Clothing website ASOS uploads 5,000 new products every day. Fashion retailer Next has enjoyed better-than-expected sales at high-street stores this summer. And bastion of cheap super-fast fashion, Primark, reported a rise in half-year profits of 25%. But despite this, and our seemingly never-ending love of quick fashion fixes, could the fast fashion industry be about to hit troubled times? We take a closer look to find out if fast fashion is losing its allure.
When did fast fashion begin?
Although first launched in England in 1973, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that fast-fashion stalwart Primark took over the UK high street, leaving other stores quaking in their kitten heels. As a nation we shopped and didn’t stop. Never before had we seen clothes so cheap, and suddenly we could afford to switch up our wardrobe just like that – with a new outfit for every night out.
But with the rise of awareness about sustainability, climate change, and the continuing trend for shopping vintage, could Primark – and others – be looking at tricky times ahead? Back in the mid-Noughties, no one thought twice about the ethical issues surrounding a T-shirt that cost £2.50. But then we woke up.
Behind the scenes of fast fashion
The tiny black wording on clothing labels tucked inside your leggings might reveal which washing setting to use, but they also point a finger as to where the item was made. China. India. Bangladesh. And questions continue to be asked about wages and working conditions in the places where our clothes are made.
Despite this, UK shoppers continue to buy clothes like they’re going out of fashion, and even with documentaries highlighting the effect fast fashion has on the environment, we continue to buy, buy, buy.
The rise of the activists
If the planet is going to survive, we can’t keep on producing, buying and binning at the current rate. The climate is in crisis and young activist Greta Thunberg is making sure we all know about it. As part of this, the way we buy clothes has to change. In a London Sustainability Exchange article, Mathilde Batelier said:
‘It is estimated that between 80 and 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year. In 2016, Britons bought 1.13 million tones of clothing, which generated a total amount of 26.2 million tones of CO2. The UK sent 235 million items of clothing to landfill. This is quite an outrage, especially when we know that almost 100% of clothing items are recyclable.’
What are shops doing to help?
As consumers, we can do our bit. We can buy less, we can reuse, repurpose and recycle. We can buy clothes made from eco-friendly fabrics such as linen, hemp and bamboo. What’s more, we can make sure we buy from sources that produce clothes as ethically and environmentally friendly as possible.
The Independent sites brands such as Monkee Genes, People Tree, and Punks and Chancers as labels doing their best to provide the most sustainable fashion possible. In high street terms, well-known names such as H&M, Marks & Spencer, and John Lewis are all also doing their bit to meet ethical standards.
In 2019, fast fashion might not have had its day, but we don’t think it will be long. As a country – and a planet – we are only just waking up to the environmental crisis we’re facing. Fast fashion and our consumer culture is a huge part of this, so what matters now is that we think carefully about our buying habits, the materials our clothes are made from, where they’re made, and how our old clothes are reused or disposed of.
Like the death of the plastic carrier bag, it can only be a certain amount of time before the scales shift in favour of sustainable fashion, and fast fashion becomes a thing of the distant past.