Fast fashion refers to the business model which replicates catwalk high-fashion trends, mass-producing for the mainstream consumer to purchase at a much lower cost.
It’s a model which thrives on constantly developing new styles, moving away from the traditional seasonal basis of new fashion lines being released. The low prices and constant new trends push consumers to buy new styles of clothing monthly, weekly — even daily. And it’s not helped by social media influencers who are now commonly paid to showcase and recommend these new styles, even creating their own lines in some cases.
Of course, this business model is far from sustainable.
The fast fashion industry churns out over 1 billion items of clothing every year, using plentiful resources and producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, accounting for 5% of global greenhouse gases.
This also creates a huge amount of waste. In part, this is once the items reach the customer. With celebrities and Instagrammers who refuse to be seen in the same outfit twice, we get through a lot of clothes — and those which we throw away will eventually end up in landfill (even charity shops have to send stock which is un-sellable to landfill eventually).
There’s also waste before this point. A significant percentage of the clothing produced never reaches the shelves of a store. Defective clothing or overstocked items are cheaper to destroy than to recycle or allow to take up shelf space until they do sell. These items end up in landfill, or in incinerators to be destroyed.
And it’s not just about the impact on the planet. Fast fashion companies are notorious for factories with horrendous conditions, where workers are paid pennies to produce clothes in order to keep them cheap for the end consumer.
With all this in mind, it was pretty impossible to just choose 5 fast fashion brands to avoid. There are so many of them, especially with the recent proliferation of online brands which are simply buying cheap, low quality stock, re-labelling it and selling it on for a profit with the help of Instagram influencers who endorse the brand (I’m talking Fashion Nova, Shein, Nasty Gal, In The Style, I Saw It First, Rome, Wish, Zaful — the list goes on and on.) Really, we should be avoiding all fast fashion brands, and finding alternative ways to dress ourselves.
I’ve chosen 5 of the worst offenders, but please don’t take that to mean those not listed here are good options to buy from. They aren’t. Good options are: simply buying less clothing, shopping second-hand in vintage shops, charity shops, or online marketplaces, choosing ethical, slow fashion companies.
In 2018 Boohoo were one of ten fast fashion companies highlighted by the Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and explicitly asked to outline their intentions to improve their sustainability. They were one of six brands who refused to sign up to targets set by the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) to reduce their carbon, water and waste footprint. They also failed to sign the Action, Collaboration, Transformation labour rights agreement that is working towards getting a living wage for all garment workers.
Why? Because it would hurt their bottom line.
In the summer of 2020 Boohoo hit the press again, accused of paying garment workers in their Leicester factories less than the minimum wage, as well as failing to protect them with Covid-19 precautions.
If you go onto their website today, you will see a sustainability page. The claims on their would be laughable, if it wasn’t so frustrating. Four of their points (1, 3, 4, 5) reference how they donate or recycle sample products or faulty items of clothing with charities or recycling centres, and they have the audacity to put numbers on this in a desperate attempt to look like they’re doing something. What does ‘we donate over 100,000 sample garments a year’ really mean? It means they’re producing hundreds of thousands of items a year which aren’t even good enough to sell. It means the resources and energy that went into producing those items is completely unnecessary. Round of applause, Boohoo. Don’t even get me started on their ‘how to wear one item three ways’ marketing campaign. I can’t.
2. Pretty Little Thing
Pretty Little Thing is a brand owned by Boohoo, and so naturally lives up to the low standards set by its parent company.
Most recently, for Black Friday 2020 they discounted items by up to 99%, enabling items of clothing to be bought for as low as 8p for a dress. Not only is this encouraging rampant consumerism, it also begs the huge question of exactly how much they are paying the people who make their clothes if they’re able to sell for this cheap and still be a profitable company.
Missguided, like Boohoo, is another of the six brands which the Environmental Audit Committee found in 2018 had failed to sign up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) or the Action, Collaboration, Transformation labour rights agreement.
They’re yet another fast fashion brand who rely on extremely cheap products and labour in order to keep them in profits — they’re famous for that £1 bikini advertised on Love Island, of course. In 2017 they were found to be manufacturing in factories known to pay workers less than half of the required minimum wage.
It was also discovered in 2017 that the brand was illegally using fur from cats, racoons, and rabbits in the manufacturing of clothing and shoes on their website, so we can add animal cruelty to their list of offences.
Primark has long been known as the cheapest of the high street fashion brands, the queen of selling cheap, replaceable items. It was around well before all of these online fast fashion retailers came into the picture and, in fact, they’re a rare fashion brand which does not sell online.
Their owner, George Weston, has even claimed that they’re a sustainable option because of this, telling The Times that they are much less polluting because they don’t need delivery vans. Someone needs to tell George that isn’t how it works.
They also have an extremely questionable past in terms of welfare for their workers. Primark was one brand involved in the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where over 1,000 garment workers died at a factory making clothes for fast fashion brands. To make things even worse, in 2014 several customers found SOS notes sewn into clothes, allegedly from prisoners in a Chinese prison who were made to work long hours in awful conditions to make clothes for us on the cheap.
I couldn’t complete this list of fast fashion brands to avoid at all costs without mentioning H&M, another of the brands (like Primark) who were involved in the 2013 Rana Plaza disasater.
With their recent focus on the H&M Conscious brand and shameless greenwashing marketing, H&M have recently started to be seen as a more sustainable high street option. And that’s why I had to include them, as a reminder not to trust these sustainability promises and recycled material tags from fast fashion brands.
Fast fashion can never be sustainable.
Fast fashion brands make profit from producing copious amounts of clothes at incredibly low cost. It’s a business model built on mountains of waste resources and products. You can’t slap a ‘recycled cotton’ sticker on top of that model and claim it’s suddenly sustainable. You’d have to change the way the entire model works, and that isn’t going to happen.
That’s why it’s down to us, as consumers, to change the way the fashion industry works. We need to start valuing ourselves for more than the clothes we wear and the way we look, and stop believing the adverts that claim that buying new clothes is going to make us feel better and happier .We need to prize slow fashion, ethically produced, high-quality items, bought once to last a lifetime. We need to make it ok to buy second-hand and at least keep clothing items in circulation and out of landfill.