‘I Have Nothing to Wear’: The Dangers of Fast Fashion

Rose Boardman

It is hard to argue against the concept that today's society largely revolves around consumerism. We live in a fast paced, throw away, society and the fashion industry is no exception. “I have nothing to wear” is a term we use far too much. We buy clothes we never wear and throw them out a month later to make room for more. We’ve heard about the dangers of plastic straws, microbeads, and disposable coffee cups, but many of us are wholly unaware of the impact that our fashion choices are having on the environment.

Clothing brands entice consumers with adverts, window displays, social media, and low prices. Photo: Pixabay

Clothing brands entice consumers with adverts, window displays, social media, and low prices. Photo: Pixabay

‘Fast fashion’ is used to describe new, cheap, trendy clothing that very quickly comes in and out of style. Manufacturers are producing more textiles than ever before to meet consumer demands and many fast fashion retailers release up to 18 new collections a year. With high street brand's constant output of clothing at low prices, it's very easy for us to fall into the trap of buying clothes regardless of whether we really need them. Unfortunately, buying cheap comes at a high cost for the environment...

Take a look at the labels inside your clothes, and you’ll quickly realise that the majority of them will contain some kind of plastic. Typical materials include elastane, polyester, nylon, acrylic, polyamide, viscose, spandex, and PVC. Washing just one item of synthetic clothing releases up to 7,000 individual microfibers, which travel with wastewater from our houses to treatment plants. Around 70-99% of microfibres can be trapped in sewage sludge, but unfortunately many microfibers slip through, and have been reported at levels above 1770 particles per hour in discharged water. With over a third of microplastics in the ocean coming from our laundry, the scale of this problem is huge.

What changes can you make to help?

There has already been a massive movement towards ethical fashion, with Fashion Revolution Week highlighting the array of issues caused by our unfaltering desire for new clothes. Some individuals are pledging to not buy any new clothes and Olivia Wilde has launched a clothing line made entirely of used clothes. Buying second hand no longer has a stigma attached to it, and as sustainable fashion becomes trendy, the choices available have expanded considerably.  

Many of the problems will require industry-wide solutions such as improving the quality of garments so they last longer, and altering fabrics to reduce shedding, improving technology in washing machines and waste-water treatment facilities to better capture microfibres as well as enhancing clothing recyclability.

Some fast fashion brands may bring out as many as 52 “micro-seasons” per year. Photo: Pixabay

Some fast fashion brands may bring out as many as 52 “micro-seasons” per year. Photo: Pixabay

But there are a few steps you can take to help tackle the problem - today.

  1. Change your laundry routine: Wash less, and wash cool (30°C or less), as heat breaks down fibers quicker, releasing more microfibres (plus washing cold saves energy). Wash all your synthetic clothing in a GuppyFriend washing bag, which captures microfibres, preventing them from reaching the oceans (See our product review here). Or try out a CoraBall.

  2. The 3 R’s: Repair, Rejuvenate and Repurpose. Small rips, holes and missing buttons can easily be fixed at home, so get yourself a sewing kit! For larger fixes you can visit a local alterations shop (or beg your mum). Get creative and jazz up an old top with some embroidery or sequins, or turn an old t-shirt into a cushion.

  3. Beg, borrow, or rent (but don’t steal): Nothing to wear for that big event? Instead of buying an outfit you’ll probably never wear again, why not borrow from a friend or family member? Not only does this help save the environment, but your bank balance will thank you too! And check out Style Lend where you can rent designer clothes for a fraction of the buying price.

  4. Pick your textiles: If you REALLY have to buy something new, go for plastic free, organic, sustainably produced fabrics that require much less water and pesticides to produce (e.g. organic or GTOS certified cotton, wool, hemp, bamboo). If you can’t avoid synthetic fabrics, look for blends of natural and synthetic fibres, which shed fewer plastic fibres.

  5. Buy pre-loved items: Buy from charity shops, thrift shops or vintage stores. Check out kilo sales where you can pay by weight and bag a bargain, and clothing exchanges where you can refresh your wardrobe without adding to it. Why not have a clear out with your friends and do a clothing swap? That shirt you’ve had your eye on for a while might just be the one your friend hates... And check out ThredUp, the largest online thrift store.

  1. If you’ve watched one too many episodes of Marie Kondo, and want to get rid of old clothes: DO NOT PUT THEM IN THE BIN!! Give them to a friend, or donate them to a charity. If they can’t be worn, put them in a clothing recycling bin (which you can find in your local area or waste facility). There has also been a rise in return schemes in some high street stores (e.g. John Lewis, M&S, H&M, Levi, & Zara), where you’ll receive gift cards as a thank you for donating your old clothes. Win win!

Vintage stores are great places to find unique clothes, without contributing to fast fashion. Photo: Pixabay

Vintage stores are great places to find unique clothes, without contributing to fast fashion. Photo: Pixabay

Do some research your favourite shops. Do they mention their production processes, factories, materials, packaging? Do they produce high quality garments, and encourage you to care for them so they will last a long time? Do they support marine conservation organisations or organise beach cleans? If you don’t fancy doing all that work, the app ‘Good On You’ rates brands based on their human, animal and environmental cost, making it easy for you to support sustainable brands.

Put pressure on the industry by contacting retailers and demanding better, or speaking out about their practises on social media. As consumers, we have the power to drive change. By supporting sustainable brands you’re sending a message to others that they should follow suit.

A quick google search can find you numerous eco-friendly, sustainable clothing brands, who promote ‘slow fashion’, but here’s a few of our favourites

Sustainable materials

Recycled gym clothes*

Recycled swimwear*

So maybe when you next pick up that top, identical to the five others in your wardrobe in slightly varying shades... stop and think “Do I really need this?”.

*Note: Recycled plastic fabrics will still release microfibres when washed. To prevent this, follow Step 1.

If you want to learn more about the impacts of fast fashion, we highly recommend you watch Stacey Dooley’s “Fashion’s Dirty Secrets” (BBC iPlayer)  and “The True Cost” (Available on Netflix). Or why not enrol in this free online course to find out how the fashion industry impacts both people and planet.

To buy a Guppy Friend washing bag click here

This month, The Marine Diaries will be sharing our knowledge on plastic pollution to help educate the public about the impact of our actions on marine life, in the hope of promoting change. Together we can fight plastic.

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