I have a confession to make… and I am fairly sure you are guilty of being a perpetrator in this too. We have been a part of an industry that is devastating the planet, exploiting the vulnerable and desecrating its consumers mental health. So, what could we all be associating with that is thought to be one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world, second to only the oil business? That is right. The Fashion Industry. More specifically Fast Fashion; the term coined to define clothing where retailers have moved trends seen on the top catwalks to the high street in the shortest time possible.

You might never have heard of this term before, but it has ramifications that surge across the whole world. The clothes are designed to be bought by the masses, as they allow all to dip their toes into what is considered fashionable that season, without committing a large sum of money to any singular product. I mentioned the word “season”, and this is key to the way the fast fashion industry thrives. The commerce flourishes on the principle that every season its consumers will want to throw away their clothes in order to make room for what is currently going hot off the shelves. This is problematic in so many ways.

There is something so hypocritical about a women’s t – shirt being sold at fashion powerhouse ‘Missguided’ with the slogan “feminist” emblazoned across the £5 tee’s front. This is because fast fashion brands like ‘Missguided’ are actively disempowering women. These mega – businesses are beguiling generations of young and old into decades of poverty. We turn a blind eye to these helpless workers in developing countries by deliberately choosing to buy into their products. This is as close to slave labour in present day as these companies can get and we are doing nothing to stop it.

75 000 000 people are making our cheap clothes for us every single day. Of these 75 million, over 80% are females between the ages 18-24 years old. The overwhelming majority of these neglected employees are payed as little as less than $3 a day. Appallingly, it will take one of these labourers over 18 months to make the same as these Fashion Brand CEO’s do in their lunch break. Your cheaply made, cheaply priced clothes in your wardrobe are produced by underage workers. These are children as young as 12, working on average 14 hours per day for such low wages. They work in sweatshops in vulgar conditions constantly faced with exhaustion, dehydration and sexual harassment.

Fast fashion is actually expensive for us despite first glance at our receipts. And with its constant need to replace our wardrobe, not even by desire but also by need, it is actually damaging the environment. The clothes are so poorly made that they ultimately fall apart. Thus, ending up in landfills as they aren’t in good enough condition to donate or upcycle. In Britain only 11% of our clothes will get resold. Everything else ends up in landfills to leave behind toxic chemicals and dyes after sitting there for upward of two centuries.

The major cotton producers - China and India, already face water shortages, and this is set to increase in the next decade by more than half the shortages experienced right now. This will put newly emerging economies in the difficult dilemma of deciding between clean water or a very profitable economy plan.

So, what can we do with all these terrible facts and figures? If you’re feeling defeated right now, there is a reason for that. This is because even when we do hear such gross statistics, we can only at most experience compassion fatigue. I am going to leave you with a call to action that there are changes you can make. By educating yourself and altering your buying habits we can defeat these companies.

How can we make these changes?

There are actually a number of things we as the consumer can do. These are little things like checking the tags: you are going to want to look for natural fibres like organic cotton, silk, wool and linen and avoid polyester or other synthetic fabrics. These natural options last longer and keep in better shape for when you decide to donate your clothes or sell them. The plus side is that even if they end up in landfills they decompose quickly.

How do I know if it is a fast fashion brand?

If you are interested to find out if the shops you buy at are sustainable, I would recommend searching on the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. It is a hugely informative search engine that can educate you about your consumer habits.

The more we choose not to buy into them, the more pressure there is for them to change. It isn’t about boycotting factories or countries’ economy it is about making sustainable choices in as many aspects of our lives as we can.

Amala Sangha