Clothing is now disposable
Thanks to the rise of fast fashion culture in the UK, we have made clothing disposable. We buy an outfit that we don’t need, wear it once, and then move onto the next trend that gets force fed via social media ads and influencers. Most of us probably have no idea where this piece of clothing began. Where was the cotton farmed and who stitched the lapel? What were the conditions like in the factory and how much did the garment maker get paid? Clothing has lost its value.
In return, wardrobes are full of cheap, poor quality knock offs that still have their tags on. If they have been worn, they’ve shrunk in the wash and lost a few buttons, maybe the hemline is coming undone. Hence the throwaway cycle begins. More cheap clothing is ordered online and seamlessly delivered the next day to feed our fast fashion addiction. Much like fast food, fast fashion fills a gap temporarily, but carries with it unforeseen consequences and a hidden cost.
So, this constant pattern of overconsumption seems innocent on the surface but it’s what we don’t see that’s the real problem. Every year, the UK is sending £140m of non-biodegradable clothing to landfill. Whilst we drop off our clothes to charity shops and textile waste bins in the guise of ‘recycling’, we never contemplate the huge piles of waste overflowing in landfill sites the other side of the world.
The fast fashion second hand clothing market
One place that can shed some light on the throwaway crisis is Accra. In Ghana, Accra’s Kantamanto second hand clothing market has supported the city’s economy and its residents for decades. However, the UK’s perpetual fast fashion culture is producing extreme social, economic and environmental consequences.
For instance, due to the alarming rise of consumerism and throwaway culture in the West, the Kantamanto market is becoming inundated with poor quality, cheap clothes which they cannot resell. This is detrimental to not just the livelihoods of the market traders. The copious amounts of poor quality imported clothing is sent to toxic and dangerous local landfill sites. These landfill sites are overflowing and harmful to locals and waste pickers who struggle to find anything they can reuse amongst the rubbish.
Dead Man’s White Clothes is a research project exploring the second-hand clothing market in Accra. The name comes from the phrase market sellers use to describe the clothes shipped to the market. This ironic expression has evolved from the notion that someone would have to die to give up so much stuff. Implying that the concept of excess is completely foreign. Above all, this in itself is a clear indication of how wasteful we in the West have become. As consumers we have forgotten how to care for our clothing.
Buy less and buy better
Whilst we are starting to see brands making big commitments to sustainable fashion, progress is slow. As consumers, we are the driving force of the industry with brands supplying our insatiable hunger for a fashion fix. This can seem like a daunting topic and it requires nuance – we are all hypocrites and guiltily have wardrobes full of fast fashion brands. How can we possibly part with them? The good news is; being sustainable starts with the clothes that you already own.
Love Your Clothes, is a campaign ran by the charity WRAP. The campaign encourages us to keep textiles out of the bin and change the way we buy and use clothing. It aims to improve the entire life-cycle of a piece of clothing, with the belief that the most significant opportunity for reducing the environmental impact of clothing, lies in extending the life of clothes we already have.
Love Your Clothes suggests these four tips to start loving your clothes:
- Buying better – Starting with choosing to buy better clothes that are made to last.
- Care and repair – Making small changes like washing clothing at 30° – this makes our clothes last longer and uses less energy.
- Refashion and upcycle – Find new ways to revamp your wardrobe.
- Find unwanted clothes a good home – instead of blindly sending clothes to charity shops, check here to find your local textile recycling location.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the solution lies with the brands, consumers or within government policy. We have all played a part in the problem, and in turn we should all take responsibility for it.