words | Olivia Hansen

We live in a world where being able to access cheap clothing is easier than ever before. The concept of ‘Fast Fashion’, enables the buyer to be able to purchase inexpensive garments that have been produced rapidly, while imitating the latest high-end trends. This is a relatively new concept, that was coined in the 90’s. Fast forward to 2019, is fast fashion getting out of hand? 

A Brief History of Fast-Fashion:

Fashion has always been produced and sold as seasonal collections. High-End fashion retailers have kept this principle, and a collection will come out only 4 times a year. The quality and craft-man ship of the fabric and product means that you are buying into impeccable, luxurious pieces that will last for life. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s and early 2000s that low cost fashion came into full swing. Companies like Zara, Topshop and H&M could produce top fashion house knock-off pieces, making them quickly and selling them cheaply. Now in 2019 we use fashion the same way we use fast food chains. Consuming them and then swiftly chucking. Fast Fashion now uses the designs produced by the seasonal high-end designers, with some retailers turning around 2-3 collections every week. We are looking at a yearly turnaround of 52 plus collections, which is completely unnecessary. 

To understand the scale of the Fashion Industry let’s look at it in numbers:

150 Billion – The number of new garments produced every year

1.3 Trillion – Dollars that the Fashion Industry is meant to be worth.

300,000 Tonnes – Of clothing that gets dumped in landfill each year, in the UK. That is the weight of a small family car every two minutes!

3 in 5 – The number of garments that end up in landfill or incinerators within a year.

2nd Place – Yes, the fashion industry is the 2nd biggest polluter in the world, with oil in the top spot.

The first real look I got into the profound volume of this ‘throw away’ culture, was when I was travelling around Vietnam in October of last year. While I was visiting the main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, I wanted to see the markets that were so highly recommended. Leading up to the markets there was rubbish and outcasts of clothing littered all around the street, creating a stench as it sat clogged through the drains. Once inside the indoor market, the scale of ‘stuff’ was overwhelming. Instead of walls, there are mountains of thousands of folded T-Shirts, bags, shoes, scarves, shirts, trousers, shorts, dresses … it was endless. A claustrophobic and disorientating nightmare of cheap wasteful garments everywhere. I couldn’t help but stop and think, what was this doing to the environment? How would all these hundreds and thousands of garments be shifted? And if they were not, where would it all go? Unfortunately, the sad truth is, I could guess where it would go, maybe in the street, drains, rivers, landfill. This re-appearing theme of cheap, easily and accessible ‘tourist merch’ was not limited to just Vietnam. This was apparent everywhere I visited from Thailand, Bali, and all the way to Costa Rica.

Once I returned to Jersey, the enormity of what fast fashion was, didn’t fade away. Although we do not shop in huge warehouse markets like in Vietnam, the principle is still the same. Cheap clothing, at cheap prices. I was much more aware when walking down the high-street that buyers are constantly drawn into stores through clever advertisement that persuades you with constant sales. And a belief that we can escape our worries through retail therapy. 

Reaching out to the Retailers and seeing what they have to say:

I wanted to know what local retailers were saying regarding how they approached sustainability in their purchasing and selling of garments in Jersey. Even though we are just a small Island, we are still contributing towards the statistics for fast fashion pollution.

Jersey is extremely lucky with the variety of small boutiques to large department stores on the Island. I reached out to two boutiques to see what they had to say about sustainability. The first boutique was ‘Pebble’, inspired by independent lifestyle and owned by Clare, on Market Street. The second boutique was “Eclectic”, the shopping destination for something a little bit different with a focus on detail and quality owned by Nicole, at Liberty Wharf.

As a small boutique, what sets you out against the big fast fashion companies?

Clare: ‘I don’t worry at all about big corporations churning out mass produced clothes because my ethos is completely different and my customers know that.’

Nicole: ‘We offer something different, with our main ethos being good quality garments at a low volume; providing people with pieces which they adore and will wear in years to come. This is a great contrast to big corporations who are focussed largely on volume production.’

How do you try and be sustainable in your buying for the boutique, in a climate where it is so easy to participate in the Fast Fashion industry? 

Clare: ‘In terms of sustainability some of my brands are part of BCI https://bettercotton.org. I am all about independent labels, up and coming new brands but at mid-range prices, so still affordable. The brands we stock are unique with pieces that you can’t find in the large High Street chains, with a definite better quality.

Nicole: ‘It has become a huge awareness of ours throughout the journey of Eclectic to be conscious of the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Some of our most popular brands are brilliantly sustainable and made in the UK and we have recently taken on Imogen Apparel, a stunning local lingerie label, designed and made in Jersey.’ 

These thoughtful business women are mindful in their buying and supplying of ethically and locally sourced brands. This is enabling the shopper to see the lineage of the garment they are purchasing while also enjoying the quality. Nicole believes that people are becoming more ethically conscious. She says to me, ‘It is great to see this shift in sustainable thinking, which will likely shape the fashion industry even further in the future.’ It is with local companies like Pebble and Eclectic, that we can make better choices and start to change the way we wear and consume clothes. This is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, I was unable to receive any comment from the large department stores on the Island when I reached out and tried to speak to them.

It isn’t all doom and gloom: What can you do?

I realise the main problem is, that we, the consumers have not had a conscious connection between the clothing that we buy, and the environmental footprint it carries. But, this is where we need to take a step back and start to make the changes that will lead us in the right direction. Although, first we must be realistic with ourselves. For example, I’m not going to stop shopping completely as that is unrealistic, but I will dramatically change my habits. We as the consumers play an enormous role in the fashion game. We need to make sure that we are consciously buying from brands that aren’t taking advantage of cheap labour and are not carelessly polluting the environment. Try not to be influenced by the social media stars that are promoting huge ‘hauls’ of clothing that she or he is getting payed to do.

So, what can you do? Instead of going out every week and buying multiple items, change it to only once a week, and then only once a month, and so on. Spend more on clothing. Make sure that you are buying pieces that are going to last. Shop at charity shops, use a renting retailer or start using apps like ‘Depop’, where you can sell and buy your clothing and accessories. Start being mindful. If everyone could change their habits, even slightly it would send a message to the big corporations that they need to actively shift and adjust with the times. 

Even the small steps can make huge differences. So, I will leave you with these questions. Are the cheap garments that we buy worth whole communities losing their health to? Are they worth losing their ability to have access to fresh water? Are they worth polluting the environment for?