The Rise of Fast Fashion
By Meena Mrakade
September 19, 2018 | Arts and Culture
In today’s fashion world, a $1.2 trillion industry, trends come and go quicker than they ever have. From cycling shorts to fanny packs, micro handbags and dad sneakers, people are getting bored of their clothes mere weeks after purchasing them. The exposure given to high-end brands through social media is partly to blame, and since normal people are not able to have a wardrobe full of designer items, we turn to cheaper retailers such as H&M, Zara, Forever 21, and many more to fulfill our fashion fantasies. To keep this cycle running, companies like these need to get their clothing from design, through production, to sales and into our closets at an unimaginable speed while continuously trying to lower their costs. For this to happen, retailers tend to do what is commonly known as “cutting corners”. It is widely known that fast fashion is harmful to the environment, but people are usually surprised to hear that their $30 sweater is causing a humanitarian crisis.
When modern fashion started in the 19th century, people were attracted to the artistry and skill that went behind the making of a garment. This concept is still present in the world of couture, or what is referred to as slow fashion. Clothes are designed and then handmade by talented seamsters and seamstresses who spend hours upon hours on one piece, which causes them to be sold at incredibly high prices, thus making them unattainable by the average consumer. In the world of fast fashion, garments are mass produced in sweatshops where underpaid workers put their lives at risk and the fabrics being used are constantly getting cheaper. Every year, 12.8 tonnes of clothes are sent to landfills in the U.S. Some people argue that fashion brands are no longer marketing the beauty and art of fashion, but simply triggering a desire to buy cheap and trendy clothes in the consumer.
But, you quit giving into fast fashion, and now what? It isn't easy to just stop shopping at these huge fashion retailers. Reforms such as Fashion Switch, which was introduced during London Fashion Week in 2017, encourage brands to switch to a green energy supplier for their retail stores and offices by 2020 to reduce their footprint. This year, London Fashion Week has announced that they are going completely fur-free for the first time. However, the human cost of fashion today remains too high. Wages are still incredibly low, and incidents like the collapse of industrial building Rana Plaza in 2013, causing more than a 1000 deaths of Bangladeshi garment workers, are still being ignored.
It is useless to beat others and yourself up for wearing clothes that they bought from fast fashion retailers, we are all part of the problem. Finding ethical and sustainable retailers that you enjoy is a perfect start. Everlane, Patagonia, Reformation, and Wear Pact are some of them, but the list is so long that finding one that perfectly fits your style and budget will not be difficult. What is also suggested is getting to know small local brands that are sustainable both in terms of the fabrics they use and in production. Some Montreal-based brands include Eliza Faulkner, Ovate, Amanda Moss and Ursa Minor. Shopping at retailers such as these not only ensures that your clothes are produced in small and ethically-aware workshops, but also helps to support talented young designers from your own city.
However, when garments are not mass-produced in a sweatshop, they tend to be slightly more expensive. With the rise of fast fashion, consumers expect their clothes to cost virtually nothing. If we do not think twice about spending $5 on a Starbucks beverage that will be gone in a matter of minutes, then we should understand that our ethical clothing that takes hours to produce will be a bit of an investment.
Quitting fast fashion is all about adopting the “buy less, choose better” philosophy. Secondhand shopping at bigger thrift stores such as Value Village or the Salvation Army is your best friend if you enjoy shopping dirt cheap and guilt-free. But if you are looking to shop secondhand at a slightly higher price (but still affordable), Montreal boasts unique thrift stores such as Eva B, KiloFripe, Annex Vintage, Citizens Vintage and Empire Exchange that will make all your vintage dreams come true.
The explosive rise of fast fashion during the past 50 years not only represents the slow decline of fashion as an art form, but was also the birth of massive crisis. It is destroying the environment and killing young workers, and it is up to us to be more aware and put the well-being of our planet above cheap clothing. Once we as consumers change the way we shop, retailers will have no choice but to alter the way in which they function to be more conscious of their impact on the world.