Sustainability in Fashion: Can Slow Ever Overtake Fast?

We’ve all read the statistics by now; how fast fashion creates billions of tonnes of waste annually, and how shoppers are buying 60% more clothing than they did 20 years ago. The information on the damages the fashion industry is causing is endless. The long and short of it shows our shopping habits have become increasingly more damaging, and the planet simply cannot cope much longer.  

Despite these startling statistics, fast fashion is continuing to thrive. Boohoo, one of the leading culprits, recorded record profits last year, with other fast fashion brands alike not seeing any sign of decline. This all begs the question – as a sustainable fashion campaigner – will fast fashion ever slow down, as it is so needed? Will the slow fashion movement – the act of lessening consumption, buying second-hand and ultimately being a whole lot more considerate of the clothes we have in our wardrobes; will this ever take hold, overtake and leave fast fashion for dust? The answer, one we can only hope is a yes, but it doesn’t seem as simple as this.

Firstly, let’s consider the facts. Slow fashion, second-hand fashion, thrifting – whatever phrase you’re accustom to – this movement is growing and on meteoric scale too. Second-hand selling apps such as Vestiaire Collective, the pre-loved designer fashion website, has recorded a 101% rise year-on-year in sales. The same can be said for Depop and Vinted, these websites have never been so popular. Granted, the pandemic has meant more time at home thus more time for a clear out. But despite this, the evidence is clear, slow fashion is beginning to take hold. So, this begs the question, why is fast fashion still thriving?

Personally, I feel there are a number of deciding factors, some being lack of education, lack of sanctions by governments, and for some the convenience of being able to buy a £10 dress that’ll arrive next day outweigh any consequence to the planet.

Garment factory workers in Indonesia. Image © Rio Lecatompessy

In terms of education, it cannot be helped for the vast majority of the population, as the information is just not out there unless researched heavily.  If a person buys a £5 tee, it isn’t promoted alongside this that the garment worker was paid 2p an hour to produce it, it isn’t promoted that the polyester material releases microplastics which ultimately end up in our oceans and destroy our marine life – this information isn’t out there for people to read, I know this off the top of my head as I am deeply passionate and continuously read articles surrounding sustainability; without this, I too would have no idea the damage a simple £5 tee is causing.
But, as Government sanctions are still not strict enough, fast fashion brands will continue to pay their garment workers so little for maximum profit, they’ll continue to damage the planet with their polluting materials and they’ll ultimately continue to add to the ever-growing climate crisis. 

Looping back around to the debate in hand, will slow fashion ever overtake fast fashion? Of course, it most definitely needs to, but whether it will, quickly enough, is a whole other question. Personally, I feel slow fashion has gained so much momentum over the last few years that I can only hope this only continues to grow. Just by looking on Instagram, the number of times #secondhandfashion and hashtags alike have grown in use, as well as second-hand selling apps, as mentioned earlier, in the latter half of the 2010’s, is cause for optimism.   

Ultimately, fast fashion needs to become slow fashion, brands need to majorly slow down production, pay garment workers a living wage, and overhaul the materials used. Lessen the amount of new clothes available and the prompt needs to sway towards second-hand buying. The passion is there for a majority, but not the entire population. I can only hope in 20 years from now the statistics will see a decline in how much we shop, even less than in 2000. The planet cannot handle the practices and strains of modern fashion. Things need to change, fast. 

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