Are £5 dresses destroying the planet?

I can’t be the only one who feels like it’s a full time job (and like it takes a full time wage) to be fashionable these days.  Fashion trends change like the wind, and with thousands of products and styles to choose from in hundreds more stores, both online and on the high street, we have more options than ever before when it comes to the fabric we put on our backs.  Long gone are the days of your granny knitting your entire winter wardrobe or stitching up a hole in knee of your trousers – with clothing costing less and less at budget retailers like Primark, it’s easier and cheaper to just nip out a buy a brand new pair.  And in the modern age of fashion bloggers and social media platforms, when every night out or nip to the shops has become occasion for a photo shoot, has it ever been more of a crime to be caught wearing the same outfit twice?

As bad as being labelled an outfit repeater may be, the real crime in the modern day fashion industry is the impact that ‘fast fashion’ is having on the planet.  The stylish population of the UK are now buying twice as much clothing as we were a decade ago, as well as consuming the most clothing in the whole of the EU per head.  But keeping up with the latest trends has serious consequences.  The fashion industry around the world is estimated to be responsible for around 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, as well as the leaking of billions of clothing fibres into our oceans, which are then digested by sea creatures. Experts project that fashion could be the culprit behind almost a quarter of all greenhouse gases in our environment by the year 2030 if things don’t change. And that’s before you even take into account the unethical and often illegal low wages and terrible working conditions that these cheap clothes are produced under.

Source: BBC News

The issue is so serious that the fashion police, otherwise known as the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, have had to get involved in telling the clothing industry, and the people of the UK, how we should be shopping.  And no, they aren’t starting a fashion column.  The Government have called in some of the biggest culprits behind the ‘fast fashion’ fad for interrogation on their business models.  The list includes the biggest names on the high street and on our phone screens, from Primark and Pretty Little Thing to ASOS, Boohoo and even Sports Direct. They accuse these big brands of encouraging our throwaway culture of ‘wear once and chuck out’.

But do these brands have an obligation to put responsibility above profit?  In my opinion, yes. It’s easy to see how some of these cheap as chips clothes sites are adding fuel to the fire on this issue.  For example, Pretty Little Thing has a £5 dress section, while Boohoo recently started an ‘Outfit Meal Deal’ – shoes, a dress and a bag for £30. At the same time, they’ve upped their production to lightening speeds.  Shops no longer refresh their collection every season; these days, some stores add new items to their shelves every day,and restock existing items less, leading to a ‘get it or regret it’ sales model.  Fashion is doing way over the speed limit, so it’s no surprise that the industry could need to slam on the brakes a bit to avoid a crash.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not some tree-hugging angel who only wears sandals made from organic bamboo and exclusively buys from charity shops. I know myself that this obsession with purchasing is a real thing because I’m a past offender myself. There’s almost always the urge in the back of my mind to do a little online surf for a new outfit every time I’ve an occasion coming up.  And where do all these new clothes go after they’ve made their debut?  They end up hoarded in my overflowing wardrobe, kept hanging there in wait “just in case”.   And we’re nearly all guilty of buying the odd jumper or top in the heat of the moment or nabbing a pair of shoes we convince ourselves we’ll get loads of wear out of, only to find them gathering dust at the back of the wardrobe two years later with the tags still on.

But the reality of the impact of our impulsiveness isn’t quite as pretty as the products we’re buying, and maybe it’s time to stop and think a little more about where our wardrobes might end up.  Piling up on a landfill site, or polluting our water systems, or being barbequed (like Burberry) in an incinerator.  And the truth is there are lots of small things we can all do to lighten the load. If you’ve cleared out your clutter, don’t just dump the stuff you no longer wear – stuff that’s still got a little life in it can go to the charity shop, and the stuff you’ve worn to death can be responsibly disposed of in a clothes bank.  And on the flip side, buying and selling second hand clothes could help you gather up a small fortune, with sites like Depop and eBay making it easy peasy to bag a bargain or get rid of that dress you wore once. Or I suppose you could actually – heaven forbid – wear it twice?


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