In the craze to keep up with the latest trends and with the ease that fast-fashion brings, we can lose sight of the pleasure of going slow and adopting a less is more, sustainable approach to our wardrobes.
The dilemma with fast-fashion
Fast-fashion is inexpensive clothing produced by mass-market retailers in response to catwalk and celebrity trends. It is the business of turning around clothing seen in the media on day 1 into an imitation that is available to buy on day 3. ASOS is a prime example; by its very name: ‘as seen on screen’.
However, the environmental and social impact of fast-fashion is substantial.
Firstly, we have an abundance of clothing made in synthetic fabrics – that polyester top or viscose dress hanging casually in our wardrobes – and the consequent problem of synthetic fibres making up 35% of microplastics in our oceans. It is not to say that synthetic fabrics do not have a purpose in fashion; lycra mixed with wool (a natural material) produces a desirable pair of leggings. The impact of fast-fashion however is the sheer scale of synthetic clothing flooding the market; it is not made to last and with low price points, it quickly goes from fast to disposable fashion. One or two wears and there are no qualms in disposing of the top or dress to landfill. Yes, it can be donated but how soon before it disintegrates?
Then we have the emissions that pollute the air from the manufacturing process. On top of that, the unsustainable amounts of water and pesticides used to produce cotton; a natural fibre popular in Pakistan due to the heat but one with a significant environmental footprint. Lawn season is with us and with it a flood of cotton on the market and the wear once, do not repeat culture. Fashion thus proving to be so wasteful; not what the pioneers had in mind.
The social problem is the ‘sweatshops’ or ‘dark factories’ found in both developing and developed nations. The seamstresses working 60 hours a week but being paid for 20 in stifling conditions; all in the pursuit of turning clothing around quickly enough to satiate demand from retailers, such as Boohoo, that are selling dresses at bafflingly low prices to us, the needy consumers. Thus, we become complicit in a vicious cycle.
Handling it like a true fashionista
So, what do we do about it?
The secret is to go slow in our consumerism and adopt a less is more approach.
The feeling of opening your wardrobe and picking out a staple piece might be better than throwing on a one-time wonder. Think about a beautifully tailored shirt, that cost more than the price of a tall cappuccino, and did not ruthlessly compromise on someone’s welfare or the environment. It might be a timeless or eccentric piece but importantly, it is a part of your identity.
There is a pleasure to re-wearing a piece that has travelled with you through time and space; that brings back a memory of what you were doing the last time you wore it six months ago. Then there is the familiarity of wearing a jacket that has lasted you years and still fits like new or a dress that has been passed on from a friend.
There is a personal style that develops from choosing pieces that are not one of a thousand and mixing them with older pieces to create a look that is unique to you. By all means, buy from Zara, but do not rely on it for all your sartorial needs. Think about the number of wears you will get from it; how much it appeals to you; how it fits in your wardrobe; and, whether it is something you would hang on to. The fewer garments we own, the more precious and meaningful they become because we learn how to make them work. So, do not be afraid of repeating an outfit; it is in fact the sign of a mindful fashionista and a global citizen!
Finally, buy to last. It might mean only making one purchase a month but save for that cashmere sweater and do not concern yourself with quantity over quality.
The convenience of updating our wardrobes with the latest ‘must-have’ pieces can be replaced with a considered look at what we have and what we should purchase to build an enviable wardrobe, that carries us through seasons.
The sustainability agenda that (small) parts of the fashion industry, media and influential figures have been advocating supports this effort to buy less and buy well; not beyond means, but gradually and slowly. The idea is to make purchases last, and in turn, (i) reduce the environmental impact of masses of clothing being produced and discarded; and (ii) counter the unethical labour practices that reproduce runway and celebrity looks overnight. Think about where your clothes come from and how they are made.
Sustainability not only reduces our burden on the planet, it brings with it a satisfaction to getting dressed.