Putting the Brakes on Fast-Fashion

Georgia Emily

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We are the Western world — drowning in privilege, but blindly walking forward to scrounge for more, dressed in the latest labels. Fast fashion is a by-product of this. Perfectionism is a result of this. Consumerism is the mother-feeding-tube making us feel ‘not enough’, so we spend more. But as we buy more, search for more, spend more, ultimately we end up feeling less.

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We want everything now. We want more, more, more. We are a greedy species. We are intrinsically hungry. But for what?

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I doubt many young people feel confident as they are. This breaks my heart. It’s frustrating and exhausting. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many hours we spend at the gym, how beautiful our hair, and ‘snatched’ our makeup is, how curated our online lives are — we are living  in this environment of disposable culture. The acknowledgment of it all is not enough. We need change.

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Your changes don’t have to be huge to begin with — think on a microcosmic level. I started by avoiding fast-fashion ‘sales’ and supporting local clothing brands I found through Instagram or local markets. It’s more fun to wear something that a small handful of people own anyway! If you are unaware where your fashion/makeup/technology products are manufactured, how they are made, and who profits from them — I encourage you to do some digging into this. Don’t hesitate to ask these questions, remember knowledge is empowering and can lead to change, even if it’s on a personal level. Of course, none of us can be perfect consumers, but it does help to be informed. If a brand is operating from an ethical standpoint, they will most likely openly advocate this and be transparent with their processes. If they don’t, do the math. 

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It’s easy to lose sight of the human impact of fast-fashion. We can read statistics and news articles but until it affects us, it’s hard to relate. The first major garment factory disaster occurred in New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 and as a result, 146 garment workers died, many  were young, female immigrants — probably the same age as you and I. Over 100 years later, history was repeated as the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed. This time though, over 1000 workers were killed. It seems that even human life sometimes is not enough to challenge the systemic culture of fast-fashion. 

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I challenge you to think about the cost you pay for clothing. The average manufacturing cost of a basic tee is approximately $7.25, which will be later sold for around $25. Workers in Bangladesh earn a mere forty-three cents per hour. And yet, the turnover in the garment industry in Australia alone was $27 billion last year. This just doesn’t seem to add up, does it?

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I know it’s a stretch to say we should be making our own clothes or buy exclusively from local/market brands, but hopefully, this makes you think twice about that bulk-online sale order, or that half-price tee that you ‘reaaally’ need. There are so many freelance artists selling their art on t-shirts or brands that donate to charity that would benefit from the money instead. If certain big-name websites and brands are coming to mind, you’re probably right, they aren’t ethical. 

(Figures from Oxfam – What She Makes, 2018) 

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What does ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ even mean?

It’s important to educate ourselves on the real difference individuals can make. The money we spend on local business and small brands all contributes to supporting a family’s livelihood or an individual’s dream. You vote with your dollar. The fashion industry is the second most destructive industry to the environment (after livestock). So, buying and repurposing second-hand clothing should not be optional, it should be the norm. We live on a planet of finite resources, and too often are caught up in throwing things away for something newer and better — even though they work perfectly fine as they are. Check out Depop and Facebook Marketplace along with some great second-hand vintage stores on Instagram for your next outfit. I found some fab vintage jeans and barely-worn PE Nation activewear (Aussie brand) on Depop for less than half of what they are brand new. Better yet,  get together with a group of friends to do a big wardrobe clear out and swap clothes — my cousin and I do this all the time. 

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Real cultural change is gradual and slow, but we must stay vigilant — in how we speak about ourselves and others, with what we consume and with how we spend our money. Our brains are sponges to the subtlest of messages. I do, however, feel optimistic that younger generations are becoming more aware of the pressures of social media and disposable culture (although part of me is nervous to see this play out over the following years). I know that we can be a force for change and I know that we can make informed, nourishing choices. Daily, small steps count — we are all cogs in the machine. 

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So what do we do?

If we’re lucky, things can be recycled and made new again. Even melted down plastic remains.  Hopefully, it can be of purpose to someone else. It can be rebirthed. My hope is that our mindsets, our way of living, can be redesigned, repurposed. We don’t have to begin again, we just need to reassess and instead of throwing away,  let’s bring it to life.