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Life & Style

Fashion, Life & Style

Can Generation Z put the brakes on fast fashion?

UK consumers buy more clothes per person than any other European country and five times more than we did in 1980. Fashion brands are pumping a compelling message that we need the latest ‘on-trend’ items to be unique, powerful and successful and this is driving unprecedented demand on the textiles industry. Added to that, a new wave of entrants to the fashion industry are targeting teenagers and young women to accelerate fast fashion, pushing consumers to buy and dispose of clothes at an alarming rate. 

In this special guest blog, Alex Crumbie from Ethical Consumer Magazine reveals the publication’s latest reports into fast fashion and gives advice on how we can help guide our young people through a complex psychological onslaught from the online fashion industry. 

Cheap and dirty fashion

Our fashion industry is fundamentally broken and fast fashion has taken hold. Clothing is produced fast, consumers make fast buying decisions, delivery happens almost instantaneously, and all to often clothes are worn infrequently and discarded after only a few wears (or even after just one outing).

It’s true to say that the ethical fashion revolution is also growing and more clothing brands are getting involved with sustainable initiatives, but a new type of fast fashion is also infiltrating the mainstream market, and it’s having a hugely negative impact. 

New ultra-fast fashion brands, such as Missguideed and Boohoo and Pretty little thing, are aimed at Generation Z, our teenagers and young women who are just starting to find their identity and their image. And they are being sold a harmful message. 

Online fashion companies, such as brands those mentioned above, have made fast tracks into this market in recent years. These behemoths of fashion pump out cheap clothes like they’re, well, going out of fashion. 

Hundreds of new pieces are added every week in a never-ending stream of mass-produced individuality, where catwalk trends can be replicated and online within a matter of days. At the time of writing, Pretty Little Thing had 1001 items classified as ‘new this week’ and Missguided 1,096. With over 500 items listed as under £5 on the Boohoo website.

Using a tribe of Instagrammers, influencers, pop stars, vloggers and bloggers, Boohoo and Missguided are creating a strong and compelling image. They drive the message that female empowerment, individuality, popularity, and confidence is accessed through the way you dress. Having watched a few fashion influencers unwrap their £500 ‘hauls’ (orders) on YouTube, it’s easy to see how the buzz of the purchase and the status of the influencer can manipulate young minds.  

It’s not always clear if the influencer is being sponsored, or paid in kind and, as with many YouTubers and reality TV stars, the lines between reality and make-believe is blurred. 

But it’s not just the influencers who are acting as ambassadors for fast fashion. Anyone can receive cash for driving new customers to these companies.  The social network and fashion marketplace 21 Buttons was launched in 2016 as a hub for fashionistas to upload pictures of themselves wearing their shoppable outfits. Users tag each shoppable item so that viewers can click directly to the brand’s online website and purchase the outfit. The user gets a kickback of between 4-6% of the retail price on sales. This clever and effective model turns customers into the most powerful sales team – at a fraction of the price of advertising. 

The premise behind this whole industry is to push cheaply made, disposable fashion that is quickly outdated, driving a continuous purchasing pattern.

The cost of fast fashion

A recent survey by Barnardo’s found that 37% of young people aged 16-24 would be too embarrassed to wear an outfit more than once if they wore it to a special occasion and 17% wouldn’t wear an outfit again if it had been on Instagram. You can’t help but think that this behaviour is correlated to the ready availability of fast, cheap fashion promoted by social media stars.

This multi-billion-pound industry shows no sign of slowing down and we’re increasingly aware of the social and environmental consequences. It fuels the carbon emissions behind the textile industry and of course, when you can buy a bikini for £1, you can bet that no-one is being paid a fair wage to make it. 

Indeed, a Financial Times exposé in 2018 showed that workers in Leicester factories, which supply these brands, were being paid as little as £3.50, which is under half the legal minimum wage in the UK, for workers over the age of 24. 

Meanwhile, The Ellen McArthur Foundation recently reported that the textile industry emits more greenhouse gases each year than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, that’s a staggering 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. A recent cross-parliamentary inquiry discovered that of the 1 million tonnes of textiles that the UK’s discards each year, 300,000 tonnes go in the bin. 20% of that is sent to landfill and 80% is incinerated. But the disposal of textiles is the tip of the iceberg – 70% of the carbon footprint of a garment sits in the manufacturing process.

Fighting fast fashion

Campaigners such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace are calling for the fashion industry to develop a circular economy. Instead of a linear ‘produce, use, dispose’ approach, the circular, closed-loop structure would see clothes made from durable, recyclable materials so that clothes last longer, can be repaired more easily and can be recycled into new outfits. But we can’t just rely on others to act.

It was Shakespeare who wrote the words “Oh, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd!” about protagonist Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream.  We too should be angry about the influence that fast fashion is having across a whole generation of young women, and must also be shrewd in our response.

As young people, or as the mothers and fathers who shape them, we can help to mitigate the messages that are being streamed into our homes. This starts with educating our children about consumerism and prompting them to ask questions of brands and our government. 

In schools, we can push for more education on consumerism: 

  • Organisations such as TRAID provide education packs for teachers and parents to discuss the issues behind a throwaway culture.
  • We can lobby for sustainability to feature more highly in the curriculum, particularly in PSHE, Textiles, and Design and Technology subjects. 

At home, we can live by example and demonstrate our commitment to slowing down fashion:

  • Repair or reuse clothes wherever possible – teach children how to sew and mend clothes
  • Replace items only when necessary and only buy what you need
  • Shop second-hand wherever possible
  • Swap clothes with friends
  • Give outgrown children’s clothes away and accept those offered to you
  • Give clothes that no longer fit to charity for resale or recycling
  • If you need to buy new clothes, buy from ethical retailers who are committed to sustainable production – see the Ethical Consumer product guide for a full list of the fairest brands 
  • Start asking questions of your favourite brands and get your kids involved too – use the hashtag #whomademyclothes on social media to force brands to be more transparent about their supply chains
  • Get involved at protests and support organisations who are fighting the slow fashion revolution – such as Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution

We’d love to hear how you are making an impact and driving action. Comment below to share your ideas with other readers. 

Find out how your favourite brands rank on their approach to sustainable fashion in our high street product guide.

Life & Style

How to Support Your Local Environmental Charity

how-to-support-your-local-environmental-charity

I don’t talk a lot about my day job very often on here, so you may be surprised to learn that I have spent two-thirds of my working life – a combined total of 11 years – working for different environmental charities. I’ve worked for three in total, and currently, work for a local climate change charity – helping the local community take action on climate change.

In each of the charities I have worked for, whilst each has been different in what they do, each charity has faced the same issues so I thought it would be really useful to all environmental charities across the land to put together a post on how we as individuals can best support the important environmental work that they do. So here’s a non-exhaustive list of ideas on how to support your local environmental charity.

I’m not for a second suggesting that you do every single thing here, but even taking one or two points on board where and if you can, would be beyond useful to your local environmental charity.

How to support your local environmental charity

1. Follow them on social media / sign up for their newsletter

I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years that I’ve been to a community event on behalf of the charity that I work/worked for, to be told by people “oh, I didn’t know you did that”.

It can be hard for small charities to get the word out about all the great things they are doing. Whilst large charities do have big budgets for advertising campaigns, your little local environmental charity probably doesn’t, so by following them on social media or signing up for their newsletter, you’ll get all the news at no additional cost to the charity.

2. Like and share their social media posts/events with your friends and family

Facebook is a huge pain for charities. You spend a lot of time building up your followers, and then Facebook only shows your post to a small percentage of your followers. In order to show your post to more of your hard-earned followers, Facebook wants money and lots of it. Whilst this is practical on the odd occasion, it’s not practical for the charity to pay to boost every post or event or class.

Liking posts on Facebook means these posts often show up in your friends feeds, and sharing posts helps widen the reach of the post without the need for the charity to spend funds on Facebook boosted posts that could be used elsewhere to support the charity, rather than lining Mark Zuckerberg’s already deep pockets.

3. Go along to their events and classes

Many environmental charities run events and classes. From upcycling courses, sewing classes, growing your own vegetable classes and workshops, cycling lessons, bike maintenance workshops, waste reduction workshops, and more, environmental charities can offer a wide range of services depending on the skills of their staff, their volunteers, or their current funding. Many of these courses or events are free or offered at heavily subsidised rates, and some even run pay what you want courses for people on limited incomes.

If they are running a course or an event that you are interested in then do try and pop along. The more people that take part, the more people in the community learn useful skills, building community resilience, and the more likely the charity is to get future funding to run similar events and classes. This really is a key way on how to support your local environmental charity.

4. Take advantage of their services

You know the saying, use it or lose it. This applies only too well to environmental charities. If your local charity runs a service that you are interested in then take advantage of it.

For example, if you are interested in DIY and your local charity runs a tool library, join it and make use of their inventory. If you are keen to do more walking, and the charity offers led walks, join in. If you are interested in gardening or growing your own and your local charity runs a community garden, get involved! If people don’t take part, then the charity is unlikely to be able to keep offering those services.

supporting local environmental charity

5. Fill in their evaluation/survey forms

From someone that works for an environmental charity, believe me when I say if we could get away without asking people to fill in evaluation forms or surveys then we would. I have personally found that in some cases they can be huge barriers to participation when all we want is for as many people as possible to take part in our environmental initiatives.

However, as most environmental charities rely on external funding to be able to carry out their work, then the external funders want proof that their money is making positive change. So when someone asks you to fill in a form they’re not being nosey, they’re not checking up on you, it’s not a competition to see how well you’re doing, it’s simply collecting data which is anonymised and then sent to the funder.

If the charity sends you a follow-up survey, please, for the love of all that is pure and holy, fill it in. These can be crucial for the charity in gaining further funding to continue doing what they are doing.

6. Donate to them

If you go on to your local charity’s website, you’re likely to see a “donate” button somewhere on their website. Donations are so important to charities – donations are unrestricted funds that can be used in any way to support the charity. Whilst charities often get grant funding, grants are often restricted funds that can only be used for specific purposes, and some grants cannot be used to support the charity’s core running costs, such as rent or utility bills. Donations can be a real lifeline for small charities.

Money isn’t the only way you can donate to your local charity. If you have any environmental books that you’re not using anymore, then the charity might take them as part of a community lending library. If they have a tool library, then they will probably take donations of old tools. They may take donations of sewing equipment you no longer need. Basically, if you are looking to pass something on that may be of use, then get in touch with your local charity to see if it’s something they can utilise.

7. Volunteer for them

If you have the time and capacity, then consider volunteering for your local environmental charity.

It could be on a practical basis, depending on your skills – for example, helping out in the community garden, using sewing skills to teach others, using your cycling skills to take out a group of people on a bike ride, using your botany skills to take people out on a foraging walk, the list is endless. If you have a particular skill then get in touch to see if they can utilise it.

You don’t have the particular skills the charity is looking for, then there loads of ways to get involved. From helping out with admin, marketing, social media, blog posts, photography at events, helping out at events, most charities rely on volunteers giving up a little bit of time to help support their activities. This help can often be home-based if you don’t have the time to help in standard office hours, or have limited accessibility. In all the charities I have worked for it, I don’t think we have ever turned down someone looking to help out.

If you’re looking for a more specific or formal volunteering arrangement, then sites like Environment Job list a range of volunteering opportunities from across the UK – e.g. currently the group Flight Free are looking for a home-based campaign intern to help support their work in encouraging people to fly less for non-essential trips.

That’s my list of ideas on how to support your local environmental charity, but as always, if you have any more, then do pop them in the comments below.

PS: here’s a guide I wrote on how to get an environmental job if anyone is interested in a career change, or is still in education.