by Leyla Hattabi
Fast-fashion is a rather new term in our vocabulary. Recently however, it’s taken on a life of its own when a couple of well-known brands made the headlines because of their dreadful unethical clothing production.
I don’t work in fashion, I’m not an environmental scientist or a human rights lawyer. What do I know about fast-fashion and what it really means to be sustainable? I am, however, a (recovering) fast-fashionista.
With sustainability becoming the new shopping ideal to thrive for, I interviewed a few members of the public with an emphasis on diversity of identity and perspective to see what others knew about fast-fashion and its effect on their lives.
Without further ado, from trendiness and budgeting to green-washing here are their thoughts. 👇
What does fast-fashion mean to you?
C: Being a teenager and a young adult who was always very interested in fashion, fast-fashion allowed me to look like people who I was inspired by. For a much more affordable price, I was able to express myself through my clothes and easily.
S: Fast fashion to me just means not being mindful of your consumption habits and not being aware or responsible for the things you use.
M: When I think of fast fashion, I think of unconscious fashion, clothes that are following trends and not being built to last.
What does sustainability mean to you?
C: Sustainability means doing my part and helping the environment through recycling, not consuming as much meat and especially through clothing since it's a big part of my life.
Sustainability in fashion to me means to not contribute to mass-production clothing but instead shop for products that don't harm the environment or lead to the mistreatment of the labor force (which affects our environment as well).
S: Sustainability means being mindful of your consumption, where you buy things from, what material it's made from, how it's made and if it’s something that will last a long time.
Will I go to the effort of repairing it if it's broken or clean it if it gets dirty? If I decide one day I no longer want this item, what will I do with it? Can I sell it or donate it or recycle it etc. These are all questions I associate with sustainability as a piece of clothing life-cycle doesn’t end after purchase.
M: When I think of sustainability, I think of something that's going to last long, good for the environment and of high quality.
Would you shop more sustainably if it was more accessible (e.g. cheaper, easy to find, from big brands you love)?
C: One of my biggest struggles when trying to shop more sustainably, which I feel a lot of people face, is spending $50+ on a white t-shirt because it’s made from recycled goods and is a lot more sustainable than a white t-shirt you could find for $5.
I know the $50+ t-shirt is better for our environment, but also… my bank account doesn't appreciate it either.
S: Not necessarily. I think clothes made sustainably and ethically should be more accessible, more widely available in brick and mortar stores in metropolitan areas and should also be available at a reasonable price.
I don’t think that extremely cheap clothes are always sustainably and ethically made (aside from second hand) and even if they are extremely cheap prices then that encourages people to over consume. I don’t think over consumption is a good thing even if clothes are made ethically and sustainably as it puts a strain on resources and then the question is what are you supposed to do with all the stuff once it’s out of fashion or breaks!
Big brands today that offer sustainable clothes are usually green washing and that’s not where I would want my money to go. It's much better to shop in smaller stores. I do wish people were informed about sustainable brands and having access to them either through visiting a physical store or online.
M: I would shop more sustainably if it was a lot more accessible; if it was made by a brand I already followed, if it was more affordable and if it could be found through websites I already shopped through or a shop I usually visit.
Do you associate trendiness with fast-fashion and sustainability with evergreen fashion (wardrobe staples)?
C: Fast-fashion is a synonym for trendiness because obviously, trends change so quickly. If I were to shop sustainably and spend let’s say $100+ on a new pair of pants that's trendy, it isn't really sustainable for myself.
However, my parents always told me to invest in a good pair of jeans, a faux leather jacket or something that will last you for a long time and obviously, that correlates a lot with sustainability. Having those pieces you'll have until property and comfort to your children. It’s also rare for a lot of people to think of those evergreen pieces because it's not something you bring out for everyday wear.
S: I kind of associate trendiness with fast-fashion. Big brands try to create more and more trends so they have more stuff to sell. Big brands are also guilty of creating micro trends but I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with participating in microtrends as long as you’re mindful of how you consume an item and how long you will use it.
I also kind of associate sustainability with wardrobe staples and wardrobe capsules. However, there’s nothing necessarily sustainable about wardrobe staples because it's not sustainable for you to have only one white t- shirt that you immediately replace if it gets dirty.
M: When I was younger, I used to associate trendiness with fast-fashion but through learning about the 52 week season and turnover of fast fashion I don't think that's true anymore.
I think trendiness is through people's own individual styles and I'm seeing that grow a lot more with sustainable people going to vintage clothing stores, thrift stores, and revisiting old fashion trends through sustainable products.
What can be done right now to make me shop more sustainably?
C: Making it easily accessible or affordable is definitely front of mind. I’m also interested in the concept of sustainability and how we're able to reuse fabrics and materials to make our clothing. At the end of the day, that's comparable to how much I would spend on clothes in general and that would definitely make me transition over to being more sustainable.
S: The best thing is just to educate yourself about the fast-fashion industry and the life-cycle of a piece of clothing. I like to knit and if you’ve made a sweater and experienced the number of hours that go into making a sweater you will think twice before you casually throw it in the trash. That’s not to mention the amount of time and labor that goes into making the yarn!
Most people are too casual about buying and disposing of things, they don’t really think about the whole process of making the item and the whole process of that item disappearing. The more aware of this you are, the more you value the things you consume. Then, it's easy to slow down your consumption… but nobody’s perfect so do give yourself some slack!
M: If sustainable fashion was merchandise in the same way fast fashion was, it would be a lot more successful. Instead of going to thrift stores that are being booked up I’d like to go to a new branch that was creating new pieces of clothing from sustainable materials if it was promoted in a trendy or more vibrant way.
Has shopping online made it easier or more difficult to shop sustainably?
C: I've been seeing a lot more sustainable options online, which is interesting. However, in the grand scheme of things, it's very hard because I can put 50+ items in my cart for under $100 from fast-fashion brands and I don't really think about it.
When I'm in a store I can feel the material so I can see the quality of mass production and sustainable products in front of my eyes and it makes me think a little bit more than when it's online.
S: Shopping online has made it easier to shop more sustainably for me personally at least and to take time to think about something before buying it. For example if you see something in a store part of the decision to buy something can be “if I don’t buy this now I’ll never find something like it again”. Having the option to look it up online gives me more time to wait and see if I really want and will use this item.
It can also be easier to find information online about brands to find out if they are sustainable, what material they use to make these items, where and how they are made etc. It can also be a lot easier to buy specific second hand items online as what you can’t find in a vintage store you can search for on eBay or somewhere else.
Overall the internet makes it easier to shop sustainability, although there are negative aspects of it such as shipping & returns and the ability to over consume easily.
M: Shopping online has made it easier to shop sustainably. You can see if it's sustainable in the photos and the description and you're able to get access to the product a lot quicker.
A lot of people don’t have time to travel long distances to go to a particular store that is sustainable. You want to be able to go on a website that can deliver the next day and you haven't got to worry about the customer service because it's a brand you’ve shopped at before.
Do celebrity collabs with fast-fashion brands affect your shopping (makes you wanna buy more or buy less)?
C: If it’s a brand I’ve never heard of before collaborating with one of my favorite celebrities, I would definitely be more intrigued and want to check them out. It might even compel me to shop there because I obviously have an interest in that celebrity and believe they would make a good collaboration collection.
It's unfortunate because all these celebrities are not collaborating with sustainable companies but mass producing fast-fashion brands and just bringing more attention and business to them.
S: I don’t really think it would affect how I shop but it would maybe make me want to shop from that brand less especially if I know it’s an unsustainable brand.
M: I do think that celebrity collaborations with fast fashion definitely affect my shopping, especially if it's a celebrity I look up to. I want to channel their style into my own clothing and it does tempt me to buy more. However, I’m less likely to invest if it’s not sustainable.
Were/are you aware of your fast-fashion behavior and how do you feel about it?
C: I was aware, I’m currently aware and I’ll always be aware of it! It’s a habit I'm trying to break and truly addictive.
S: I’m pretty conscious of my fast-fashion consumption. When I first learned about fast-fashion and the ethics of it I was very critical of my own consumption and that of others, but I’ve realized there’s not no such thing as being completely ethical. You just kind of do the best you can!
I sometimes buy things from fast- fashion brands but when I do I just try to be mindful of that. When I do it's usually something I know I'm going to love, get tones of use from and can’t find anywhere else.
The sustainability movement can be quite judgmental and shame people who aren’t aware or a part of the movement which I definitely think is the wrong approach. Generally educating people in a non-judgmental way is the best way to spread sustainability.
M: Before social media when I was younger, I wasn't really that aware of fast fashion. I didn’t understand the behavior of it, what it actually meant and what it would probably do to me as I got older trying to keep up with rotating styles of very cheap quality clothing but mid range price.
As I got older, I became a bit more aware of where clothing comes from and how it's created. Then, I started learning about the 52 seasons style rotation where instead of dressing for spring, summer, autumn and winter (or cold and hot seasons), something new was added onto online stores or physical stores every week or even every day. It was a goal to constantly (and impossibly) chase. I've realized it's not something I want to chase anymore. I want something that's gonna be a bit more expressive of my own style and also not harmful to the environment.
You’re also a fast-fashionista looking to be more sustainable, download our browser extension which allows you to discover ethical alternatives while shopping your favorite styles!