There is a perception in today’s society that fast fashion is easy and convenient, opposing sustainable and slow fashion which is complicated and expensive. However this is a false and harmful perception that only maintains an unsustainable fashion climate. Our demand for cheap clothes is increasing, meaning that fair and safe labour is sacrificed; poor quality materials are used, and as retailers and manufacturers cut costs those at the bottom of the supply chain feel the negative effects. Child labour, sweatshops, lack of a living wage and dangerous working conditions are just some of the problems faced by garment workers in some factories in less developed countries.
It’s not just these workers who are feeling the effects. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry on the planet, just behind the oil industry. Not even the food industry produces as much waste. Unfortunately, as long as there is profit to be made manufacturers are retailers will continue to cut corners and make individual consumers feel as though there is little that they can do besides write letters and sign petitions.
It’s important to know that consumers have power, perhaps the most power to change how our fashion economy is structured. Every time we decide to make a purchase our choice goes beyond the item we are buying. Every time we buy a five dollar t-shirt or a pair of jeans that will clearly only last a few months we are sending a message to retailers that we value quantity over quality, and that who made our clothes doesn’t matter. It may seem too much to think about, after all how can just buying a t-shirt be a cruel act? But the truth is that we are just too far removed from the actual process of clothing production that we forget that our clothes are made by people more often than machines. Does five dollars seem enough money to have both purchased materials, and paid for someone to make an item of clothing? I didn’t think so.
Making a statement against fast fashion doesn’t have to be complicated, or always resort to spending top dollar for the ultimate eco-friendly, fair trade, vegan item out there. While these products are great if you can afford them, there are also many more affordable eco-friendly options. Another alternative is to buy secondhand. Check local thrift stores for unique and fashionable finds. Keep in mind that every store is different. While some may have their clothing sorted by colour and/or size, others may bear a closer resemblance to garage sales.
If there aren’t many thrift stores in your area you can always shop online. Sites like eBay and Poshmark are great options for finding quality secondhand clothing. Alternatively, you can swap clothes with friends and family or simply borrow instead of buying an item you’re likely only to wear once.
It may sound cliché, but as a consumer you really do have the power to make a change. Start making more sustainable and thoughtful choices today to start raising awareness on the problems of fast fashion and the need for a more eco-friendly fashion industry.