Over the last fifteen years, clothing production has nearly doubled. According to WRAP ‘the value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.’ Put another way, every three out of five garments purchased will end up in landfill within a year. This is shocking, if you take a moment to think about how clothes are made (nearly all by hand), and what they are made from. It’s putting a huge strain on our natural resources.
It wasn’t so long ago that we had a very different relationship with our clothes. Our parents and grandparents had far fewer items in their wardrobes. Although designer brands did make desirable, fashionable garments, they were expensive and out of reach for most. Taking pleasure in a trip to John Lewis for a pattern and seeking out beautiful fabrics was commonplace. My partner’s mum recalls an early date with her prospective husband; he arrived armed with a dress he’d made her on his sewing machine. The amount of time and effort required to put together a new outfit was so much more, and as a result clothes were cherished in a way that they are not any more.
So why have our behaviours and attitudes changed so much?
Over the past 30 years, Europe and America have taken advantage of cheap manufacturing abroad, where human rights and working conditions are out of sight and out of mind. Retailers have churned out poor quality replicas of fashionable garments to the masses. This concept of fast fashion (or ‘disposable fashion’) really took hold throughout the 2000s.
As consumers, we started being able to buy fashion so cheaply we no longer value it; often giving it to charity or throwing it away without even wearing it once. We’re blinded by the allure of the new, whilst cheap fabrics and poor fits go unnoticed. Instagram fuels our desire even further; glamorous influencers tout their aspirational lifestyles whilst advocating that an outfit is to be worn once and never more. Dress sense is often considered a factor in deeming a potential partner attractive. Retailers play on our childhood need to ‘fit in’ whilst also deploying tactics to appeal to every one of the senses: from filling stores with particular scents, to pumping out contemporary soundtracks to keep you motivated on the shop floor. Retailers bring catwalk fashion to the high street at rock bottom prices. Fashion has been brought to the masses, and we’re addicted. We want more of it and we want it now.
Meanwhile, advertising tells us that buying more will make us happy. Politicians measure the success of the economy according to how much we spend. Consumerism has become a way of measuring our social worth. It’s no wonder we’re buying so much that we don’t need or value.
Encouragingly, as consumers become more aware of fast fashion and its consequences, a new wave of influencers are emerging on social platforms. Thrifting and putting together new outfits from old clothes is becoming an art-form. More and more people are eschewing poor quality, cheap garments in favour of seeking better quality and unique pieces that already exist. More and more small independent brands who value ethical practices, transparency and the use of recycled materials that require less energy to produce are emerging. The slow fashion movement has arisen as an antidote to fast fashion.
So what can we as consumers do to support this movement and reduce the number of clothes that are sent to landfill?
- Where possible, buying clothing second hand from charity shops or vintage shops is a great option. It can take time, but it can also be really rewarding.
- Explore brands who transparently tell you how they make their clothes. Look at fabrics that are recycled or organic, and have certifications to prove it.
- Take pleasure in buying less but when you do buy, allowing yourself to buy better with a view to keeping the garment for a long time.
- Consider renting; companies that do this are on the rise. For a monthly fee you can often hire unlimited outfits – both saving you money and space whilst being kinder to the environment. They’re not a perfect solution - mainly because some garments have to be professionally laundered or dry-cleaned afterwards – but it’s still better than buying an outfit that you won’t get a lot of wears out of.
- Take care of your clothes. Wash them less and wash them at a lower temperature. Mend them instead of throwing them away. There is some good advice here.
- Sell unwanted garments or give them to charity or friends.
- For items you don’t think are good enough for charity, seek out your local textile recycling centre. Find your closest drop-off here.
And remember; the more we are aware of the psychological pulls of the fast fashion industry, the more able we are to consciously choose to buy less.
The slow fashion movement is rising and long may it continue.