Taking ‘Fast Fashion’ at a Slower Pace
Fashion moves fast, with a new catwalk collection with the arrival of each new season, and high street clothing retailers rush to keep up. This in turn means there is always an old trend being left behind. In the UK, the average person wears about two thirds of what’s in their wardrobe. This leaves the remaining three in ten garments gathering dust–up to an estimated 1.7 billion items of fast fashion clothing nationwide.
Of course, a new and on-trend item is likely to be worn more frequently (unless you’re a true fashionista who wouldn’t dare be seen wearing anything more than once)… But, over time, it gradually joins those never-worn items at the back of the wardrobe. The process takes around three years for a typical garment, at the end of which it is likely to be discarded. If your wardrobe is bursting at the seams, take a fresh look at it, and decide just how many of those old work suits and wedding outfits you’re likely to wear again.
Take Two and Spend
The old ‘make do and mend’ philosophy faded in the latter part of the 20th century, and with the turn of the Millennium there was an increase in high street stores offering everyday garments at low prices. These were often in multi-buy deals allowing shoppers to replace whole swathes of their wardrobe at once.
Thanks to these low prices, we’re better off: we spend only about a third as much on clothes in the 21st century as our grandparents did in the 1930s-40s. This drive to buy in bulk and replace rather than repair has led to a situation where people are throwing away their own body weight in textiles waste each year. Specifically, around 70kg per person in the UK.
One Man’s Trash…
Nobody is expecting everyone to walk around in patched and darned clothes, but there are more ethical ways of getting rid of garments that you no longer have a use for. Charity shops can resell unwanted clothing, making money for the charity and avoiding textiles to be send to a landfill. Items that cannot be resold can be sent to the used-clothing industry, and may end up being shipped internationally to less affluent countries.
This is controversial in itself. Some people claim that it harms the countries’ own textiles sectors, but it is still better for the environment than simply throwing away the clothes. Finally, unwearable items may be broken down to create fibre stuffing for mattresses and upholstery. These fibres are finding more new applications as time goes on, too.
Facts and Figures
In a typical year, you spend nearly a tenth as much just on washing and drying your clothes as you do on buying them. This is about £130 in the typical household, compared with about £1,700 of new clothes purchased. The combined carbon footprint of a fast fashion wardrobe (per household) is equivalent to about 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, or a 6,000-mile journey by car. Washing and drying our clothes creates a UK-wide carbon footprint equivalent to 10% of that emitted by all the cars in the country.
Taking it Easy
Fashion moves fast – if you blink and you’ll miss it. However much of the clothing we buy on the high street has little to do with the latest catwalk trends. And yet, the retail trend of ‘fast fashion’ has got us all hooked on cheap, discardable clothing that takes up valuable wardrobe space and valuable landfill space too. Some retailers are already bucking the trend by using fibres like organic cotton, which has a valuable production chain, as well as benefits for the environment. However, the organic cotton production is low compared with the demand already from the industry even with a handful of the big retailers using it. Textiles firms are now looking to ‘Organic 3.0’, the mainstreaming of organic farming methods for textile fibres derived from plants and animals which should help bring organic cotton into wider use.
In the meantime, it can be difficult for the average consumer to verify precisely what type of fibre is used in the clothes they buy. Additionally, it’s hard to resist picking up new garments here and there for little more than loose change. This is perhaps where the biggest change could be made in the way we think. Not in terms of how we discard our unwanted clothing, how we repair damaged items, or even how long we keep clothes for before we stop wearing them. Rather, the most sensible change could simply be to buy quality at sensible prices, and create a versatile wardrobe of garments with plenty of longevity.
Lucy Ravenhall works for Forge Recycling in Leeds, UK, and has a passion for all things recycled, reused, or upcycled. She loves fashion and clothing, and has been known to spend hours at a time in thrift and charity shops! If you’re interested in learning more about her thoughts on fast fashion, you can read more here.