My toxic relationship with fast fashion
Lucky enough to have never been in one, but unlucky enough to have witnessed a fair amount, I can safely say that “on/off relationships” are not the one. You know exactly which ones I’m talking about too – the complicated ones, where the participants of said relationship thrive off the highs, only to be absolutely crushed by the lows. They’re messy and almost never right for any party involved, and yet they continue in this tiresome “will they, won’t they?” cycle. They’re up and down but ultimately what’s needed is a drastic change in order for anything to get an acceptable place.
I’ve never been in a complicated relationship with a man, but I have been, and admittedly currently still am, in a complicated relationship with fast fashion. Like most relationships, it started off fine, with nothing major to flag. The clothes were cheap, decent-enough quality and arrived super quickly. Considering my journey with fast fashion really ramped up once I’d hit university, those were all qualities that really stood out to me. Nothing excited me more than the email from my student accommodation office, letting me know that my little plastic parcel had arrived. I’d practically skip from my lectures to the office, knowing that I’d only spent fifty quid on five different outfits. I was surviving on a mixture of student loan and my part-time job salary, and I wanted something new to wear to every single event (because, impressions!) and all of this ultimately became the basis of my relationship. The foundation was flimsy and the whole thing had cracks in it from the very beginning. Despite this, it was easy to ignore, and the positives seemed to far outweigh any negatives.
Then the inevitable happened, and the red flags fast started to appear. I found myself wanting to wear a dress I’d bought for the second time but realising the quality of the dress didn’t allow for that plan. Rips in the clothing after one wear, fabric bobbles appearing almost instantly – it wasn’t good. I had an entire wardrobe full of little dresses and tops that I could now probably never wear again, and so the economic advantage that I thought I’d gained by buying a £6.99 dress, slowly started to vanish. The adrenaline rush that I used to get from the postman bringing me my rushed orders, was slowly turning into short-lived satisfaction that didn’t survive the practicalities of life.
So, what did I do next? Of course, keeping in the spirit of a #toxicrelationship, I ignored these red flags and went about my day. I kept ordering, kept filling up my landlord’s IKEA chests of drawers and kept praising myself for buying a dress for £8 instead of £38. I was content in my ignorance, and the student discount, payday emails and free delivery offerings were enough for me to continue living like this, oblivious to the darker costs of fast fashion.
Then suddenly, I couldn’t escape it. The ideals of sustainable fashion and the horrors of fast fashion were hard to avoid – there were constant reports of inhumane sweatshops, and workers getting massively underpaid to stitch together the tops and dresses I wore once before forgetting about forever. Oftentimes I’d suddenly remember these forgotten garments and convince myself that I’m doing a good thing by having a clearout, i.e. throwing it all away in the bin. But in reality, this has such a detrimental effect on the planet – it wasn’t just about how they were produced, but about how these garments end up in landfills, drying up and polluting water sources.
It seemed as though the little saving I was making (that likely wasn’t even much of a saving considering my one-wear policy), was all pointless in the grand scheme of things – built on the backs of garment workers that were making only a fraction of what I’d consider a decent wage. All of a sudden, my shopping patterns just stopped making sense – it just wasn’t worth it. I’d finally seen the light in my relationship with fast fashion.
It’d be pointless pretending that everything was smooth sailing from then on; that I had my revelation and became the sustainable fashion standard. It is a toxic relationship after all. Like any on-again/off-again relationship, there’s the back and forth, the umm-ing and ahh-ing about whether my fast-fashion abstinence is worth it. Having been so used to the idea that fast fashion is affordable and convenient, it was hard to start making the switch. Luckily, there are solutions out there to make the break-up period easier. As with any break-up, it’s best to focus on the positives. Working within retail marketing for a company that champions sustainability meant that I could quite easily find out about brands that make clothing a lot more ethically, and the rise of commerce via social media means that there’s a whole host of smaller, more sustainable brands for everyone to explore. I recently discovered a new Australian brand Manning Cartell, which is available on Net-A-Porter and specialises in ethically-made womenswear and accessories. A personal favourite of mine is loungewear brand Pangaia, which uses recycled and organic materials to create all of their loungewear, using innovative technology to recycle materials that range from plastic water bottles to eucalyptus tree leaves; or saving up to buy second-hand luxury goods from the likes of Vestiaire Collective; a site full of “one-time wearers” (like the old me), who support cyclical fashion models by selling their hardly used goods at cheaper prices.
It’s not a perfect journey – I try not to judge myself in the moments I shop fast fashion, and I wouldn’t judge anybody else for giving in. We all have our moments and personal reasons to shop, and it’s more a matter of shopping thoughtfully. As a consumer, taking the time to think and analyse your relationships with clothes will serve you – just like it would with a romantic partner.