Throwaway culture is embedded within our society: we buy too fast, we buy too much, and too often we wear things a few times before throwing them out. Mainstream media clutches victims within its claws, making them feel guilty about not buying the latest, trendiest items on offer. Plus, consumers tend to buy clothes for special occasions – and then later, they’ll most likely end up rotting away at the back of the closet, forgotten and unloved. Every single year in October and November, I see some girls browsing online for ages, looking for a brand-new, often ridiculously expensive dress to wear for the Christmas dance. And do they ever wear that dress again? Probably not. Or, at least, they’re not seen wearing that dress again either at next year’s dance or online on social media (because heaven forbid someone sees them in that same dress again!). This toxic idea of always having to refresh your wardrobe at the turn of every new season leads to unnecessary anxiety and self-dissatisfaction, and it’s these insecurities that big brands feed into in order to trick consumers into buying their new items.
The toxicity of fast fashion goes far beyond individual consumers. A staggering 80 billion items of clothing are produced every year, and most of these items live a relatively short life before going to landfill. A recent report from UK charity The Ellen MacArthur Foundation projected that, by 2050, the fashion industry will use over 25% of the global annual carbon budget if current trends persist. And, according to fashion industry leadership forum Global Fashion Agenda, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production are higher than all international flights and maritime shipping. With these shocking statistics, it’s difficult for anyone to justify designing or purchasing new items. So, what can big brands and consumers do to create and shop more ethically and sustainably?
Charity and thrift shops are a good way to go. I volunteer at a local charity shop for 3 hours most Saturdays, and at first, I was amazed by how much brand-new, high-quality, hardly-worn clothing would come in via donations – sometimes with the original labels attached! A few weeks prior to writing this, I found an amazing pair of brand-new high heels which perfectly complemented my Christmas dance dress (which, by the way, I'd bought last year and had already worn) – the original store price was £20; I bought it for £5! Furthermore, new studies suggest that the UK’s second-hand market will dramatically increase in upcoming years, and that it could overtake the fast fashion market by 2029. Many respondents in these studies reported that if celebrities or their families and friends shopped at second-hand stores, then they too would do so. There are also online thrift stores where users can shop from a wider variety of products, sell items, and clothes-swap as well. By giving new life to pre-loved clothes, consumers can still enjoy shopping curated lines within their preferred style, without the negative environmental impact. Plus, in the case of charity shops, all proceeds go towards good causes.
Or, perhaps the best way to shop responsibly is to not shop at all. After all, we wear only 20% of our closet 80% of the time. Why? Because we’re lazy creatures who, out of habit, wear the same combinations all the time. Also, because we can’t be bothered to rummage around for clothes, we tend to wear clothes at the front of our wardrobe and tell our brains that those clothes are the only ones we have. So, next time you feel like buying new clothes, give your wardrobe a major reshuffling – you might be surprised at what forgotten beauties you find!
In addition, nowadays there isn’t as much incentive to repair our clothes due to our hectic lifestyles, and I believe there's been a societal loss of sewing and mending skills. It would be so great if governments set aside more money so that Home Economics can be taught in more schools. Because, when our pockets are left fuller and our planet isn’t as negatively affected and our mental health is improved (yes, crafting is known to be beneficial for mental health and those tackling anxiety), surely that’s money worth investing.
Speaking of the Government, they need to take action too. For starters, the Government should reduce Value Added Tax (VAT) on repair services. By making repair services more accessible, the rate of clothes disposal would decrease. Sweden’s done this – VAT rates on repairs on clothes, shoes, and even bicycles have been reduced from 25% to 12% – and it works. The Government should also ban incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled. Burberry’s 2017/2018 Annual Report stated that the cost of finished goods physically destroyed in the year was £28.6 million – that’s pure lunacy! Especially with the environmental crisis that we face. Government action must be taken.
There are plenty of ways to reduce our input in the world of fast fashion. So, here’s a challenge – can you go a full year without buying any “new” clothes? Instead of falling into the commercial traps and buying unnecessary clothes every season, wear that cool t-shirt you already have. Experiment with new combos. Fix that jumper that’s had that hole in it for ages. Or, if you must get something, buy from a thrift store. Or ask to borrow that pair of jeans you were dying to get from your friend instead. We need to normalise sustainable gestures in our everyday lives. In the UK, we buy more clothes than any other European country; therefore, we're responsible for an environmental impact greater than any other European country – which obviously doesn’t just affect the UK alone. But, if people bought even just 10% less clothing, this industry's carbon footprint would also go down by 10%. There are so many solutions to this issue, and even small changes can make a big difference.