The Great Recession of 2008-2009 was a major wake up call to the world. The U.S. economy is up and running again, and with it comes the return of what we used to call “affluenza”—an inability to think critically about our actions.
The fast fashion industry is a perfect example of the potentially dangerous consequences of affluenza. It is highly profitable and, more importantly, it is immensely profitable. With the way things are going, we will soon be seeing the rise of another recession. So how can we, the consumers, stop feeding this industry and turn it around?
The ever-growing fast fashion industry means that, if you’ve got the money for new clothes, you can have them delivered to your door within days. People keep getting sucked into this cycle, because it’s so easy and convenient. It’s also a way of living that’s completely unsustainable. It requires a lot of buying and throwing things away quickly, and it’s hard to stop once you’ve started.
I see the fast fashion industrial complex gaining steam. We’ve got a global economy that is deeply entrenched in the fast fashion model, and has been for decades. This is the model that for-profit companies use to stay competitive, by churning out cheap, disposable commodities to maximize profit. The model is so profitable, that it’s become impossible to differentiate yourself from the pack. It’s a race to the bottom, and the cheap, disposable products that come out the other side are the only things that matter.. Read more about how to stop buying clothes online and let us know what you think.
The fashion industry has changed dramatically over the past two decades, and there is no doubt that fast fashion is at the forefront of this transformation. What we see on the catwalk one day can be in our wardrobe weeks later. It is the epitome of fast fashion, a seamless transition of clothing through design, production, store and your wardrobe. The emphasis is on speed of execution, low prices and a general disregard for quality. That’s what really changed. If there are (for the Western world) socio-economic arguments in favor of fast fashion, they pale in comparison to the human and environmental costs. Read on to find out:
- how fast fashion is changing the world
- ️ Why we’re so addicted to fast fashion (and why it’s not always the fault of big brands).
- What can we as humans do to get rid of the fast-fashion habit.
What you see on the catwalk one day, can be in your wardrobe weeks later.
The effect of fast fashion in figures
Apparel production has roughly doubled since 2000. That’s 100% more clothing while the world’s population has grown by only 27%. We all have more clothes than ever before, but most of this excess is carelessly thrown away. Every year, 85% of discarded textiles end up in landfills. Enough volume to fill Sydney Harbour. Based on current trends, clothing production is expected to account for 26% of global carbon emissions by 2050. Textile production alone accounts for 20% of the world’s wastewater, making it the second largest water polluter in the world. On a human scale, it is difficult to relate our consumption behaviour to these devastating environmental impacts. But they are real, and it is imperative that we begin to recognize our role. 25% of young people say they have thrown away their clothes after only one use. There is no doubt that fast fashion is largely responsible for the rampant growth and wasteful culture of today’s fashion industry.
The reality is that cheap clothes are never designed to be worn for long: Some major chains even produce clothes designed to be worn less than 10 times, and nearly 25% of young people say they throw away their clothes after only one use. It goes without saying that we produce, buy and throw away exponentially more clothes than we need. We are addicted to consuming fashion.
The psychology of our relationship with fast fashion
Why do we need so much of what fast fashion produces when it has us in its grip? While it’s very tempting to point the finger at the big, bad brands, that alone won’t solve the problem. To achieve this, we must start with ourselves, the consumers. To some extent, we all want to show who we are through our clothes.
The consumption of fashion, as a product that we constantly exhibit, is inextricably linked to our desire to create individuality and convey a sense of self. Therefore, fashion as a form of self-expression is associated with a fundamental part of the human psyche. Fashion is about our desire to create individuality and convey a sense of self.
Although the freedom to express one’s individuality has a positive connotation, it is not always as free as it seems. After all, it’s the fashion we follow. New trends emerge and we change to respond to them. as a set of new social norms that guide our personal expression within a certain framework.
While the trends are numerous and sometimes excessive or exuberant, they also provide a kind of social safety net that allows us to recognize ourselves as part of a larger group. And there is nothing wrong with that in itself, it suits our human nature very well. But there’s a problem that almost all of us ignore: Who or what exactly are we trying to conform to, who sets the rules, who dictates the fashion?
In a sense, the answer again lies within ourselves, or rather in our aspirations set against the socio-economic structures in which we live. As early as 1957, it was observed that it is the elite of society who initiate fashion, after which the masses copy it to bridge outward differences in class, wealth and status.
In other words: We tend to copy the people we consider more important than ourselves, and our clothes are the perfect medium for this. Then, of course, when the trend becomes too widespread, it is abandoned in favor of something new that we don’t have yet. This may seem obvious, but it is important to remember that we are all part of this process together, even if some are more aware of it than others.
Why we fight the fast fashion habit?
It’s not 1957 anymore, but we happen to think about fashion in the same way. Only these days we have thousands of other factors motivating our desires. Everything from online advertising, social media, influencer marketing, celebrity culture, product placement. It’s all around us, and it’s designed to make us crave more. Of course, as consumers, we create the demand. So we can say that fast fashion is a natural phenomenon, the industry’s answer to our irrepressible desire for instant novelty. But fast fashion doesn’t just follow demand, it creates it.
The traditional four-season pattern has become 52 micro-seasons. Zara alone releases more than 20 collections a year, and online retailers like Missguided boast more than 1,000 new items a month. Fast Fashion doesn’t just follow demand, it creates it.
The more they produce, the more we buy. We’re stuck in a loop we’ll never be able to keep up with. Their job is to make things happen so that we feel a constant need for more. And at these prices, you’ll probably take two, for posterity.
On a more sinister level, fast-fashion brands are playing on the younger generation in particular, by making them feel like they can’t refuse to buy if they really want to fit in. There is no doubt that some uncertainty about their image helps them sell us more. And needless to say, the social media circus, especially Instagram, makes it all too easy for brands to maintain their presence in our lives by having us in their pocket. So you can see where our environmental problem begins.
Fast fashion maintains a vicious circle with the consumer, by selling us the objects of our desire and constantly changing these objects on a whim. There’s always the next purchase. Moreover, given that profits in this sector are estimated at 3 trillion per year and are expected to continue growing by around 60% until 2030, there is no financial incentive to reduce the size of this sector.
Our obvious hypocrisy
To get out of this system, we all have to get out of this cycle and look at the big picture. We’ve all done it at one time or another. Since we needed a new t-shirt for the holidays, we went to the nearest fast fashion store, and bingo, we found exactly what we had in mind. It was fast, cheap, and not so miserable.
Only the most saintly (and wealthy) have never had such an experience, and most probably will again, even after reading all the articles about the disastrous effects of fast fashion (not the first time). Even consumers with the strongest ethical convictions often fail to put them into practice.
The last decade has seen a significant increase in discussions about ethical consumption and a real shift towards sustainable practices in many areas. But even consumers with the strongest ethical convictions often fail to put them into practice. Unfortunately, in today’s society we often think, rightly or wrongly, that an anti-consumer stance is culturally or politically unworkable, and thus fail to properly define our own ethical parameters.
Even when we look for truly ethical clothing, our increased desire to be fashionable further increases the amount of waste and we throw away items that we deem out of fashion after limited use.
Down with fast fashion – what needs to change
If we made Fast Fashion what it is today, we can help change it in the future. Ultimately, the root of the problem lies within ourselves and our mindset. It turns out that our relationship with fashion is not healthy for us or for the planet.
We the consumers
Fashion has always been something we follow, as if at the mercy of an aesthetic movement. The phrase sacrifice of fashion sums up the situation well, suggesting that control has somehow been transferred to a higher power. If our clothes are an integral part of our self-expression, shouldn’t that image be determined by our own aesthetic perceptions, and not just by those of an industry whose main interest is to keep us buying? Because a culture of imitation and copying often leaves less room for originality.
Control over your own image is something we are not often taught. The more sinister practice of fast fashion is also not easily recognized. The more we learn to express ourselves freely, the less we feel the need to follow something, be it a company or a new trend, in order to belong.
A cultural shift in the way we see ourselves is an important part of changing the way we buy clothes. We can wait until brands force us to be more environmentally conscious and respectful, but that may not happen right away. Therefore, as with any environmental problem, we must control what we can – ourselves.
To align our thinking with the interests of the environment, we need to think differently. On the one hand, it is a psychological challenge to define one’s own style in accordance with one’s identity, and to ensure that this basis overpowers the schizophrenic influences of the fashion world. This makes it possible to resist constantly changing trends. With this stable base, we may be able to slow down and make conscious choices for our image and the environment.
These principles are not intended to undermine fashion as a form of creativity and inspiration – it will rightly always have its place. Nor are they intended to discourage self-promotion. Slow Fashion is designed to give the consumer insight into the production process from raw material to finished garment.
On the other hand, a slow culture approach to fashion that breaks with established practices and challenges the social and economic model that underpins the whole sector should encourage innovation and original ideas. The term Slow Fashion was coined to describe a sustainable approach to the production and consumption of clothing, focusing on the value and knowledge of the items purchased. It is about giving the consumer insight into the production process, from raw material to finished garment, with the aim of creating a value system that goes beyond immediate gratification.
When most people see racks full of incredibly cheap clothing, they don’t realize the environmental problem. This doesn’t mean we can never buy new things again, but it does encourage us to stop and think. When most people see racks full of incredibly cheap clothing, they don’t realize the environmental problem. The truth is, we’re almost completely disconnected from the process of making these clothes.
There is still a big gap in the perception of people in textile production. The fact that a product is made from natural materials does not mean it is environmentally friendly. It takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt. However, research shows that when people are given new and understandable information about the impact of their actions on the environment, they tend to change their behaviour.
Education is therefore essential to bring about real systemic change starting at the consumer level. Stop and think before you make your next purchase: Where does it come from and do I really need it?
Pragmatically, we shouldn’t just demonize fast fashion. This alone is weak support for real people trying to be more conscious. We need to support the brands and organisations that are working to change the sector so that consumers can always choose ethical clothing. By developing a sustainable part of the fashion industry, we send a powerful message to those who encourage fast consumerism and a throwaway culture.
We encourage people to reflect on their own attitudes to fashion, to question the norms of our culture, and to try to support ethical practices in any way they can. Stop and think before you make your next purchase: Where does it come from and do I really need it?
Every time you spend money, you vote for the world you want. – Anna Lappe Author Bio: Jack Hesketh is a researcher, author and co-founder of ethical-clothing.com. He writes on environmental issues related to the fashion and textile industries. Having made the transition from academia to the writing world, my goal has always been to write accurate articles that help people understand complex environmental issues so they can make more informed decisions.
This week, a disturbing new report exposes the staggering scale of the fashion industry’s reliance on cheap, fast fashion. Even before this, shoppers were warned to beware of cheap clothing and fast fashion companies who exploited poor working conditions and child labor.. Read more about why do i keep buying clothes and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I stop contributing to fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the problem that we’ve all been hearing about for years. The subculture of buying mass produced, disposable fashion is destroying our planet; all the time and resources we spend on buying cheap, throwaway clothes are being thrown into landfills, and they’re not being recycled. And now, you can help stop this cycle by taking a stand against fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to refer to the dizzying pace at which the global fashion industry creates, produces, and sells new garments within a very short period of time. Fast fashion is fundamentally different from other types of fashion, such as high-fashion or mainstream fashion. Fast fashion, while being popular and accessible, is not necessarily of higher quality or better design than higher-end fashion.
How can UK fast fashion be prevented?
I was recently reading the Femail blog, a brilliant online newsletter for the fashion industry, and it includes an editorial article by a trainer who claims that our obsession with fashion magazines and fast fashion is the main cause for the obesity epidemic. She says that we need to start thinking of ourselves as consumers and start buying less, and start making more of what we already have. She also makes the bold claim that most of us would look like slobs if we had to wear the clothing we already own. It is estimated that over 7 billion fast fashion pieces are sold every year with an extra 4 billion garments being produced every year.
With the average UK household holding approximately 50 fast fashion items, this means that we are collectively spending over £12.5 billion every year on these garments. It is estimated that over 60% of that money is going to the retailers, leaving consumers paying full price for these garments which are then sold in high street stores as low as £5 for a t-shirt. The problem is that in order to remain competitive, UK retailers have to sell their products at the lowest possible price, which is having a huge impact on the way that ethical fashion is made.
Why we should stop buying fast fashion?
There’s an entire industry dedicated to manufacturing clothes to be worn as often as possible. The result? Clothing that is inherently more harmful than helpful. Brands that purchase fabric by the truckload so they can produce clothing at a low cost are forcing their customers to waste time, energy, and resources. The fast fashion industry, as it’s known, sells clothing at a low price but at a high price in terms of toxic waste, pollution, and the health of the environment.
For years, we’ve been told that buying fast fashion clothes was the quickest way to look good on a budget. But is it true? It depends. For those with a limited budget, fast fashion can make sense. But for those with unlimited budgets, fast fashion may be the most expensive way to look good.
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