Fast fashion, Shein and the whole damn mess

fast fashion and rows of sewers in a factory

I thought things were getting better. I have been drinking from a keep cup, riding my bicycle, and using the supermarket soft plastics bin. Surely other people are doing the same?

Well, yes, but it’s not enough. Our appetite for fast fashion is bigger than ever, fuelled by a powerful industry. Fashions move fast, encouraging us consumers to have a new outfit for every occasion. Sometimes several. Have you seen the trend of brides sporting multiple consecutive wedding dresses on their big day? It’s a thing.

In 2021, Foreign Correspondent exposed the amount of clothes shipped to Ghana from developed countries, many from clothing bins and charities. About half are deemed worthless and dumped. Ghana alone deals with 160 tonnes of daily textile waste, which ends up in landfill and waterways.

More than 60% of fabric is synthetic (and from fossil fuels), which means it will not decay. Imagine future incarnations of man musing on why we needed to wear So. Many. Things. Archaeologists in thousands of years will find evidence of Supré.

And, of course, Supré’s online equivalent: Shein. The ‘unboxing’ trend shows influencers praising their bulk Shein purchases.

Shein looks like the holy grail of shopping. Beautiful imagery, on-trend designs and cheap as chips. But as we know, if something looks too good to be true it usually is.

The quality of garments rarely lives up to the photography.

And aside from environmental degradation, fast fashion retailers like Shein grossly mistreat their workers. Readers may remember the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh (and other similar tragedies). Not long after the news coverage faded, many of us set off to the shops again to buy some new season garments.

As an aside, the poor conditions disempower women. The industry exploits women through a business model derived from a patriarchal division of labour.

Slave labour has been a big part of the textiles industry since the industrial revolution. It’s not new. But when we know better, we do better. And that time is now.

Fast fashion: How do I declutter it?

For a practical guide to decluttering your clothes, check here.

And also here, for a discussion of whether your wardrobe reflects your life.

Local tailors can often revive badly fitted or worn out clothes.

Try to keep garments you will still wear, rather than decluttering simply to make room for more.

For items that must go, deliver to op shops and charity bins. For example, the SCR group‘s mission is to prevent all preventable landfill. Here is a guide on where to donate clothes.

Lastly, promise yourself to do better in future.

Fast fashion: what are my alternatives moving forward?

Don’t shop online. That eliminates the fossil fuels generated by delivery and returns. Did you know that most returned clothes purchased online, end up in landfill? This is due to the impossible logistics of getting them back into the fast fashion cycle.

Buy good quality staples. Look up the concept of a Capsule Wardrobe. Inspect the hem and seams for workmanship. Raw edges and loose threads are a bad sign. Check if the fabric is too sheer, or pills easily. Be wary of patterned fabrics where the seams don’t match pattern-wise. It’s a red flag for poor craftsmanship.

Avoid micro trends. If a new trend seems wild or is everywhere all at once, its destiny is fraught.

Consider renting an outfit for a special occasion. MyWardrobe CEO Jane Shepherdson says she wants renting clothes to be as commonplace as renting a car.

Mend and alter. Do a sewing course to make the most out of your clothes.

Stop fetishising fashion. Get into nature, watch good movies, have meaningful conversations. Unsubscribe and stay out of the shops to take your focus off the endless fashion treadmill. Aspiring to keep up with the Jones’ is not a fulfilling practice.

Shop from charity shops and secondhand on Marketplace and eBay.

Lobby the government for policies that discourage cheap imports and slave labour. At the time of writing, the EU is proposing a range of new rules along these lines. Let’s hope for more of that.

Even if you only absorb a small amount of this information right now that’s okay. It’s impossible to be perfect, but we have to try.

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