Life&Style’s Emily Lewis considers the impact of fast fashion, speaking to students at the University about how trends in the student population are moving away from this type of consumerism
Images of thousands of unsold fast fashion items ending up in Chile’s Atacama Desert hit headlines in late 2021, shocking many as to the reality of rampant fashion consumerism. Al Jazeera reported that approximately 39,000 tonnes of unsold clothing and accessories are dumped unethically, causing great environmental distress. These items were made in the East, shipped to the West, and resold in South America, travelling thousands of miles before their end destination, polluting the natural world. The University of Manchester has reported that the fast fashion industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste every year. Clearly, fast fashion is a highly problematic industry, especially under the current pressures to tackle climate change. The dire human rights consequences of fast fashion are often reported, such as the extremely low wages of garments makers – often in large factories in Asian countries – and the associated issues of slave labour. Just last year, it emerged that the popular British fast fashion company Boohoo was paying their workers in Leicester far below minimum wage, under £4 an hour. Moreover, there were claims payment was completed by cash in hand, and therefore illegal – exploiting migrant workers for the profit of the company.
The Wall Street Journal has optimistically stated that the COVID-19 pandemic will banish end-of-season sales. They state that companies have dealt well with supply chain chaos. With reduced garment production in mega factories, companies have come out the other end with less stock to shift for sales and maintained, or even improved, their profit margins. However, consumer behaviour has been strange in recent years as people were shuttered away, not having the opportunities to spend their disposable income. Many continued to buy clothing and accessories. As such, whilst the pandemic may have challenged corporations and encouraged a reduction in stock quantities, it remains that more needs to be done by consumers to pressure the foundations of fast fashion to change.
A Vogue 2020 Business survey of 105 members of generation Z reported that more than half bought most of their clothes from fast fashion brands. For a generation who, as The Guardian’s Sirin Kale says, like to be thought of as ‘socially progressive and environmentally aware,’ many are still drawn to the rampant consumerism of fast fashion. From the pressures of social media and influencers who support brands and encourage overconsumption, to the cheap prices of modern fashion trends – £4 dresses can be easily bought from fast fashion companies such as Boohoo – it is clear the drive towards sustainability has a long way to go.
However, the youth of society are leading fashion consciousness – a YouGov poll commissioned by the University of Hull and reported on in December 2019 by Wales Online stated that 58% of 18–24-year-olds said they would likely buy second-hand clothes, with 25% actively shopping sustainably for the Christmas season. Professor Parsons, Director at Hull University’s Energy & Environment Institute, stated: ‘we will have to live with the consequences of our throwaway culture for decades – if not centuries to come […] it is encouraging to see that young people are now driving a move towards a new environmentally-conscious and aware society.’
Redbrick investigated the attitudes of students at the University of Birmingham to see if young adults were changing their fashion habits. During COVID-19 lockdowns, many I interviewed said they began to learn traditional skills, such as sewing, crocheting and embroidery. For example, one University of Birmingham student, Jessica Henlan, decided to teach herself to sew in the first lockdown, and then began upcycling her old clothes to make tops to sell on depop.
When asked if she had much interest from other students after she began to promote her altering skills, Jessica remarked: ‘I was surprised by how popular the service was, loads of students came to me and I quickly grew my Instagram page. It is great to help people make their clothes fit just how they want or save a favourite item that has been damaged. I think promoting alterations and repairs increases the appeal of shopping second-hand, where it’s often difficult to find items that are the perfect fit.’
Evidently, there is an interest amongst students for managing the clothes they already own, instead of purchasing new items constantly. Redbrick also spoke to the President of Fashion Society at Birmingham university, Orla Gibbons, for the following interview.
R: Do fashion society try and emphasise second-hand fashion?
OG: ‘Fashion society fully supports and emphasises second-hand and sustainable fashion. We are acutely aware of both the environmental and ethical impacts of fast fashion and hope to help educate students and members about this. Our charity shop crawls are particularly popular events, as was the guest speaker event on sustainable fashion last year.’
R: Have you found that students are interested in ‘slow’ fashion and moving away from overconsumption?
OG: ‘I do think that we are making an impact. I think our events and informative posts can encourage consumers to reconsider their consumption.
I still think there is a huge issue, especially with students, around consistently buying fast fashion. I believe that frequent nights out prompt students to purchase clothes more often than others, especially from fast fashion outlets which are significantly cheaper than sustainable brands.
However, I believe students are receptive to our posts and willing to gradually change shopping habits. We will continue to educate followers of our social media pages! Informing just one person can make a huge difference.’
This article has attempted to highlight the growing interest amongst young adults for more sustainable methods of fashion consumerism. Whilst there remains a long path ahead until society see a tangible demise in fast fashion, it is certainly encouraging that fast fashion is slowly fading away amongst some, with many becoming actively interested in changing their habits.
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