SINGAPORE: I can’t remember the last time I walked into a fast fashion retail store.
And no, just because the pandemic didn’t make me wary of unnecessary contact with people. It’s also not because I got into the habit of shopping online instead.
It’s because I have more or less given up on fast fashion.
I loved it. I spent my early teenage years shopping at H&M regularly, noticing that every other week, when I returned, all of the store’s inventory had magically changed.
I remember walking up and down the escalators at Somerset 313’s Forever 21 with friends, spending time in the changing rooms at Cotton On, trying on outfits and taking selfies there.
But I also remember the fragile quality of those S $ 15 rompers, the sheer, sheer design of the S $ 5.99 tank tops, and the many times the straps of S $ 14.99 sandals broke… in public.
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Today my closet is made up of more reliable clothing: portable, repeatable pieces of second-hand fashion accounts on Carousell or friends’ closets, mixed with fun and colorful vintage numbers from thrift stores, and the occasional craze. of ethical fashion pieces.
I’m not saying a higher price equals better quality. And I still own quick fashion pieces that have lasted – I often take my pair of Zara pants, and my Cotton On mock neck top remains a staple in my wardrobe, even after many years of wear and tear.
But we still need to be interested in the real cost of fast fashion.
THE REAL COST OF FASHION
Too often, the companies that make these clothes cheaply don’t make them well. The whole business model of fast fashion companies is based on our ultra-fast consumption of clothing: the more we buy, the more they make. Which means the faster we get rid of our clothes, the better (for them).
So that frustration you get when a cheap piece of clothing falls apart, and the sigh and shrug that comes with walking into the store to replace it? This is completely intended and works in their favor.
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Fast fashion is growing its empire by making consumers feel like they need to keep buying more, which explains the constant emails, endless sales, and relentless collection drops.
Nowadays, fast fashion brands go through “micro-seasons”, producing much more than they produced before, that is, according to the actual seasons. As a result, total clothing production has practically doubled since 2000.
These clothes can be affordable, but what is the price we are really paying?
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Much has been written about the environmental cost of these inexpensive clothes from the cradle to the grave. The fashion industry uses 79 trillion liters of water each year to produce cotton and other textiles, and produces 92 million tons of waste annually.
It is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than those from flights and shipping combined.
And it’s not just destroying the planet. News stories after news stories detail examples of how the fashion industry is plagued by exploitative practices and human rights abuses. Behind layers of subcontracting lie grueling working hours, low wages, lack of job security, dangerous (and fatal) working conditions and the suppression of unions.
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OUR CLOTHES HAVE STORIES
But what happens to we when you buy disposable fashion? The downside to all of this is one thing, but the culture of buying and selling scrap has undeniably changed the way we interact with our clothes.
As we buy more and more clothes, these items become utilitarian – we buy them only to complement our outfits, chase trends and feel the rush to own something new.
But clothes can have stories, and we can relate to the clothes we own.
Earlier this year, I was invited to a private and safe pandemic clothing swap by a friend. There were six of us and each of us brought items that we had loved, but were ready to part with.
The conversation started with us going through each of our articles in a show-and-tell format. We talked about where we bought them, the places they had been with us, the times in our lives when they were most featured.
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That day, after giving away a number of mine, I adopted a pair of black polyester pajama pants with Chinese characters printed on them, an oversized pink and brown wide knit blouse, a pair of Armani jeans in dark denim and a Boy Scouts of America uniform shirt.
Each of them, I imagined, had their own stories beyond the stories told that day. But more than just acquiring these pieces themselves, I felt like I had taken pieces from those who owned them.
I was then struck by the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt connected to the clothes I owned. I had a wardrobe full of stuff, but it didn’t make sense beyond its utilitarian function.
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RETHINK, SLOW DOWN AND ASK QUESTIONS
Rather than Marie Kondo our clothes and downsizing our wardrobes, maybe the solution to regaining that attachment to our clothes is to rethink the way we consume them and then slow down.
For starters, we can be more intentional about our purchases.
It doesn’t mean we have to buy more expensive ethical fashion. I found savings to be much more of an exciting experience than regular shopping.
Savings run the gamut from charity shops, thrift stores tucked away in quiet malls or unsuspecting buildings and even pop-up events. Check out New2U (a classic), The Fashion Pulpit (for more comfortable tryouts) or Five Finds Thrift Market (filled with Gen-Z styles).
There are hidden gems everywhere, you never know what you will find and you will never look like anyone else.
Organizing a clothing swap between your friends or your community also has the same effect and is not as logistically complex as you might think.
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Practicing better care for the clothes we currently own is also a way to start. If you are not learning repair skills on your own (have you ever heard of visible mending or recycling?), Try visiting the many sewing stores we have on the island and supporting an on-going business. disappearing, instead of just buying something new.
Individual consumers not consuming fast fashion alone will not suffice. Unplugging the fast fashion machine requires shedding light on the unethical practices of fast fashion companies, working with governments and international organizations to enact legislation to protect garment workers and our environment, what fashion activists do.
But activists also need our help: to set higher standards for our personal wardrobes (if we can), and beyond, to ask more questions. Be more curious about what is behind the label.
We don’t have to feel guilty that we can’t control the decisions that fast fashion companies make, but we can push them to do better and do less.
If individual actions don’t move the needle on climate change, what will? Find out what climate activists are pushing for The Climate Conversations:
Tammy Gan is a social media activist and freelance writer whose goal is to get people to think more deeply about environmental and social justice issues, in the service of a fairer future.