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Fast Fashion: Costing the Earth?

By Hannah Morgan, Unsplash

Clearing out your wardrobe is one of those dreaded tasks. It often gets pushed to the side with an “I’ll do it next week” sort-of attitude. Our closets practically burst at the seams, yet we remain convinced we have nothing to wear and attempt to squeeze into an outfit three sizes too small.

According to statistics, annual consumption of clothing and footwear in the UK sits at a staggering 59 billion euros, with 40 percent of all clothes purchased from value retailers. Fast fashion giants such as Primark, H&M and Forever 21 allow consumers to keep up to speed with the latest catwalk trends at a fraction of the designer price tag, which is perfect for the cost-conscious, thrifty fashionista.

Both the speed in which these items appear on retailers’ shelves and the weekly (rather than monthly) rotation of merchandise allow for instant accessibility, playing straight into the hands of millennials’ “What I want, when I want” attitude.

However, the high volume and speedy turnover of fast fashion often leads to low quality products – garments that are considered disposable, “wear once then throw away” items. In the UK alone, 1.2 million tonnes of unwanted clothes and textiles make their way to landfill each year. The problem here is that the synthetic materials used predominantly in fast fashion do not decompose. Woollen garments, meanwhile, do compose, but produce high levels of methane – and this significantly contributes to global warming.

Source: afternyne.com

Some fast fashion retailers like H&M have begun to address these environmental concerns with eco-conscious clothing offerings that use bio cotton and recycled textiles, along with their reduce, reuse, recycle organisation. A combined effort, however, is needed from these retailers; they must to come together and embrace a responsible environmental approach. They must limit the impact of their products and reduce their carbon footprint.

There is no doubt that fast fashion is hugely appealing; it puts everyone in contact with the latest trends. It allows any individual—whether a teenager spending pocket money or someone trying to tighten the purse strings while remaining fashionable—to keep up with current trends and feel fantastic in their new clothes. But it also invites risk through the spectre of colossal over-consumption.

It’s something that we are all guilty of at some point – after all, we’re all partial to a bargain (including myself!) What we need to remember is that over-consumption has an astounding effect on the environment in terms of waste and pollution.

Throwaway fashion also impacts the factories that producing the items. It puts them under huge pressure to meet the short lead times and meet the demands of both the retailer and the consumer.

Many feel that buying high quality items less frequently is more valuable than buying numerous throwaway items from a value retail store. This could also help combat excessive consumption of fast fashion items and lower the environmental impact of looking good.

Oh, and it could also lessen the need of having to do the dreaded wardrobe tidy up as frequently…

Chloe Muir is a versatile and passionate designer, with an enthusiasm for all aspects of retail design and the design process. Since joining Gensler three years ago, Chloe has worked on a variety of retail and hospitality projects in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, including the concept design for Radley’s London store. Contact her at Chloe_Muir@gensler.com.

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