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Fast fashion: the dark secret behind our addiction and the impact of Covid-19

Updated: Nov 6

Over the past decade, there have been several on-going crises’ and controversies in the fashion industry. From being a significant contributor to the climate emergency, to receiving criticisms for a lack of inclusion and racial equality, to perpetuating false body image standards, designer labels and modelling agencies have been under consistent scrutiny. In recent years, the world has seen a dramatic shift in our consumption habits, and thus our retail landscape. In the UK, name-brand retailers and high street veterans such as House of Fraser and Debenhams have been under threat and experiencing heavy losses whilst consumer spending consistently increases. So where are we getting our new clobber, and why are we buying more and more of it than we used to? The answer can be found in almost every fashion lovers’ purse or pocket - the internet. Democratising the ability to create and sell, but also to consume has categorically altered the way in which we consume fashion. From indie boutiques like Impossible Conversations and luxury curators such as Delivering the Hype to powerhouses like ASOS, the buffet of a global marketplace accessible at the touch of a button has spoilt us rotten. The emergence of fast fashion and the availability of cheap clothes to our doorsteps has instilled a disposable attitude that waves goodbye to cherished pieces in select archive we own and ushers in a culture that encourages the replacement of one’s entire wardrobe every season. Brands like Pretty Little Thing, BooHoo and more recently Manire de Vouire have dominated the online marketplace, becoming pervasive with fashionistas 25 and under. The rise of fast fashion has meant that brands that used to release 2 or 3 collections per year have had to keep up with the fast-paced nature of the industry and up production to five or six collections a year. Not only does this put pressure on textile workers in less economically developed countries with already limited resources and unsafe working conditions, but it also encourages materialism and over consumption. Our throwaway habits have far reaching consequences, and fast fashion has a dark secret. The environmental impact of our new purchasing habit is devastating. The clothing industry is the 2nd largest polluter in the world after oil, with 2700 litres of water being used to make one single cotton t-shirt, it comes as no surprise that 5% of the world’s water waste comes from textiles. In 2016 alone, UK households binned 300,000 tonnes of clothing. Despite these disconcerting figures, there does seem to be some hope for more sustainable consumption. According to Google, global search interest in sustainable fashion grew 61% in 2019. However, as the global economy enters a recession, it may prove challenging for consumers to enact their well-intentioned desires. Big brands have been slashing prices to close to nothing from their unsold excess inventory and many consumers simply don’t have the money to make the shift towards ethical consumption, whilst keeping up with the latest trends. In more recent times, the Covid-19 pandemic has catalysed the use of e-commerce but overall the demand for clothing has plummeted. Fast fashion retailers have had to cancel orders or delay payments to garment factories. In Bangladesh alone, there have been 3 billion worth of cancelled or delayed orders. This is extremely problematic for vulnerable workers in countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh where workers already are paid a pittance. The privilege of being furloughed is not one afforded to these workers so if they don’t die from the virus, they may die of hunger from not being paid. The complete ineptness of household brands like Primark with no online presence to maintain sales whilst stores are shut has also come to light, losing more than £800 million, illustrating that the busy shop front alone is not enough to maintain a successful clothing brand. Our convenient forms of consumption come with an inconvenient reality, it’s just a shame we care more about the cost of postage and packaging than the cost to the environment. By Azure Jamali @AJ_KBK_ @deliveringthehype

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