Our mainstream fashion world seems to have two sides to it. One side: Louis Vuitton, Versace, Madonna, Monaco, chain blinger, rap singer, MTV, glitz and glam. Its full steam ahead for all those that can afford it. Yeehar.

The other side of the coin for all those that can’t? All of that for less. We have been conditioned to love fashion and to love it cheap. Can’t afford those glasses Rihanna is wearing? That’s cool – Pagani have a rip off for $10. Sweeeeeet.

This so called ‘fast fashion’ hunger is insatiable. Many chain store brands are now competing against each simply by introducing more lines per year and at lower and lower costs. Check out any place like Glassons, Supre or Pagani and notice how often their front window changes. These ‘fashion houses’ now offer up to 18 collections a year – “See it, want it, wear it.” Oh- so – simple.

Glassons Winter 2010 campaign

It  has massive implications. The issue is that when something is made cheaply to be sold cheaply, the cost to the environment and the people who made it is very, very high.

What’s the beef?

Fast Fashion gathered pace from the end of the 1990’s when brands began to look for new ways to make more money.  Globalisation had grown rapidly in the 80’s and 90’s and paved the way for value and mid price brands to shift the bulk of their production to the developing world where labour and overheads cost a fraction.

Traditionally, most fashion labels have produced two main collections a year, spring/summer and autumn/winter. However, in order to keep the customer shopping, high street brands thought that some interest within their stores mid season would also be a cracker-jack idea.

Then fashion labels thought it would be better to make decisions about the season much closer to the season – this flexibility ensured they were able to react to the catwalk quickly and deliver ‘on-trend’ items within their stores. This new system allowed for the development of ‘just in time’ manufacturing and has now developed to a stage now where in the UK they are able to turn a garment around from drawing to shop floor in just two weeks!


Us consumers have reacted positively to this trend. In Australia, women under 30 are buying approximately 112 garments a year.  It seems getting the latest faux fur gilet as inspired by Prada at Topshop.com suits us all quite nicely.  And so we see the emergence of Fast Fashion.

Why care? My t shirt for $40 is sweeeeeeeet

The issue is that this ‘fast fashion’ hunger has a huge impact on both people and the environment.

1. People

Clothing factory workers in developing countries are put under extraordinary pressure to get our fashion lines out their door.

The Clean Clothes Campaign describe similar instances with garment workers in China “We have endless overtime in the peak season… It’s like this every day – we sew and sew without a break until our arms feel sore and stiff”

The increase in the amount of clothes people consume also has consequences for the environment too.

Cotton is growing in increasingly dire situations – farmers are forced into situations that involve massive pesticide use and crazy fertiliser levels to produce more and more cotton for less and less profit. It is so bad that suicide is the only option many cotton farmers feel they have. (Watch The Dying Fields if you are feeling hardy and want to know more on this). Lucky we got cheap t shirts though huh?

From http://www.re-dress.ie/

And as you would have noticed more and more clothing is shipped and flown from poorer countries than ever before. Very few of the wages factory workers are paid is enough to live on.

2. The environment

The life cycle of these garments is decreasing too. Its designed to not last – if it lasted you wouldn’t need another now would you? So what happens to all these clothes once we unavoidably make a hole, break a cheaply-made zip or pill the fabric? We might drop that tired ol’ jumper off to St Vinnies and think we’ve done a great thing. But what happens if someone doesn’t pick up that tired ol’ jumper, what happens then?

Buy it, wear it, bin it / Geoff Wade

Well, statistics suggest that on average, in the UK around 30kg of clothing per person goes to landfill each year. 30 kilos! This is a new phenomenon.  Never before has so much of  landfill been made of clothes.  And that has loads of issues in itself. Textiles present particular problems in landfill as man-made fibres will not decompose. Woollen and cotton garments do decompose but in doing so of course, produce methane, which contributes again to global warming.

As textile consultant Kate Fletcher points out ‘Fast isn’t free – someone, somewhere is paying.’

So when we are shopping we need to be switched on to this. While it may be a quick and easy hit to buy cheaply made clothes, when we do this we are effectively contributing to all the things wrong in the world. Heck. All of a sudden that Lippy jersey ain’t looking so lippy now is it?

Its cool though – lift your chin

We can all do the right thing easily:

i) Buy NZ made, quality made and ethically made clothing when we buy new

ii) When we can’t afford to do this, recycle, reuse, hmmmm, let me think……perhaps attend The Big Shwop? 😉

I suppose this is the extended version of why we are doing The Big Shwop. We can look good and feel good about it too, its simply about being conscious.

As this has been the bleakest blog post EVER I will leave you with these beautiful photos from textile artists, Guerra De La Paz (they are a duo that work together). Too beautiful.

This piece is called Nine and was recently purchased by the Saatchi Collection in London.
Tribute by Guerra De La Paz

–  this article drew on information from ‘Fast fashion, cheap fashion’ on the Ethical Fashion Forum. Also stats from here and here and here

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One thought on “Fast fashion and fast food: bad for us and bad for the world

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