read on to find out a little more about why I am yet convinced to give up on all the fast fashion brands I love and why you should not feel guilty about feeling the same way.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion can be defined as inexpensive, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand. Zara prides itself on getting its clothing from design into stores in 15 days!
How did Fast Fashion happen?
To understand how fast fashion came to be, we need to rewind a tiny bit. Before the 1800s, fashion was slow. You had to source your own materials like wool or leather, prepare them, weave them, and then make the clothes.
The Industrial Revolution introduced new technology—like the sewing machine making it faster and easier to make.
By the 1960s and 70s, young people were creating new trends and clothing became a form of personal expression, but there was still a distinction between high fashion and high street.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, low-cost fashion reached its zenith. Online shopping took off, and fast fashion retailers like H&M, Zara, and Topshop took over the high street. These brands took the looks and design elements from the top fashion houses and reproduced them quickly and cheaply. With everyone now able to shop for on-trend clothes whenever they wanted, it’s easy to understand how the phenomenon caught on.
However the fast fashion quickly went from an affordable form of personal expression where due to the low cost of the items inclusivity was at it's peak to slowly gaining an extremely bad reputation for two controversial things cheap labour and disposability.
I am going to look at how some fast fashion brands are becoming part of the sustainable movement, fostering change towards greater ecological integrity and social justice, whilst some of the "sustainable" and "conscious" focused fashion brands cannot possibly live up to their promises.
Fast Fashion Working Conditions
An overwhelming majority of fast fashion is produced in sweatshops all around the world, and that's no secret. The unjust and sometimes deadly conditions garment workers endure to produce our apparel aren't that shrouded, either.
When confronted with this kind of information, the knee-jerk reaction is to boycott but is this reaction actually helpful? Individual boycotts are rarely effective, and worse yet, they can be dangerous for garment workers who are organising and fighting for their own rights. For example In 2008, Russell Athletics, a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom, shut down a factory called Jerzees de Honduras after workers attempted to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to combat sweatshop abuse.
The student labour organisation ran a nationally coordinated campaign on college campuses demanding that universities sever ties with Russel unless the company agreed to negotiate with its workers. The campaign culminated in nearly 100 universities dropping Russell. In total, Russell lost tens of millions of dollars through strategic corporate campaigning, which resulted in a historic agreement between the company and its workers.
Now, imagine that if instead of leveraging these big-budget, strategic relationships, USAS tried to convince individual consumers to stop buying. How many potential Russell customers would have had to change their minds and not purchase a single T-shirt or hoodie in order to have the same impact on the brand?
In addition to this Fast Fashion brand Zara, along with additional brands H&M and Primark came together to support Cambodian workers receiving a higher wage in 2014. In 2013 the minimum wage was raised to a little over £60 month; fast-forward 5 years to 2018 and the minimum wage is now £130 a month. Despite the requirement for workers to meet high demands, fast fashion chains are beginning to align their pay more fairly. In fact, “H&M; has said it could raise its prices to help pay better wages in source countries.” While Zara and H&M are purposely vouching for the workers, they are in turn helping Cambodia as a whole due to the fact that, “The country’s garment sector is home to as many as half a million jobs and generates a third of the country’s GDP.”
Fast Fashion Goes Eco Friendly
As an increasing number of consumers call out the true cost of the fashion industry, fast fashion in particular, we’ve seen a growing number of retailers introduce sustainable and ethical fashion initiatives, such as in-store recycling schemes and sustainable collections such as H&M's Conscious Collection, Topshops Considered Collection and Zara ( who also own Bershka and Pull& Bears) has a Better Cotton Initiative. Asos, Uniqlo and Mango all have committed to eco conscious collections and even Primark have a denim range made from 100% Sustainable cotton. Although this is a start there are still many brands yet to follow suit.
"Sustainable only" Focused Fashion Brands
Unless you’re buying second-hand or vintage, sustainable fashion often comes with an expensive price tag. Eco Fashion Brand Ninety Percent a London-based label has committed to giving 90 per cent of its profits to charity which is indeed brilliant and it positions itself between fast-fashion brands on the lower end of the scale and contemporary brands such as Acne, with its T-shirts priced between £30 to £55. Apparently Founder Shafiq Hassan feels “Millennials, Gen Z should be able to afford our clothing,” I for one think £55 for a t shirt is still pretty pricey especially when you have a very similar offer from H&M's Conscious Collection for between £6.99 and £19.99. Sustainable and affordble where would you shop?
More and more people are becoming aware of the environmental impact of the fashion industry and at first glance the abundance of ‘organic’ and ‘eco-friendly’ labels seems to suggest that things are changing, but once you start to sift through the cacophony of ‘green’ marketing and figure out what clothing companies are actually required to do in the name of sustainability, this abundance of green begins to fade.
One emerging brand can claim itself as sustainable for harnessing the talent of artisans around the world to create handcrafted pieces in lieu of employing labor from a factory; another, for sourcing organic cotton or recycled materials. They’re different, yet they're both sustainable.
The biggest problem is the lack of standardization across the board.
There are astoundingly few binding regulations on sustainability in the fashion industry. An item of clothing may be made from fabrics produced in one place, which are then processed and put together in another part of the world using chemicals and dyes sourced from yet more disparate places — and that’s only the first part of this clothing’s lifecycle. Packaging, shipping, use, and disposal all factor into the fashion industry’s environmental impact and they tie even the most mundane articles of clothing into a global network. Is this really Sustainable or Eco Friendly?
Eco-fashion Industry and the Law
At present most of the laws which set standards for businesses including fashion are local. As such, they can usually only touch on limited aspects of the industry at a time.
Eco-fashion Products and Voluntary Certifications
The vast majority of eco-friendly labels you see on clothing are voluntary certifications — companies opt in to have their products certified as organic or low-impact according to an organization’s standards. Just because these labels are voluntary, doesn’t mean they are meaningless but it certainly introduces a few problems....
Relying only on voluntary certifications to regulate the environmental impact of the fashion industry means the majority of the industry is still under no obligation to conform to their standards
Companies can "fudge" the details and advertising products as environmentally friendly solely for the marketing value. Since organizations set their own standards, there is little to stop them from using their own definitions of “eco-friendly” or “sustainable”.
Therefore what we define as Eco Friendly the brand we are buying from might not!
Fast fashion is often viewed very negatively, which hopefully you will see is not always fair, as when seen in a different light and from various angles, there are many benefits that activists choose to overlook. The fashion industry is one of the strongest and highest wealth-producing industries in the world particularly due to the fast fashion branch. Not only does fast fashion encourage consumers to buy more, boosting our economy, but it also presents many jobs in developing countries.
Additionally we can a see that many fast fashion brands are leading the way with both eco friendly and affordable lines which in contrast to some of the sustainable only brands; not only are the guidelines for what is and what isn't sustainable unclear but also sell for upwards of £100 creating a huge financial barrier pricing many of us out choosing "sustainable" fashion anyway.
I agree that there is still a long way to go with regards to many fashion brands ensuring fair pay, good working conditions and minimal environmental impact but I do not agree that fast fashion should pay such a heavy price with regards to its reputation for cheap labour and disposability when sustainable fashion brands have yet to be regulated with regards to their eco friendly credentials.
Throw Away Fashion OR Sustainable may no longer have to be a choice we need to make if H&M, Zara, Asos, Mango, Uniqlo, Topshop and Primark are anything to go by, and for that we have Fast Fashion to thank....