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Fast fashion: cheap trendy clothing that adopts the newest catwalk styles and brings them out to the general consumer market as fast as possible. 20 years ago, clothes shopping (without the promise of next day delivery) was a much more occasional event, but today shoppers can buy garments at the height of their popularity for very little money, and discard them after very little time.

Indeed, there are no longer two separate seasons in fast fashion - rather, large companies such as Missguided change their stock weekly. But what happens to all the clothes they don’t sell from the previous week or month? In the United States alone, the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates show that 11.9 million tons of clothing and footwear were discarded in 2015, of which 8.2 million tons was sent to landfill. Unlike natural fibres (such as cotton), synthetic fibres like polyester or nylon may take up to 200 years to decompose; these are often used by fast-fashion brands in order to reduce production costs. The impact of this must not be underestimated, with scientists further speculating that these microfibres make up around 85% of human-produced debris found on the world’s coasts.

"Few can deny that something needs to be done to put an end to, or at least put the breaks on, this era of fast fashion. And it needs to happen faster than PrettylittleThing releases their latest £5 nylon body-con dress."

Fashion has become one of the largest polluters in the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that the fashion industry produces 10% of global CO2 emissions every year, and is estimated to use around 1.5 trillion litres of water every year. It’s an industry stuck in a toxic cycle of overproduction and overconsumption, posing a monumental problem to environmental sustainability. Few can deny that something needs to be done to put an end to, or at least put the breaks on, this era of fast fashion. And it needs to happen faster than PrettylittleThing releases their latest £5 nylon body-con dress.

This responsibility however, is too often considered to lie with the consumer; we’re told that we should boycott these fast-fashion brands or only buy second hand. Many people, I’d argue, began to question the true cost of their ridiculously cheap clothing circa 2013, when the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh killed over 1,000 workers. However, since then, it is clear that the fast fashion industry has only grown - with, as far as I can see, no obvious attempts to reduce its environmental impact. Why has the world not held these businesses accountable for their actions? And, in addition, continue to blame consumers for buying into the unsustainable industry they have created?

"Encouraging a boycott of fast-fashion brands should be seen as a sign of privilege because it is not a viable option for so many."

The past decade may have seen an increase in the number of ‘sustainable’ fashion brands which generally produce their clothing from recycled materials, such as TALA or Lucy and Yak. Yet, the primary problem with these brands is precisely the reason they are sustainable: they use more expensive materials, pay their workers fairly, and take longer to produce their clothing. Therefore, this makes them inaccessible to a large proportion of the population who do not have a disposable income great enough to spend on a more expensive garment. Encouraging a boycott of fast-fashion brands should be seen as a sign of privilege because it is not a viable option for so many - and one that I can’t see having a significant enough impact to put every fast-fashion brand in the market out of business. We’re also often advised to utilise second-hand clothing or charity shops, but due to the increasing volume of clothing that many continue to purchase, these shops can become saturated with donations, and in some cases are also forced to pass on clothing they cannot sell.

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Instead, fast-fashion companies should be legally obliged to contribute to clothing recycling schemes which, by recycling all unwanted or unsold clothing, aim to reduce the huge volume of clothes ending up in landfill daily in the UK. Textile recycling businesses, like the Berlin-based start-up Kleiderly, are finding new and innovative ways to recycle clothing in order to transform the fashion industry into a circular and sustainable economy - and more brands should be obliged to make use of them. As has been discussed, but never implemented, by Parliament, fashion brands should also participate in a ‘one pence per garment’ levy scheme. The money raised would be invested in increasing clothing collection, donation and recycling points.


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It is indeed up to the consumer to make an active effort not to purchase large volumes of clothing from fast-fashion companies. Yet the consumer should not take the majority of the blame for the industry’s environmental impact. We can buy fast fashion, and we should also commit to recycling clothing or purchasing less - but fast-fashion companies must be expected to do more than the bare minimum in terms of sustainability or ethical practice.

Ideally the fashion industry will one day become entirely sustainable and ethical, and the fashion economy circular, in turn reducing the production costs of sustainably manufactured clothing. But until that day, fast-fashion companies should be held accountable for their appalling lack of commitment to reducing the impact of human demands on the environment. Consumers are starting to do their part. It’s the fashion industry’s turn now.

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