Since we’re all confined to our homes for the foreseeable future, everyday consumption of things like cheap clothing may be dropping at a swift rate. However, unless we continue to be mindful about what we do and don’t truly need after quarantine, the damage that fast fashion does to the environment and our mental health will continue to build.
What’s the problem with fast fashion?
Fast fashion, which refers primarily to clothing but also to homewares, is the production and consumption of items: garments and objects, that happens very very quickly, for short lived use and for small amounts of money. Think of companies like Boohoo, Missguided and Pretty Little Thing, which are able to produce outfits seen on KUWTK and Love Island within days of the new episodes being aired. These companies often produce runway-inspired clothing for a pittance and t-shirts for less than the cost of a sandwich.
The problems with fast fashion are simple. Firstly, if the dress you’ve just ordered cost less than your own hourly rate, how much do you think the worker who made it was paid to produce it? Take into account things like the cost of materials; fabric, thread, a pattern, the machine used to make it, and the overheads from the factory it was made in… and so on. When you break it all down, it becomes pretty clear that fast fashion is made in criminal conditions by people who are not paid anywhere close to enough money for the work they do.
Another reason fast fashion is problematic is how the vast majority of garments are transported. If an item is made in India or Taiwan then it needs to be shipped to the UK or US in order to be sold. If clothing is made with a very fast turnaround time, then items will be being shipped frequently, using transport and fuel that is damaging to the environment. When a single item is ordered once a week to be worn going out-out then there is the extra transportation impact of shipping domestically on a regular basis. And what if you don’t want or like the thing you ordered? Well, you’ll return it and it will go to the landfill.
What is slow fashion?
Meanwhile, we have an alternative, with what is known as ‘slow fashion’. It means literally slowing down first. There is an idea of ‘shopping your wardrobe’. Which means looking at what you already have before looking for something new. The fashion equivalent of ‘we have food at home’. But the truth is that when you take a moment to look at what we are fortunate enough to already have, most of us almost always already have more than enough.
It seems as if the advent of fast fashion, this swift production of goods, generates a maelstrom of anxiety and the pressure to ‘keep up’ with everyone else. The mental load of remaining current, trendy, fashionable, fresh, is heavy. There is definitely a pressure in certain circles to engage with the flickering image of appearance and presentation. But as it’s becoming fashionable in other groups to slow down; buy things second hand, buy things made ethically there remains this pressure to buy and if not to buy then to make mindful thoughtful fashion decisions.
There is a really strong argument here to stop thinking about fashion altogether and to try to separate our senses of self from our appearances. I know, this is something that is easy to type but very nearly impossible to actually do. But we should try.
Slow fashion also means being thoughtful about where your clothes are coming from. Think about who is making them, who is selling them, where the fabric has come from. Just dedicate a little bit of time to the decisions you make and the actions you take. If you really think you need something, once we are allowed out again, look in charity shops where you can give old things a new lease of life and pay towards a worthy cause at the same time. Slow fashion is exactly as it sounds: slow down.
This period of lockdown, whilst it’s tough and unprecedented, there are benefits to be found. Use this time to think about consumption and to be thankful for what you have.