Fast Fashion on the way out after COVID pandemic?

Fast Fashion on the way out after COVID pandemic?

Fashion & The Environment

With some clothing brands producing up to 20 collections a year and others selling garments for, to use a phrase from Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, “pocket money prices”, it is no wonder the number of new clothes bought by shoppers has more than doubled in the past decade.

“The charity shops were closed, the local tips were closed. I think it was a bit of a wake-up call in how much we’re actually throwing away.

“People have been aware of sustainability for a long time but not blaming themselves for being part of that [throwaway culture]… so I think that’s starting to change.”

Dr Cassidy believes we are now “waking up”. “Everybody has been re-evaluating their lives throughout these past 12 months.”

Still, shoppers could do with a dose of reality about the consequences of their hunger for new trends. “Many consumers are not aware that the fast fashion business model is driven by the industry’s reliance on cheap synthetic fibres in order to sell new products,” says Urska Trunk of Changing Markets, a sustainability foundation. “Unless the fashion industry’s addiction to synthetics is broken, their quest for cheap clothing will create untenable volumes of waste and emit more carbon than the planet can handle.”

survey by consultants McKinsey on how the pandemic has changed shopping habits found 58 per cent of people are now less concerned about fashion, prioritising whether they actually like the garment, comfort and quality. Two-thirds of people are planning to buy more durable items and 71 per cent intend to keep the clothes they own for longer. In a sign of optimism, McKinsey says the pandemic has provided a “reset” for brands to pursue sustainability.

The momentum for change has been building. M&S is moving away from trend-led pieces towards producing 100 classic items that can be worn year after year, while Primark has launched a leisurewear capsule collection using recycled cotton.

“[The fabric] comes from China – a lot of people react against that and think, ‘That’s not a very sustainable starting point,’” says Hutchison. “[But] everything is made in one place in China and then it’s brought over to the UK.

“We’ve all got to slow down a bit. Sustainability isn’t just about recycled fabrics, it has got to be about different ways of shopping.

“We’re not trying to preach to people and say they can’t go shopping – the fashion industry is amazing but we all just need to be a bit more thoughtful about what we’re buying and what the consequences of it are.”

Windle adds: “I think attitudes are definitely changing. What we’ve seen is the young generation is definitely interested in ethical or sustainable brands.

“There’s some backlash about sustainability being more expensive and we’ve really tried to address that with our pricing. We’ve tried to come in at middle-market so we’re just competing with other generic brands that aren’t sustainable rather than coming in as this luxurious, unreachable ideal.”

People can also take the matter into their own hands by using fashion marketplace apps, such as Depop, to sell their old clothes, or rent new items à la environmentally-conscious Carrie Johnson, who borrowed her wedding dress to marry the Prime Minister.

“Retailers and brands are increasingly making strides to reduce their environmental impact, with technology also playing a huge part in helping tackle the challenge of textile waste. The innovation of more sustainable fibres is also ramping up,” says Michelle Russell of analyst firm Global Data.

A grassroots movement is also encouraging shoppers to treat their purchases with respect by repairing and updating the items, rather than replacing them. As reported in i, craftivist Suzi Warren organised 14 UK-wide street stitching events this week, with 26 people turning up at Bromley High Street in London to demonstrate how to fix old fashion.

Warren said the events were a success because passersby did not feel judged, but realised they should extend their clothes’ shelf life.

The key to sustainability is circularity. The newly-opened Textiles Circularity Centre, funded by the Government, will turn textiles, crop residues and household wastes into renewable materials for new textiles. The Textiles 2030 initiative, which has the support of major high street brands, aims to reduce greenhouse gases while the Government’s Waste Prevention Programme for England is looking at whether the textiles industry can contribute to the cost of recycling.

But Kate Fletcher, professor of sustainability, design and fashion at London College of Fashion, wonders if the very urge that drives us towards fast fashion is the same as the one for sustainable fashion.

“The UK’s relationship with ‘sustainable fashion’ is also highly developed. It seems likely this is because the appetite for all types of fashion consumption is big in the UK.” She believes that fewer products need to be made.

Although the revolution is quiet for now – latest sales figures for Zara are ahead of pre-pandemic levels due to online shopping, plus clothing sales jumped by 70 per cent from March to April as lockdown eased – Dr Cassidy believes fast fashion consumption will slow down.

“It’s not going to run forever and I think that sort of ‘buy it and throw it away culture’ is going to go out of fashion. We are sort of mimicking what was happening in the Second World War with people basically upcycling everything because of the rationing of clothing and fabric. I think we are coming back to that.

“We’ve got better technologies, we’ve got better lifestyles, we’ve got more money than people had then but it’s still that psyche of doing the right thing. I think people have become a bit more compassionate.