What is fast fashion? [and why good uniforms are made to last]
Uniforms are made to very high standards to ensure longevity. When they are worn all day every day they need to be able to last the distance and perform better than high street fashions that change annually.
If there's one thing we've learnt from the fashion industry, it's that sometimes cheaper can often come at a cost to our environment. You'll also likely find you're having to replace your purchases more frequently, which only equates to more, more, and more waste.
In this blog, we take a deep dive into the well-established industry of fast-fashion, and weigh up the pros and cons of always going for the cheaper option. The effects might be more substantial than you'd think.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is the practice of taking on-trend clothing that's debut in popular collections or on the catwalk, and very quickly imitating and mass producing them to be sold to the consumer in large, chain stores.
Think of your standard, big clothing companies, like Zara, Kmart or H&M - these are all fast fashion chains that take popular or trending designs and mass produce at pace.
Typically, rather than re-stocking or replacing a line of clothing once it runs out, fast fashion stores will move in a brand new, trendy line to replace old stock. Sometimes, this will happen multiple times in one single week.
The psychological effect this has on consumers is unprecedented. There's a sense of urgency created, where consumers feel that if they don't buy it in that moment, they may not ever have the opportunity to again.
We can understand the temptation. It's clothing that does the job, looks pretty good, and comes at the fraction of the cost of other fashionable and sustainable options. On a surface level, it's a pretty tempting option.
If you're not sure how to tell if your favourite store is a fast fashion brand, here are a few tips on what to look out for:
- Hundreds of styles available
- Very short turn around times between 'becoming trendy' and appearing in store
- The garments are manufactured off shore
- There's a limited quantity of a particular line available
- Cheaper, low quality materials that degrade after a few wears
The uglier under-belly of the fast fashion industry
Of course like most things in life, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. There's a hugely devastating downside to the fast fashion industry, and what consumers aren't paying in price, they are paying for in other ways.
To cut down the cost to purchase a garment, fast fashion suppliers cut costs by using cheaper textiles and dyes.
The devastating effect that fast fashion has on our planet is undeniable and evident. In fact, the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters of clean water, globally, second only to agriculture. The primary reason for this is the cheap and toxic textile dyes used to colour fabrics. The harmful chemicals in the dyes are leaking into our fresh waterways, polluting our sources of clean water.
Cheap textiles are also increasingly becoming problematic. One of the most popular fabrics used in the fast fashion industry is polyester, which is derived from fossil fuels. The manufacturing of polyester materials contributes to global warming and can shed microfibres that add to the levels of plastic in our oceans.
It's very clear that while fast fashion is inexpensive, the dangerous effect it's production has on our environment isn't so positive.
It's fairly well known that fast fashion industries often employ cheap, off shore labour to create their garments quickly and for a low cost. These workers are often subject to terrible working conditions, that can put them endanger and force them to work long hours for far less than an adequate living wage.
There have been many reports of fires breaking out in sweatshops, and entire buildings collapsing and killing workers due to a lack of maintenance and regulation.
Within the supply chain, factory workers are often asked to use pesticides and toxic chemicals that can severely effect both their mental and physical health.
There's no doubt that fast fashion needs further scrutiny around the working conditions of the factories they are manufactured in as well as the polluting effects of their outputoffshore, cheap labour.
The nature of the industry is in the title - it's fast.
Consumers are encouraged to throw away garments and replace them quickly with newer, more fashionable clothing items. The pressure of keeping up with trends, responding to the urgency created by short-lived clothing lines, and constantly being seen in new looks is taking a toll on the reusability of clothing.
Of course this means a lot more waste going into landfills, rather than recycling. In fact over 85% of clothing waste goes straight to landfills, with only a few communities taking part in textile recycling programs.
The garments are cheap, and naturally, don't last as long.
Is there a more sustainable approach?
There are plenty of counter options emerging in the market that offer a more sustainable approach to the clothing industry. From using more sustainable textile options to regulating the supply chain that creates the garments, companies are considering more responsible options.
At Arrow Uniforms, we take our environmental and social responsibility seriously.
Here's how we've been innovating to counter the fast fashion trend:
- We undertake audits by internationally recognised environmental organisations.
- We check our own suppliers and rate them on their ethical and environmental sustainability before we engage with them.
- We regularly visit and inspect the factories we use, so we can be sure everything is safe and running as it should be.
- Our factories utilise computerised cutting machines which has increased fabric yields by up to 15%, meaning a lot less waste.
- We are now working closely with our suppliers to limit the use of chemicals and reduce the amount of water and energy required to successfully dye our fabrics.
- Instead of purchasing new garments every time a staff member requests them, we clean and store re-cycled uniforms on behalf of our clients.
- We recently switched all our delivery satchels to 100% plant based bags, reducing our use of soft plastic bags by 40,000 plus units per year.
And that's just the beginning. If you're interested in our full sustainability policy, you can check it out here.
We understand the demand that fast fashion has created and know it's important to do our part in reversing the damage.
Where to from here?
Next time you're making either a small purchase at your local mall, or considering refitting your entire team with a new uniform, make sure you do your research on fast fashion chains and their lack of sustainability. The best approach to clothing is an informed one!
Keen to work with our team and fit your crew out with a sustainable kit? Get in touch.