Life is fast. We want things faster than ever before, delivered to our door, instantaneous communication, meals to go and the latest fashion trends on our backs as soon as they’re off the catwalk. Advances in technology have allowed us to be more savvy with our time and resources, but at what cost? Fast fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry – an apparel category that targets young consumers with the latest fashion trends with low-price tags – and it’s successful because people don’t think (or care) about the sacrifices made across the other side of the world in poorer countries than their own, simply so they can trendify their wardrobe.
The industry and the major fast fashion players are largely to blame. Their bad practices in production have deflated the prices and as a result, shoppers start to value garments based on their cost over the quality and creation of the item itself. Earlier this year, 42 people were charged with the murders of over 1100 workers in the the 2013 collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh – a country that has the second largest garment export industry in the world. Terrible working conditions, child labour and excess waste from high production, poorly run factories overseas are fuelling the fast fashion industry, but having a devastating impact on local communities, people and the environment. Back home, we’re bolstering the industry by making the choice to purchase our clothes at these fast fashion stores and adding huge amounts of waste to the world by throwing away all the poorly constructed garments we bought last year, last season, or just last week.
The catch here, is that whichever companies are up against the $5 t-shirt from h&m is never going to win the fight on price alone. Companies like Uniqlo, while widely considered to be amongst the fast fashion giants, actually doesn’t identify with that label, preferring to call it’s fashion ‘lifewear’. Uniqlo is certainly not perfect but it does step up a little amongst its competitors. Uniqlo has spent years and likely a lot of money on R&D to produce specialty fabrics used in its garments, that don’t necessarily follow trends. They’re also known for using supima cotton, known for its higher quality and the relationship it has with Californian farmers who produce that variety of cotton. Some of the biggest fast fashion labels are starting to jump on board the ethical fashion train. H&M Conscious features garments made out of organic linen and leather and hemp to support sustainability; while ASOS Africa promotes growth and empowerment in the country while encouraging artisans and larger producers across the continent. Stella McCartney is probably the most well-known high-end designer and longtime vegetarian who refuses to use leather or fur in her designs. She spoke for PETA previously saying “we address…ethical or ecological…questions in every other part of our lives except fashion. Mind-sets are changing, though, which is encouraging.”
Education is absolutely the key to help consumers to realise that there is a dark side to that $20 pair of on-trend jeans from Zara. Social movements like ‘Fashion Revolution’ are beginning to question the fast fashion market where shoppers are asked to take photos of the labels they’re wearing and tag the business with ‘#whomademyclothes’ to spread the word. It can start as simply as asking some questions of where you’re shopping like; Where am I shopping? Where is this label manufactured and what are the working conditions like? Is this brand ethical and do they produce garments in an environmentally sustainable way? Who am I buying for? Will this last more than a season? How many times will I actually wear this?
Empower yourself as a consumer before you hit the high street for that new pair of heels, demand better quality and clothing made ethically – invest in your self-image. And invest locally! In Australia we have access to some of the best local designers, that are renowned globally for their fashion and some, if you do your homework, are designed and made right here on Aussie soil. Ethical, quality, sustainable fashion that makes people feel good, look stylish while being comfortable is the fundamental driving force behind Katie Perry fashion. I believe that the more consumers choose to buy ethically and support conscious fashion, the more demand there will be in the market and the more sustainable the future of fashion will be for everyone.