In this piece, we look at the powers at play that make it so hard to stop buying fast fashion. We then continue by explaining how you can say no to fast fashion with a few cool alternatives!
Why is it so hard to stop buying fast fashion?
Our Consumerist System
Firstly, we are told to stop consuming, but consumption is shoved down our throats at every corner, and in every aspect of our lives. In this current economic system, we are encouraged to buy, buy, buy, otherwise companies cannot continue to grow and make a profit. So yes, we know we shouldn't buy new clothes but then we see advertising on our phones and in real life, and even see persuasive online influencers promoting brands like FashionNova - all telling us that we need to buy new stuff, including clothes.
Planned and Perceived Obsolescence
This is an open secret of the fashion industry, and of so many other industries like tech. There are two types of obsolescence used by the fashion industry that render our clothes obsolete - i.e. out of date and unwearable.
The first type of obsolescence is perceived. This plays nicely into the whole advertising element of the fashion industry whereby influencers and models showcase new trends. Fashion trends are constantly changing with fast fashion - H&M and Zara have 12 to 24 collections in a year, even though there are only 4 seasons! - and damn can you look out of style in a second. You thought corduroy trousers were cool? Well, this winter you can throw those trousers out because the next new thang is actually pinstripe flare trousers so.... what are you even wearing?? We kid, of course! However, that's how it feels and it's not unintentional. Unless we're made to think that our clothes are out of fashion, how else will we continue buying?
The second type of obsolescence is planned, and this is a huge driver of waste. We are sold items of extremely poor quality with soles falling off shoes, materials coming apart at the seams, colours fading and jewellery breaking immediately. As such, we are forced to throw away these bad quality items which we can no long wear - even if we send these to charity shops, they often will end up in landfill anyway. As a result, we end up going back to stores for more! When the quality is so poor, these pieces tend to be very affordable... which goes back to the fact that textiles are so cheaply produced, increasing the brand's profits, not the people who have made our clothes.
It's not all doom and gloom though! There are so many ways in which we can find happiness from our own clothes, pre-loved clothes or from some of the most ethical and sustainable brands.
What we can do as individuals
There are so many ways we can easily change our habits so we can wear clothes guilt free.
Love the clothes you already own
Firstly, one of the easiest things we can do is look at the clothes in our wardrobes and think of how we can style our existing clothes in new and exciting ways. Think about the clothes that you wear regularly and try to pair them with clothes that you don't wear as much. This will create an exciting canvas for loads of new outfits. Small wardrobes with clothes that all pair nicely are actually called Capsule Wardrobes! They require having a very small base of clothes that you can create a whole lot of outfits out of. Basically, the clothes you have already are good enough!
This can even inspire creativity: you can learn how to mend your own clothes, sew different materials from your clothes together to create new outfits or even use natural dyes to completely change the colour of your clothes. It's very exciting!
Buy pre-loved items
So you've tried to just wear your clothes but you're craving some good ol' retail therapy? The next best thing you can do is buy pre-loved clothes. We're talking vintage shops, charity shops, and resell apps like Depop or Vinted. The clothes are often more affordable, and have lesser environmental and social costs. Plus you'll be contributing to the circular economy by helping these clothes circulate longer before their end-of-life. You can even sell some of your existing clothes on apps to make some extra cash and to reduce the size of your wardrobe (so it can be capsule size?) 😉.
Rent someone else's wardrobe
Another really awesome alternative is renting clothes. The Nuw Wardrobe is an app that helps you borrow other people's clothes while lending out your own. Each time an item is borrowed via Nuw, they offset 25% of the resources that would have been used in the production of a new article of clothing. #yaass If you want to go for something a bit more luxe check out the Hurr Collective, a clothes rental site offering higher end brands.
On a similar note, it's also important to mention that you could easily swap clothes with friends of yours without having to spend any money. If you wanted to take an extra step, you could start a clothes swap group on facebook or add yourself to pre-existing local clothes swap groups.
Buy less, buy better
Finally, if you want to continue buying new because you can't find a specific shoe you really want or an item in the right size, then your mantra should be buy less and buy better. A good question to ask yourself when you want to buy a new item of clothing (or even something second-hand) is "will I wear this at least 30 times?" This is the #30Wears challenge started by EcoAge which helps us understand whether or not we should buy something based on if we'll actually end up wearing it. Ultimately, only buying new items that you're sure you'll wear a lot will help you buy less.
In terms of buying better, the research is up to you. The main step we recommend is looking at the Good On You website and seeing how your preferred clothing brand fares on their scale of "1 (We Avoid) to 5 (Great)". For instance, something we've found really interesting is the fact that a brand like Everlane, which touts itself as being very sustainable, transparent and ethical, is actually scored as Not Good Enough! You can learn more about misleading marketing by reading our piece on greenwashing. It's worth checking the website to make sure the brand you buy from has been independently reviewed and to find more sustainable alternative brands to buy from.
So here are a few steps that you can take to avoid buying new clothes from fast fashion brands. But also remember, you don't have to beat yourself up for buying from fast fashion brands sometimes. Every little you do is a great step in the right direction!