The fast fashion industry has made sure our wardrobes remain up-to-date and in style. The ocean is not something we consider when deliberating our fashion choices, but in recent years there’s been an increasing awareness on fast fashion’s detriment to the environment, however it’s still not enough.
Today there are around 1.4 million trillion microfibres of plastic polluting our oceans, and 35% of this derives from textiles. If we continue in this manner, an extra 22 million tonnes will be added in the next 30 years.
Fast fashion or throwaway fashion?
Mass production of clothing has introduced a culture of disposable fashion. High street brands, like H&M and New Look, reproduce the latest trends from affordable materials so they can be purchased at an inexpensive price. Where this may seem positive as the ordinary consumer is able to keep up to date with the newest fashion, this has lead to the introduction of ‘throwaway fashion‘. The pieces are cheap and of mediocre quality so are easy to bulk buy and bin once worn.
These trends, at present usually derived from TikTok, usually swiftly go out of style, leaving the new outfit to be abandoned. For example, the fur-trimmed cardigans from House of Sunny came quickly into fashion in Autumn 2020, adhering to the Y2K aesthetic. ASOS and Zara quickly jumped on the scene with their own versions of the knitwear, until their mass production made the pastel-coloured fur ‘basic’ and impractical.
But staying on trend comes at a cost and the planet pays.
How is marine life impacted?
The fashion industry is the second biggest cause of pollution, after the oil industry, and a significant portion of this is plastic.
Polyester is one of the most popular textiles used in our clothes, and is potentially the most harmful to the environment. Almost 60% of our clothes are made from synthetic materials, also including nylon, acrylic, and polyamide. These man-made materials don’t only cause harm in their production by the use of fossil fuels (nearly 70 million barrels of oil per year) but are also nonbiodegradable. These materials shed microfibres that contain plastics, which end up in our oceans, our drinking water, and even the air we breathe. On average per year, we breathe in at least 13,000 to 68,000 plastic microfibers.
One of the main ways these fibres end up in our oceans is through washing. An average of 700,000 microfibres are released into the ocean with every wash. Washing machines are not designed to filter these plastics, simply because they are so small (less than 5mm in size), so they are released into wastewater treatment plants, and eventually reside in the ocean.
As these plastics begin to slowly break down, they emit powerful greenhouse gases which pose as a danger to human and marine health. Additionally, fish and other marine animals end up eating the microfibres, which impacts their ability to feed and reproduce. According to The Guardian, microplastics are killing fish before they reach reproductive age.
Who is to blame?
Society tends to blame the consumer. It’s our fault for buying bodycon dresses from Primark or Boohoo. Whilst this is somewhat true, this issue is more of a corporation problem, and the buyer is a scapegoat.
Agreeably there is so much more we can do for our planet. But being able to completely avoid fast fashion is a privilege that isn’t discussed often. With the increase of awareness of fast fashion amongst our generation, some tend to take a critical and ignorant approach to the issue by blaming shoppers and questioning their morality.
There’s a reason why these brands are so popular: they’re cheap. So before directly blaming shoppers through a retweet or Instagram story, consider that without such brands, some families would go without new clothes. It is a classist and fantasist approach, to dictate that fast fashion brands should be completely boycotted. Those who have to rely on them must be given leeway. You’re not a bad person for giving into fast fashion.
Additionally, some tends to fall into the trickery of, if it’s pricey, it’s sustainable. Brands like Zara and Urban Outfitters are still far off becoming ethical or sustainable. In fact, their ‘sustainable’ products make up such a small fraction of their range, it needs to be asked is it all for show?
We are not the innocent party. But we are not entirely to blame. It’s those higher up that need to be held responsible; fashion brands, retailers, and our government.
So what can we do?
Whilst it isn’t our fault, it is our responsibility to help our environment. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Shop second hand: Not everything needs to be new. Avoid fast fashion retailers where you can and decrease demand. Start shopping from places like Depop, Vinted, and local charity shops. You’ll be saving marine life and money.
- Sell your clothes: This is a great way to make money as well as preventing waste. Again, sites like Depop or Facebook Marketplace. Or even give them away to a friend. One man’s trash is another man’s outfit.
- Shop sustainably: Ethical brands can be pricey at times, but good on you has listed 24 ethical brands available in the UK.
- Wear to wash: Wash your clothes less. Tops and shirts should be washed every 1-2 wears. Dresses every 2-3 wears. Trousers and jumpers every 4-6 wears. Also short cycles, fabric softener, and washing at a low temperature can reduce shedding.
- Be mindful: Do you really need a brand new outfit for that event? Will you ever wear it again? Stop buying things you don’t need. You might not be able to avoid fast fashion, but you don’t need to abuse it.
- Do your research: Read up on your favourite brands, are they doing their bit? If not, try shop somewhere that does. Or buy their clothes second hand, and that way you’re not directly supporting their brand.
- Hold them accountable: Write to your local MP. Start or support a campaign. Tell your friends. Avoid fast fashion where you can. For example, Fashion Revolution suggests “legislation should also be passed requiring all new washing machines to be fitted with effective filters to ensure maximum capture of microfibres.”