Image description: A pile of used clothing
The start of the summer saw many of us crowded around family living rooms or tucked under the covers with a laptop every evening at 9pm. Only one force seems capable of forcing the British public into such a strict schedule: Love Island. With over 100,000 applications to the show and millions of TVs tuning in, it’s evident that the sex-fuelled monolith of “chats” that make up each episode of Love Island is something that we just can’t say no to.
Having once been an avid consumer of the show, I will not be structuring my evening plans around watching the next season. Not just due to the myriad mental health concerns surrounding the show’s management and production, but also due to the show’s influence on the fashion world and our consumer habits.
What we see in the villa is a promotional microcosm of a worrying trend in the clothing industry called fast fashion. Every night the contestants get the cue and proceed to slip into a brand new outfit in order to drink their allotted 4 units for the evening. Most of the clothes featured in these evening parties are sourced from large fast fashion houses such as retail giants Boohoo and I Saw It First. Many of the most successful islanders then go on to secure lucrative brand deals with these companies when they reach the “outside”. One of the most notable being Molly Mae’s deal with Pretty Little Thing which put her on the path to becoming the creative director of the clothing brand.
Fast fashion gets its name from the speedy progression of catwalk trends to large scale buyer availability. This business model has proved to be a highly effective one: successfully persuading consumers that to keep up with fashion they must keep making new purchases and ensure their wardrobe is in a perpetual metamorphosis.
Unlike ever before, what is fashionable and “in” is shifting at an accelerated rate; the original Spring/Summer Fall/Winter set up is far too rigid to keep up with the new micro seasonality of fashion.
The original Spring/Summer Fall/Winter set up is far too rigid to keep up with the new micro seasonality of fashion.
It is no wonder why fast fashion is as popular as it is. This business model enables everybody to frequently refresh their entire wardrobe for very cheap. However, there is something sinister behind the cheap price tag, and the costs of sporting these fast fashion brands are much higher than they seem.
These eyebrow raising prices that companies are able to offer come with a lot of baggage. The outsourcing of cheap labour to under-developed countries is almost implied in the price, meaning that a £4 t-shirt from H&M was likely made by someone working in sub-standard, often illegal, conditions for less than 10 cents an hour.
Not only does this cheap clothing come at the social cost of others in countries often invisible to the West, there is also a triumvirate of environmental issues associated with the fast fashion model.
The excessive use of water is a problem that plagues the textile world; this is hardly surprising when 2700 litres of water are required for the manufacturing of a single cotton shirt. This is an anxiety-inducing fact considering that over 5 years ago the World Economic Forum recognised water security as the biggest risk to our society and economy. The advent of fast fashion has only worsened the water use in fashion, with this section of industry being responsible for 1.5 trillion litres of water waste annually, with estimations that this could increase by up to 50% within a decade. In many regions overuse is resulting in water being extracted at 10 times it’s natural recharge rate. In order to meet relentless demand, the long term security of our water supply is being compromised by the extracting of water from groundwater sources.
Yet another offence on the fashion industry’s rap list is its rampant emission of greenhouse gases. The sum of emissions from the materials, manufacturing, packaging, and transport involved in providing us with new clothing makes up ~10% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. This leads to the enhancing of the all too familiar greenhouse effect, the main culprit behind the warming and extreme weather our planet is beginning to experience.
Perhaps the issue that is most obviously worsened through fast fashion is textile waste. Right now in America consumers are throwing away twice the volume of clothing than they were 20 years ago, and as a result, 10% of municipal solid waste now comprises textile and material throwaways. This mass exodus of our garments to the landfill is problematic due to the lengthy 3 year average lifespan of clothing items which leads them to accumulate and take up significant space in landfills. This is a contributing factor to why some U.S state landfills are at capacity and are having to transport their waste elsewhere. The environmental toll of this transport is not trivial with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions being owed to this outsourcing of waste storage.
The costs of sporting these fast fashion brands are much higher than they seem.
In a time where consumer-conscious behaviour is on the rise, it is important that fast fashion does not go unaddressed. The high output and wastefulness that is intrinsic to this culture is unsustainable and has only worsened existing issues with the fashion industry.
The current vintage wave is an encouraging shift in our relationship with our clothes as we are seeing more and more people buy second-hand. As consumers, this is the best way we can opt out of the harmful effects of fast fashion, and we should all aim to make most of our purchases pre-owned. However, the demand we now see for old Nike sweatshirts and Levi’s jeans has caused prices of these goods to rise and the gentrification of online marketplaces such as Depop.
However, there are still plenty of affordable places to buy second-hand clothing. Luckily, our Style section has recently published a guide to the best vintage shopping spots in Oxford. Next time you crave a new statement piece or simply want to flesh out your wardrobe I encourage you to see what’s available in these shops and try to make your next purchase an ethical one.
Image credits: BIcanski via PIXNIO