Plastic polluting our oceans. Palm oil destroying our forests. The global impact of how much we consume and what we are consuming may seem like an overplayed record by now. But eating organic food and using natural beauty products isn’t going to cut it if you want to reduce your carbon footprint. You forgot to look in the one place that really needs an eco-makeover – your wardrobe.
Fashion today moves at lightning speed. In a matter of weeks, what we see on the catwalk is transported to the clothing ranks in our high street shops – cheaply made, not built to last the season, soon to be replaced with more unneeded garments. Once, retailers would only produce seasonal collections, but now the H&Ms of the world have new lines every week to entice the consumer to buy more. Not only does this mean that we are spending our hard earned cash on an unprecedented amount of flimsy clothing, but our culture of over-consuming fast fashion has had a devastating impact on the environment.
The fashion industry is the largest manufacturing business in the world. According to Wrap, 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing was purchased in 2016 in the UK alone. This staggering shopping addition has literally dried up oceans. In 40 years the Aral sea in Central Asia, once home to thousands of wildlife, has completely dried up. And it’s not coming back any time soon.
Not only are we buying lots of clothes, but our retail therapy creates a lot of waste that ends up in landfills or polluting riverways and oceans. In the UK, our textile consumption produces 800,000 tonnes of process waste, which is an awful lot. Fast fashion is one of the biggest contributors to environmental pollution, yet it’s a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of clothing.
The history of retail therapy
Once upon a time, clothes were made to last. For most of human history, clothing has been handmade, with each garment being created individually to suit each wearer. Before the mass production boom of the Industrial Revolution, most textiles were produced locally and by hand. Clothes were investments and built to last years instead of seasons.
The Industrial Revolution changed all this. The invention of steam powered machines led to the production of textiles and garments becoming faster and faster. New textile machines, factories and clothing made in bulk made the price of fashion fall. Suddenly, mass-produced clothing was more affordable and easily attainable to everyday people.
The World Wars
After the standardisation of clothing styles in the World Wars due to fabric restrictions and the need for functional clothing, people become used to the idea of mass-produced fashion. So what if your coat was the exact same as your best friend’s, everyone is wearing it and it’s so cheap! Despite mass-produced clothing hitting off, the ethos of ‘make do and mend’ still held true. You might have bought your wardrobe from the shiny new department store in town, but you wouldn’t throw away a top because it had a hole in it. A whole closet would have to accommodate to any social setting and all seasons. Your winter coat was just that - your coat for winter, come rain or shine. But, this all changed with the onslaught of the 1960s.
The swinging sixties
Living in the decade of change, the consumers of the swinging ‘60s became the first fast fashion generation. Cheaply made clothing styling the latest fashion trends were eaten up by eager customers. Increasing demand for affordable clothing led to fashion giants outsourcing labour to the developing world, opening up ‘sweatshops’ where workers spent (and still spend) ungodly hours manufacturing clothing to feed our growing desire for more and more clothes.
Where we are now
Cheap labour, streamlined supply chains and globalised production networks making knock-offs of high-end fashion all form the system that feeds the fast fashion addiction we are all guilty of buying into. Designer royalty like Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton are now struggling to compete with the market dominance of high street retailers who, to the untrained eye, produce almost identical clothes for next to nothing. Quality has been swapped for quantity and ease, with individual style and experimentation dying a death.
Behind the curtain - the true cost of fast fashion
Wearing clothes that look good and make us feel good is a huge source of confidence for most people. We want to look good in front of our friends, colleagues and even strangers. Fast fashion makes it possible to have a fully kitted out wardrobe that achieves the look of high-end apparel without breaking the bank.
But the curtain has begun to fall and the true payoff for our throw-away culture is being revealed for all to see. Documentaries like Stacey Dooley’s ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’ have revealed the hidden truth of disposable fashion that has shocked even the most dedicated fashionista. With more people opening their eyes to the reality of their shopping addiction, slow fashion has gradually grown in momentum as more people turn towards more sustainable living.
Slow fashion wins the race
We’ve all been there – in a room cluttered with clothes frantically flung from their hangers with nothing to wear, a look of pure despair on your face wondering whether to just wear a bin bag. Having a wardrobe full of clothes doesn’t mean that what’s in your closet really suits your individual style. Dispensable fashion has ruined our ability to judge the good garments from the bad, let alone what suits us personally.
Slow fashion is a lifestyle movement that is based on a less-is-more ethos – consuming less and investing more in terms of what clothes we buy. It advocates choosing attire that is of high quality, made to last, and is produced sustainably and fairly. This means slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and less waste. Who What Wear have even made a very helpful Venn diagram that visualises what slow-fashion is all about: lasting, sustainable fashion that ensures fair treatment towards the people who make it.
It’s quite an easy mindset to live by. Simply stay away from the latest fashion fad or en vogue trend. Instead, invest in well-made, ethically-produced clothing that fits your personal style. Look for brands that opt for using local materials and resources to create their products, use sustainable fabrics, or give a new lease of life to reclaimed fabric, secondhand pieces, and vintage clothing. By choosing pieces that are beautifully well-made, suit you and your individual style that will last, you will have a wardrobe that never goes out of season.
If you haven’t already converted, then you might be persuaded by this little nugget of information. Slow living is not just a holistic fad – it’s backed by science. Studies have found that while you only get short term happiness from buying material objects which quickly fades, while investing money in items that mean more or spending it on an experience gives you an endorphin buzz for much longer. Who knew?
The turning tide of fashion
The fashion world is now waking up and realising that there is a need for change. At last year’s show in Milan, the great Alessandro Michele, the designer of Gucci, delivered this message: “Resist the mantra of speed that violently leads to losing oneself. Resist the illusion of something new at any cost”. Talk about fashion royalty coming down from on high to bestow some words of wisdom. But they are words to live by - don’t get distracted by the shiny new things in the shop windows, stay true to your style and individuality.
Simple living with ethical, sustainable fashion means less consumption. And we all know what that means – less use of the earth’s natural resources disappearing. By actively choosing slow fashion over disposable clothes that are killing our environment, we are contributing to creating a more sustainable future.
At Archie Foal, cultivating sustainable, slow fashion is our aim. We strive to provide clothing that is made to be useful and luxurious -- real quality and real expertise honed over generations that is put into every stitch. Sourced from traditional British suppliers who have specialised in crafting durable, expertly made fabrics for centuries - the likes of Hainsworths, Abraham Moons and Halley Stevenson - our Archie Foal clothing is made to prioritise quality over quantity, durability over novelty.
Designed to improve with time, not disintegrate, our clothes stand the test of time. Merging traditional craftsmanship with modern innovations, the heritage of our suppliers in crafting British-made, high-quality fabrics means that our clothing is made with honest workmanship, cultivated skill and passion - not plastics.Featured image courtesy of Abraham Moons