I vividly remember the moment when I first discovered Zara. I was 19, on a trip to the UK, when I stumbled into an alternative universe of beautiful, affordable fast fashion, with rows and rows of racks loaded with pretty things that wouldn’t break the bank. I trudged into the dressing rooms with my arms laden with garments, and emerged from the store with several new pieces of clothing. Clothes that I would inevitably discard within a year or two.
Admittedly, I’ve never had any problems spending money. I was one of those girls who were seemingly born with a shopping gene. When I discovered Zara and Topshop in my early twenties, I quickly became obsessed with following trends and updating my wardrobe every five seconds, because at the prices I found at fast fashion outlets I could afford to, and, well, because fashun, dahling.
Around the same time, I invested in a few more expensive pieces. Guess which ones I still have nearly ten years later? The investment pieces have stood the test of time, and are still things I wear today. The Zara and Topshop frippery? I gave it away, and to be honest, it probably ended up in a landfill years ago.
Fast fashion is baaaaad for the environment. In Australia alone, more than 500,000 tonnes of textiles and leather is being thrown into landfills each year. Toxic dyes in developing world processing plants and factories are seeping into rivers. Cotton farmers are developing illnesses and their children are being born with birth defects after continued exposure to high levels of pesticides. Clothing made from polyester sheds microfibers when washed, which then make it into the ocean, where they pose a serious threat to ecosystems. Polyester also takes 200 years to break down.
And then there’s the horrific exploitation of workers. While brands are becoming more wary of exploitation in factories in developing countries, most of the big fast fashion brands have supply chains that include the exploitation of workers somewhere along the line. The simple fact is that if a piece of clothing is dirt cheap, it’s highly likely that someone has been treated like dirt to produce it.
Fast fashion also taps into inequality in the developed world. It’s all very well for well to do consumers to be encouraged to buy sustainable fashion – or at least fashion that will last more than a few wears (and if you’re in that boat, you absolutely should) – but many consumers have little choice when it comes to ethical purchasing. When there’s food and rent and power to be paid for, it’s difficult to justify spending more than is needed on clothing.
So what can be done? Beyond Governments regulating against the import of garments that have been made through exploitative and unsustainable practices, which would then have the knock on effect of upending the market, driving up prices of scarce locally made goods and probably breaking a slew of free trade agreements in one fell swoop, change begins with us.
Simple steps can include donating or giving clothes away rather than throwing them out, adjusting our habits to buy only what we need rather than slavishly following the latest trends and, when possible, buying locally made goods, sustainable fashion, brands with verified exploitation-free supply chains, or well-made, quality clothing that will last many years.
As a reformed shopaholic, my new trick is to try to picture all of the clothes I’ve discarded over the years thrown into a heap every time I go to buy something new. It’s a mental mountain that I’m not proud of.
Even worse is knowing that somewhere, in some landfill, those hideous pleather leggings that I just had to have for five minutes in 2008 are festering amid the rotting trash. And they’ll still be there in 2208.Support Villainesse