A lot of the current discourse obsessing over sustainable and ‘eco’ lifestyle choices is exclusive, reflecting an ignorance of the privilege that allows select individuals to make such choices. Not all of us are in a position to go vegan, convert entirely to renewable energy sources, and abandon all plastics – to do so requires endless time and money, not to mention the self-control of a saint!
With the utmost respect to those who take the quest for planet kindness all the way, it’s safe to say many of us aren’t ready to commit to that just yet. The easiest, and by far most enjoyable way to make a small difference in your everyday life is the voyage into second-hand style.
But before we get into the fun bit, what’s so bad about fast fashion?
The UK invented fast fashion, and we’re its star offender. According to Greenpeace Unearthed’s review of the Environmental Audit Committee’s investigation into the industry, in the UK, each person buys “an estimated 26.7kg of clothing every year”. The more clothes we buy, the more we throw away and the more are produced.
This production process is far from harmless – “If demand continues to grow at the current rate, the total carbon footprint of clothing would grow to 3,978 mega tonnes by 2050”. To put things in perspective – that’s almost double the 2018 carbon footprint for the entirety of India.
It’s not just carbon emissions that make fast fashion a climate-killer – the industry is a massively thirsty one. Despite having a lower carbon footprint than synthetic fibres like polyester, cotton alone requires 10,000-20,000 litres of water to make just 1kg of fabric.
The environment isn’t the only victim of this monstrous waste. The price of feeding the UK and US’s hunger for fast-fashion garments is the health and quality of life of the world’s most deprived.
The ever-increasing use of pesticides and insecticides to maximise production can devastate local wildlife, as well as poison locals when it inevitably leaches into drinking-water supplies. The water re-directed to quench cotton fields leaves smaller farmlands barren, driving already struggling families deeper into poverty.
So far I’ve only described the first stage of fast fashion’s sins. Once the raw materials have been harvested and go into production to become the garments we see online and instore, a whole new set of atrocities occurs. Limited health and safety, poor pay and a lack of workers’ rights are all rife in the industry.
The situation was epitomised by the 2013 Rana Plaza complex collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which more than 1,300 people died. It has since been revealed that the factory supplied companies including Primark, Matalan, Mango and Bennetton, all staples of British high-street fashion.
Perhaps most tragically ironic of all, the majority of the victims were young female garment workers, an identical demographic to the biggest segment of UK fast fashion consumers, one in three of whom “consider garments worn once or twice to be old”. Seven years on, minor reform has achieved little.
So, other than feel immensely guilty, what can we do?
Do you really need a new top EVERY time you go out? Re- wear your clothes until they really fall apart! Find the fun in reworking your outfits and inventing new combinations to switch things up – you’ll be surprised how refreshing it can be. In the wise words of Coco Chanel “Fashion fades. Only style remains the same”.
Hold a swap session with your friends, bringing all your old and under-worn clothes together and trade. This is a great excuse to get your pals round for a glass of wine and a natter at the same time as decluttering AND doing your bit for the planet!
Jeans looking a bit tired? Embroider something funky on the pockets. T-shirt stained? Re-dye it a whole new colour. The possibilities are endless, and with the current trend for upcycling and ‘thrift flip’ booming on YouTube, there’s plenty of customization inspiration out there.
Becoming ever-popular as trends from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s are constantly being revived, why go for the fast fashion imitations when you can get the real thing?
While vintage can sometimes be pricey and scouting out the best pieces can be a challenge, Teviot and Potterow hold regular affordable vintage sales and Armstrongs usually has some bargains.
The vintage sale’s older and slightly less fashion-forward aunt, don’t dismiss the humble charity shop. If you’re willing to do some good old-fashioned rummaging, charity shops can yield some amazing finds – and Edinburgh has some gems.
A perfect rainy-day activity is taking a friend on a charity-shop spree and holding a competition for who can curate the most stylish outfit.
The go-to cool-girl clothing app, Depop is the place to go if you can’t get rid of the fast-fashion bug. An all-in-one buy and sell experience that could be described as the love-child of Instagram and ebay, Depop is a hub for vintage, street-style, online and high-street brands, usually second- hand but in great condition and at massively reduced prices.
One word of warning though – check up on your seller’s profile. Some Depop stores are operated by companies and manufacturers of new, budget clothing, representing the fast fashion’s evolution and desire to hide its nasty side.
According to Wrap, “The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion”, which is massive. Donating your rarely worn clothes to local charity shops is a great way to declutter at the same time as giving something back to those in need and avoiding unnecessary waste.
There you have it – now we can all be on our way to sustainable student style icondom. Avoiding the most common ‘fast fashion faux pas’ is a lot simpler than it may seem.
Get out your sewing kit, wrap up and hit the charity shops or build a communal pile of ‘going- out tops’ for you and your flat mates to share.
Image credit: rose_mcavoy via NeedPix.com