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Fast Fashion: what the problem is and is it time to slow down?

Fast Fashion:
A process in which catwalk designs are optimised for the supply chain and manufactured as quickly and cheaply as possible
Macmillan Dictionary

There are some things in the world of being an eco nerd that are easy to give up. Plastic toothbrushes (who cares), straws (self congratulatory smirk as you decline one) and plastic bags (linen totes are cuter anyway).

But there are also things that are slightly harder to surrender. Mostly because there is no real alternative, and the consequence of not having them threatens to actually impact your lifestyle in a significant way.
I’m talking regular phone upgrades, international holidays and taking Uber’s when you should really just get the tube (yes, even when you’re hungover and it’s raining).

But most of all, I’m talking fast fashion.

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Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now abundantly available we are beginning to see the things we wear as disposable

The True Cost
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Fast fashion is something we all have some peripheral awareness of as being ‘bad’. We all know deep down that being able to walk into H&M and buy a t shirt for under a tenner can’t possibly cover the use of environmentally friendly materials, fair pay for workers and sustainable transport across the world. And yet a quick glance at my ASOS order history would show that that doesn’t stop me ordering shit I don’t need on a regular basis.

It’s easy to ignore, but fast fashion has serious consequences. Not only are workers underpaid and often forced to work in unsafe conditions (the 2013 building collapse in Bangladesh where over 1000 people were killed whilst working in terrible conditions for several well known fashion brands being one tragic example), but materials are often sourced unsustainably, using harmful pesticides and ripping off local producers. Dyes used have also been found to be carcinogenic, and have been linked to asthma and lung conditions in workers.

Essentially, the true cost of fashion isn’t borne by us as the consumer, nor is it borne by the companies making huge profits off of our shopping habits. The true cost is borne by the people and communities that are being exploited to produce at an unsustainable rate. Here at E.C.O. we believe that there is a social element to sustainability, and on this count fast fashion definitely fails.

It’s costing our planet too.

At the same rate we consume fast fashion we are throwing it away. Clothes are a significant contributor to waste. Rather than being sent to landfill locally many clothes are sent to other countries, where poorer communities are forced to deal with them without the resources to manage the huge volumes of garments being dumped. 

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Most clothes now also contain plastics, from buttons to zips to soles of shoes which don’t degrade over time. Many new fabrics also release micro plastics in the wash, which in turn get into waterways and are nearly impossible to remove. Other chemicals used in the manufacturing process are also released when clothes breakdown, causing harm to the local environment and eventually running to the sea.

The reality of fast fashion is terrifying, but it’s also easy to avoid. Here are a few of our top eco tips for slowing down your fast fashion habit (while still looking good for the ‘gram):

– Educate: fast fashion is a recurring theme in the news frequently so swat up, watch documentaries like The True Cost and hear the stories of those caught up in the industry. 
– Reduce: re-wear outfits, or up-cycle something you don’t wear anymore. Keeping a piece of clothing for an extra 9 months can reduce carbon, waste and water usage by 20-30%
– Swap: trade with your family and friends.
Reuse: buy vintage or from charity shops.
– Shop slow: buy new from local sustainable brands. The prices may be slightly higher but you can buy knowing that you are paying a fair price for your clothes to be made ethically. Birdsong is one of our fave London brands for fun pieces that are eco friendly and ethically made. Even ASOS now have a Responsible Edit. Check out their recycled swimsuits and underwear which we have tried and tested! So there is no excuse not to make more sustainable choices and make efforts to change outcomes.

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