Fast Fashion: Beyond the Price Tag

As modern consumers, we are constantly searching for the next trend, the next sale and the next new product. To cater to this insatiable capitalist mentality which has become embedded into our society, many popular companies churn out cheaply-made products at an alarmingly rapid rate.  Such products are often created solely from synthetic fabrics and stem from corrupt supply chains allowing them to be made readily available to the masses at heavily reduced prices. Prices which are often so low ethically sustainable companies find they cannot compete.

It will not come as a shock that ABC’s Fiona Pepper reported earlier this year that Australia is the world’s second largest consumer of textiles and that we buy twice the global average of new clothing each year in her interview with sustainability consultant, Jane Milburn. According to Ms Milburn, two-thirds of our clothes are made from synthetic fibres which are derived from petroleum and, ultimately, do not degrade effectively. "There's been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications,” warns Ms Milburn.

Mass-manufactured clothing and textiles, fall into the industry category of ‘fast fashion’; a term which involves products created with a short life span and little defence against natural damage, created with the intention it will be replaced by another cheap and trendy product after a few wears. As a result, the ABC’s comprehensive report; War on Waste, published earlier this year, found that Australians are disposing an astonishing 6,000 kilograms of textile waste every 10 minutes.

Although sustainability levels of clothing and textiles retailed by unethical companies is an enormously damaging aspect of mass production, the issue of ‘fast fashion’ is multi-dimensional, also encompassing a severe social impact. The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory of 2013 in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,000 workers, raised awareness of international outsourcing issues. The incident opened a global discussion about large corporation’s poor treatment of their international workers, driving companies to become more transparent about their supply chain and encouraging them to taking steps to operate more ethically.

Ayesha Barenblat, founder of ethical clothing company; Re-Make, felt change was necessary within the industry after the Rana Plaza fall. “What we needed was a people’s movement to say no more deaths, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in my quest for cheap clothes,” said Barenblat. This became her inspiration to kick start her brand and make positive waves in the Fast Fashion world dictated by greed. Rather than feeling sympathy for those toiling in overseas factories and guilty for purchasing discounted and poorly made textiles, Re-Make’s “meet the maker series” allows her customers to appreciate the “hard work of this forgotten #girlboss at the other end of the supply chain” and value quality products made by these women.

Consequently, Remake encourages consumers to turn their backs on fleeting trends and low-quality garments and become involved in the ‘slow fashion’ movement which involves making sustainably responsible decisions when purchasing clothing and other textiles. Although this may involve paying slightly more than anything retailed by mass produced companies, Barenblat and many others believe that shopping ethically is far more valuable and responsible. Barenblat encourages Remake’s shoppers, especially millennial women, to “recognize that we can wear our feminist values with our shopping choices” and that slow fashion does not have to be “ugly or not affordable”. In addition to clothing becoming produced faster and sold at a lower price range, Barenblat speaks of her fears for the industry as supply chains become increasingly fragmented.

"We can wear our feminist values with our shopping choices" -Remake's founder, Ayesha Barenblat

Ethical Clothing Australia works to combat just this. The non-profit organisation, currently funded by the Victorian government, works with local textile, clothing and footwear companies through their voluntary accreditation program which encourages these organisations to responsibly manage their supply chains and ensures they are legally compliant and completely transparent. The program ensures Australian workers of accredited companies receive “their legal entitlements and work in safe conditions”, assures National Manager, Angela Bell.

ECA recognises businesses accredited through their programs as leaders in their field, as organisations which are committed to manufacturing in Australia, value their workforce and produce higher quality products. Bell explains that ECA now have over 100 businesses part of the program “which is a positive indication that the industry is recognising the need for a more transparent and ethical framework.”

The ethical clothing company, Good Day Girl, formed by Sophie Toohey and Alexia Gnecchi Ruscone, is one of these many businesses currently ECA accredited. This is something they wear proudly as they work not only for the consumers but also for the makers, the environment, local manufacturing and longevity. The label came into creation after the founders realised that certain sizes or styles over seasons were never sold, becoming contributions to the huge amount of the industry’s waste and they knew they had to do something different.

Good Day Girl allows customers to order styles from their seasonal collections, which they showcase at their Trunk shows and they produce them to order. This results in minimal wastage whilst ensuring customers receive quality and long wearing products. Toohey encourages consumers to avoid Fast Fashion choices and “think before [they] buy” and realise that the “more information the better” when it comes to the production and value of our clothing. 

Producers should be looking beyond providing cheap prices and using fast production processes and begin to invest in socially and environmentally conscious supply chains to create sustainable textiles and garments. Much of the fashion readily available today upholds a low standard of quality, this needs to be lifted to allow consumers to expect more from the clothing and products they purchase. As consumers, pay closer attention to where the products they purchase originate and recognise that price often equates to the condition of the supply chain. Look beyond the next ‘bargain’, style and $5 t-shirt, and make a responsible choice by shopping with businesses who aspire to salvage the fashion industry by producing socially aware and sustainable products. 

Christina Karras