The millennial generation has grown up in the boom of fast fashion. However, it comes at the detriment of lots of waste. The fast fashion industry continues to push even further by pursuing microtrends and leveraging social media. When you learn about the human rights violations and negative environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry, it's easy to say you'll give it up. But when Tiktok and Instagram give you a link to that white crop top you've been searching everywhere for, and it's only $4.99... well, it's easy to think that a little purchase here or there won't make an impact.
It's important to remember that every dollar you spend should go towards something you support. Consumers can counteract fast fashion trends by buying mindfully, taking care of clothing, buying less but better quality, buying only the most needed or pressing items, and owning fewer pieces that become their wardrobe essentials.
WHAT IS FAST FASHION?
Fast fashion is a term used to describe the practice of creating clothes at a rapid pace, often within weeks or months, and selling them cheaply. This process usually involves copying designs from designers, celebrities and trends popularized by social media.
The concept of fast fashion dates back to the early 20th century, when American entrepreneur Abraham & Straus began producing ready-to-wear clothing under the slogan "Made to Order." In the 1950s, Japanese companies such as Uniqlo and Gap Inc. introduced similar concepts, and today, most major retailers sell fast fashion products online. Now, with social media being at the core of modern society and online image a common focus of scrutiny, it's easy to see how fast fashion has become our norm.
HOW TO SPOT A FAST FASHION BRAND
Fast fashion brands have become increasingly popular over recent years, offering consumers a quick fix to style up their wardrobes. But what exactly makes a fast fashion brand different from others? And how do you tell one from another? Here are some of the most important things to look out for:
Thousands of styles, which cover all the latest trends. Fast fashion brands offer thousands of items, ranging from dresses to jeans to coats. They tend to change their collections frequently, meaning there's always something new to try.
Short turnaround times. Fashion houses such as H&M and Forever 21 release new collections within weeks of seeing them on the runway or in celebrity magazines. This allows customers to see the newest looks almost immediately.
Manufacturing conditions. Many fast fashion companies source their products in countries with cheap labor costs. This can mean working conditions aren't ideal, with employees being paid little and having little to no rights. This is what allows fast fashion companies to keep prices down.
Limited quantities. Fast fashion brands tend to sell many items, but small quantities of each item in order to make sure they're stocking enough inventory to meet demand. If they run out of stock, customers won't be able to purchase it.
Low quality control. Fast fashion brands rely heavily on outsourcing production to factories around the world. This means they're less likely to inspect the work produced. Cheaply made clothing tends to look cheaper too, with thin material, loose threads, and undone seams being just a few examples.
Complex supply chains. Fast fashion brands often operate complex supply chains, making it difficult to trace individual garments and materials to one part of the world. There can be multiple countries listed on the tag, and with fast fashion companies, these areas are all poorer countries with cheap labor. It can be extremely difficult even for the company itself to find out where a product came from or whether it's been manufactured fairly.
So how do you shift your mindset away from fast fashion and towards more ethical and sustainable fashion? We’ve put together 5 steps you can take to get started on your slow fashion journey:
The fashion industry as a whole is currently one of the most polluting industries in the world, contributing to climate change, water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, and many other environmental issues. The fast fashion industry is also exploitative towards workers and often involves unethical practices.
In recent years, however, the fashion industry has been making strides towards becoming more sustainable and ethical with small brands leading the way. This mindful consumption is due to the growing awareness among consumers about the environment and social responsibility. Consumers want to support businesses that treat people fairly and responsibly; they don't want to buy into products that exploit others.
As a consumer, you can help promote socially responsible fashion by shopping at brands that produce quality products while treating their employees well. You can also encourage retailers to carry more sustainable and ethical fashion brands. Just by creating demand and showing you care, you're already making a difference!
TAKE CARE OF YOUR CLOTHES
One thing that most people don't realize is that their clothes could actually be wearing themselves out. Clothes can become worn and faded over time, especially if they aren't cared for properly. This can lead to a lot of money spent on replacing items rather than just keeping them in good shape.
Although it may seem pretty straightforward, taking care of the clothing you love can go a long way. There are lots of ways to keep your clothes in great condition, including washing them in cold water with gentle natural products such as eco-friendly detergents, ironing them correctly, and hanging them up neatly.
BUY BETTER QUALITY
The best way to ensure you don't end up with a wardrobe full of fast fashion clothes is to shop smartly by buying better, more durable, high quality items. There are many factors to consider when choosing what to buy, including fabric type and weight, construction, sizing, color, cut, price, brand, seasonality, and durability. Prioritizing the factors that are important to you with every purchase you make can actually save you money in the long run.
Saving up for that special coat or swimsuit that you know you have wanted for ages, but never found the right time to buy can make a piece really special. It's no coincidence that the companies that create the most timeless pieces with the most care, also tend to want those pieces to last a long time!
We all have our fashion weaknesses; identifying what yours is is a great first step to avoiding fast fashion. What are the things that drive you to buy a piece of clothing? Are you motivated by social media, models, sales, good prices, trends? It’s easy to be vulnerable to any of these factors and completely miss out on buying higher quality pieces that will last longer and cost less in the long run. Take some time to think about why you buy what you buy and what your weaknesses are. Then, develop a way to navigate and mitigate that weakness. Buying only clothing items you really want and need goes a long way.
A full closet can be exciting, but more often than not it's overwhelming. However, paring down and owning less is much easier said than done, especially for those of us that love our fashion options. One tip to get you on the right track would be to keep an inventory of everything that you own. Although difficult to do, depending on how much you have it can be a visual inventory that’s pleasing to look at or a mental inventory to keep in mind while buying items. Often you'll find yourself reaching for only one of your four black jeans - if that's the case, do you really need four pairs, or could someone else use them more?
The practice of creating an inventory helps you see where your weaknesses are and how many similar clothing items you have that you may not really need, or remind you that you already have a cute black bikini that you wear all the time, so there’s no need to buy another one. Keeping an inventory will also help you see how much you spend on fast fashion and how many fast fashion items you have. How long do they last you? How frequently do you wear these pieces? You can even make an inventory with a friend or switch closets and do an inventory of each other's clothes - it can be way more fun to go through someone else’s closet! Only owning a few pieces that are staples in your wardrobe can do wonders for your peace of mind, too - less can be more.
The next time you're watching a Shein try-on haul video or contemplating just buying one cheap skirt from a fast fashion brand, keep in mind that there's a much better alternative to all that - for you and for the planet. There are a lot of companies out there that put care and effort into their designs and material - and love what they do! Buying more mindfully, taking care of your clothes, buying with quality and durability as a priority, buying only what's needed, and limiting your wardrobe to core pieces can make a big difference. When you spend money, you vote with your wallet, and it's important to know that by making small changes, you change your impact and impact others for the better in the process.
Header image by Karina Tess
Written by Neesha Basnyat - Sustainability Writer for Koraru
Neesha Basnyat is a an experienced sustainability writer and researcher specialising in biology, sustainability, CSR, and ESG analysis and reporting. With an educational background in Biology and Environmental Science and over 6 years of experience in the sustainability field, Neesha loves everything green, from shoveling compost to calculating emissions or researching the best new standards in the sustainability space.