Fast fashion is undeniably bad for the planet and workers’ rights – but for many people, it can be their only option.
Sustainable brands and thrift stores often don’t stock an extensive selection for plus-sized consumers, for example. ASOS, however, caters to a whole range of sizes, and the See My Fit feature they trialled earlier this year made it easy for consumers to make informed purchases.
In addition, people with disabilities may find it easier to navigate online retailers such as ASOS and Pretty Little Thing, rather than thrift stores. It is these societal biases that make fast fashion more accessible and feasible for many people.
To be clear, I am not justifying the business of fast fashion. It is undoubtedly harmful to both our planet and society. But I do think we can all be more sympathetic to the people who shop at these retailers out of necessity, even though it is arguably better not to do so.
Many students find themselves depending on fast fashion retailers as they are unable to find sustainable alternatives that are both affordable and inclusive. I spoke to a selection of UoM students to shed light on the diverse ways that people approach fast fashion.
For many, fast fashion is a constant temptation that can be difficult to resist. Jimena, a second year Business and French student, says:
“Fast fashion has become a sort of addiction to me. I know it is bad for the environment and I know that I have many more clothes back at home that I could wear instead, but somehow I always manage to buy something.”
Jimena’s struggle is one that many of us face – we are aware of the negative effects of fast fashion, yet quitting it can be difficult. This is often increased by the prevalence of social media that creates constant pressure to look ‘trendy’.
Even those students who manage to avoid fast fashion are understanding of why some people feel reliant on it. An anonymous English and French student, who mostly swaps clothing with friends or browses charity shops, says:
“I can see why people who feel more pressured by social media/fashion than I do may wish to constantly renew their wardrobe, something which [fast fashion retailers] enable and market to.”
The pressure to not repeat outfits feels real for many students, and I have often experienced the guilt of shopping from fast fashion brands in an attempt to impress my more ‘fashionable’ seeming peers.
This is especially true in moments of convenience. I always look towards high street brands when it comes to outfits for social events or nights out. I feel pressured to look fashionable in these situations, but I can’t afford to spend a lot of money on something that I might only wear a few times.
Lifestyle Editor, Lauryn, believes that the main barrier for many people is also a financial one:
“The thing about fast fashion is that you no longer need thousands to look expensive, well put together or to simply express your personal style. These shops have made it accessible to everyone, but we have to think about the larger impact.
“I think sustainability needs to find a way to remain cheap, so that sustainability itself can be accessible to all and not those with more money.”
Lauryn is right. The reality is that cheap brands such as Primark are all that some students can afford. If we want people to stop shopping fast fashion, then sustainable brands need to be more affordable.
Another issue is that we are often unaware of the explicit consequences of shopping from fast fashion brands. Third-year History student Freya, says:
“I’m sure most people are guilty of seeing something nice in a shop and buying it without sparing a thought for the people who have actually made it.”
I am definitely guilty of this, and will often shop from fast fashion brands without thinking about the negative impacts.
However, being an environmentally conscious shopper and having fast fashion items in your wardrobe doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. After all, sustainability is not only about where you shop, but also how you use the clothes already in your wardrobe. Reduce, reuse, recycle – remember?
Fashion Editor Daisy strikes the balance between being sustainable and shopping from fast fashion brands:
“I’ll admit that I’m guilty of shopping from cheaper, less sustainable stores, but what many people don’t realise is that it’s not the stereotypical ‘wear once and throw away’ that people presume. I have items in my wardrobe that I bought back in 2015 and still regularly wear, despite being from fast fashion brands.”
Cutting out fast fashion entirely can be difficult; but someone can still be a conscious consumer while shopping on the high street. If this is something that you are struggling with, you are not alone.