Fast fashion has become a modern-day staple but the same system that keeps us clothed is also stripping us of our resources. As demand for trendy and affordable clothing increases, materials are rapidly depleting. Most of us are aware of the impacts with no idea how to prevent it, so why is the blame falling on the individual instead of the industry and capitalist environment that perpetuates this?
The cost of being considerate is one of the largest hindrances to ethical shopping. It’s no secret that the things that are good for you are sometimes out of your grasp. Those living on the poverty line often struggle to fund healthy food for their family and the pink tax is still prevailing on period products- as if wellbeing is a luxury and not a necessity.
Even the original method of finding bargain clothing has become unattainable. Thrifting is now trendy, with thrift hauls on TikTok and sellers on Depop or Vinted. While second-hand shopping was shamed upon once upon a time, in many ways styling thrift shop finds has become cool.
But isn’t that a good thing?
More people are favouring slow fashion, lengthening the life cycle of individual items. It would be if the market wasn’t being manipulated for profit. Sellers on Depop are notorious for buying from charity shops and selling so called “rare” items for a higher price. This is driving the price of what was once an reasonable alternative to fast fashion to the point that sometimes it’s cheaper to buy things new.
The gap between what a person believes is morally ethical to buy and what they can actually afford is only being widened. Even Primark, one of the most popular fast fashion outlets is noticeably raising its prices and arguably lowering its quality.
For those with a lower income, or living off minimum wage, what can they buy?
Fast fashion is failing to meet expectations, thrifting is becoming a competition and sustainable clothing is above their pay bracket.
The ugly truth is that fast fashion is often still the most inexpensive option and many people have been forced to accept that the poor quality is just part of the low price.
The even uglier truth is that to boycott fast fashion entirely could lead to the loss of jobs for the workers behind the clothes. This sector is notorious for sweat shops, exploitation, poor pay, and poor working conditions. While this kind of working environment is in way desirable, for some of the workers in factories such as China there’s no other option when it comes to jobs.
By exploiting their workers, brands are able to offer “more for less”. That being said, surely the wealthier half of the population are shopping sustainably. Wrong. Those people with more money have the ability to spend a little extra on ethical clothing, but the reality is that sometimes they splurge on fast fashion too.
It’s common for YouTubers to post hauls of Pretty Little Thing, Shein and other fast fashion brands. With a receipt of over £200 spent, it seems they favour a bigger wardrobe over a better one. Clothes are viewed as disposably commodities, changing by season and trend like a continuously rolled dice.
A recent and well-known example of influencers advertising fast fashion is Molly-Mae in her new role of creative director for Boohoo brand Pretty Little Thing. The former Love Island star has found her audience in her Instagram posts but not without backlash. Strikers moved from a silent boycotting of the brand to an outright protest, with the critical gaze falling on Molly-Mae as the famous face.
Naturally power often falls to those with money so if these brands can pay for advertising, sponsorship, and events like the Pretty Little Thing fashion show, why can’t they afford to make a change?
Certain brands have, in their company’s opinions, attempted to make a change. H&M launched its ‘Conscious Collection’ in 2010, advertising clothes made from 50% sustainable materials but its 2022 and this line is still only a small section of their clothes sold. Despite these efforts, H&M remains the worlds second biggest fast fashion brand.
This brings us to Zara, a major culprit of fast fashion. The company prioritises getting clothes from the runway to retail rails. Zara falls short of sustainability in more ways than one- being criticised for its labour ethics and use of animal products as just a few examples.
Why do major companies get away with claiming to be sustainable when they’re not? It’s a process called greenwashing. At its basics this means that companies stick a big shiny sustainable label on its produce, while doing the bare minimum to appear ethical. It’s misinformation at its finest. The industry chooses to improve only what won’t majorly affect their profit or production.
This is where the root of the problem lies. We’re too preoccupied with finding solutions surrounding consumer habits rather than willing the industry to make significant changes.
Undoubtedly, it’s important to increase the longevity of clothing’s lifespan, whether that be through upcycling, thrifting, or just holding on to items a little longer. However, the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on the people wearing the clothes.
Capitalism and the societal power hierarchy has demonised the poor when it’s the industry itself that should be condemned. It’s within their grasp to make improvements towards a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry, but frankly, they just don’t bother.
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