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Fast Fashion Faux Pas

By Hazel Buckingham | Photography by Frank Flores

If I asked you to pick out five random items from your wardrobe, off your floor, or from the back seat of your car, would you be able to tell me much about them?

Could you tell me what they’re made of? Or where that particular material comes from, or who might have made them? What sacrifices have been made by other people and by our beautiful planet for the garments that you own?

No judgement here, because up until recently I couldn’t tell you much about my clothes either. Clothing labels looked like secret codes with all their symbols. I’d heard about ‘fast fashion’ but part of me honestly thought ‘it can’t be THAT bad, can it?’ As a poor student, I shopped mostly at op-shops and donated my clothes back when I was done with them. I only went to ‘fast fashion’ stores occasionally. I was doing okay, surely?

Well, as the glorious Emma Watson said: “As consumers, we have the power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.” Every dollar you spend is a vote in the worldwide election of globalisation. This ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon seems to be winning and violating human rights across the globe. It’s also destroying our environment

But what exactly is ‘fast fashion’? It is a process that has democratised luxury fashion trends for everyday shoppers. Corporations take looks from the catwalk and celebrity culture and have them in stores by the week’s end. It’s the reason the fashion industry has gone from working around four seasons a year, to 52. It’s why you can now buy tops for $3 and a pair of jeans for $20. According to The New York Times it’s a $2.4 trillion a year industry that continues to grow. But there’s another cost that’s not shown on the price tag.

The Global Slavery Index’s 2018 Report shows that the fashion industry is one of the biggest supporters of modern slavery in the world, second only to technology. For the majority of workers, who are located in places like Bangladesh, South East Asia and China, wages are so low that people stay trapped in the cycle of poverty and work in factories with toxic chemicals and unsafe conditions (Rana Plaza anyone?). The surrounding environments of these factories are polluted, often to a toxic extent and communities face mountains of health issues. These environmental issues are undeniable, but unfortunately there’s no solid data to prove them. Although the fashion industry generates over $600 billion in revenue (equal to the combined revenues of the top three global car manufacturers,) there has been no official research done on the scale of its emissions.

No judgement here, because up until recently I couldn’t tell you much about my clothes either.

Recent studies in the Journal of Consumer Research show that we seem to conveniently ‘forget’ negative ethical information when it’s presented. I wonder if our brains have become so conditioned by consumer culture that our automatic coping mechanism is to forget any ethical violation we hear about. How much further will this conditioning go?

Here’s what you can do about fast fashion today:

Buy less and choose carefully

The fast fashion model is seeping into our op-shops, meaning that we’re expecting them to have fresh stock on a weekly basis. So, what happens to the stock they don’t sell? The UN Framework Convention for Climate Change states that 85% of textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated. What’s almost worse is that most of the time, this is back in the developing nations where the clothes were made. If they don’t make it to landfill, they destroy local economies. This is due to local businesses being unable to compete with the cheap prices of our discarded ‘donations’.

Keep clothes out of landfills

There are so many ways to do this! Have a clothes swap, tailor them into something else, repair them, rent them, resell them, reuse them or give them away as hand-me-downs. If you want to donate them, think about where they will be most impactful.

Educate yourself and demand companies do the same

Find out what all those symbols on the labels mean. Learn about what cotton farmers go through, what chemicals you’re pumping out into the ocean with every washing load and why there have been more than 60,000 suicides of Indian farmers in the last three decades. If you want a place to start:

  • Watch the documentary The True Cost

  • Read the book Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas

  • Follow @themustardjumper on Instagram

  • Ask #whomademyclothes – but find out the story behind that hashtag too

  • Remember - Every dollar you spend is a vote


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