We all enjoy watching our faves on YouTube when they do those Shein and Superbalist clothing hauls parading the latest fashion trends and reminding us how cheap they are and how quickly you can have them in your wardrobe. Many of us secretly have our online shopping bags on these sites filled with every item we would kill to show off the next time we attend an event. 

Fast fashion, a term for cheaply produced and disposable clothing, has become increasingly popular. Some popular South African fast fashion stores include Mr Price, Cotton On, H&M, and The Fix. Most of us shop at these stores regularly, and sometimes we enthusiastically save until we can get items of clothing we have been eyeing. Considering all this enthusiasm surrounding fast fashion, have we ever considered the actual cost of all this clothing on the planet and our wallets?

While it may seem like a great way to keep up with the latest trends, fast fashion hurts the planet and your wallet. It perpetuates a harmful industry prioritising profit over people and the planet.

Many of our favourite stores offer low-cost trendy clothing, and encourage consumers to buy more frequently and impulsively. This creates a culture of disposable fashion where garments are worn a few times and discarded, contributing to the enormous amount of textile waste produced yearly.

Secondly, these brands prioritise speed and quantity over quality and sustainability. They produce clothing quickly and in large quantities to keep up with the demand for new trends, often leading to poor working conditions for garment workers and environmental degradation from using cheap, synthetic fabrics and hazardous chemicals in production.

Lastly, these brands’ marketing and advertising strategies are designed to make consumers feel they need to update their wardrobes to stay on-trend and fashionable constantly. This contributes to a culture of overconsumption and waste in which consumers constantly feel pressured to buy and dispose of clothing. 

An episode on Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, “The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion”, highlighted that the fast fashion industry is among the most significant global contributors to environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  

One of the significant environmental impacts of fast fashion is the excessive use of resources. Fast fashion brands like Mr Price and The Foschini Group produce large quantities of clothing incredibly fast, using massive amounts of resources like water, energy, and raw materials. For instance it takes about 1,800 gallons (6,814.738 litres) of water to produce just one pair of jeans, which can significantly impact water resources.

Moreover, fast fashion brands also produce a significant amount of waste. The production of fast fashion involves using non-biodegradable synthetic fabrics, which end up in landfills and take centuries to decompose. For example, Mr Price produces over 400 million items of clothing each year, and a large percentage of these items end up in landfills, contributing to environmental pollution.

The transportation and distribution of fast fashion products also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. As fast fashion brands seek to produce clothing at the lowest possible cost, they often outsource production to countries with cheaper labour and production costs, resulting in long-distance shipping. The transportation of these products requires significant amounts of fossil fuels, leading to greenhouse gas emissions and further exacerbating climate change.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions and 20% of global wastewater. From the manufacturing process to the disposal of clothes, the industry is responsible for substantial ecological degradation. 

In South Africa, the fast fashion industry is booming, costing the average person a significant amount of their income. 

According to a survey conducted by online marketplace Gumtree, South Africans spend, on average, 7.9% of their monthly income on fast fashion. This figure is particularly concerning considering that the average South African household already struggles to make ends meet. In fact, according to Statistics South Africa, more than half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. Therefore, spending almost 8% of their income on fast fashion is a financial burden many South Africans cannot afford. 

The constant need to keep up with the latest fashion trends can lead to an unhealthy cycle of overspending and debt. Ultimately, it’s essential for individuals to prioritise their financial well-being and make more sustainable choices when it comes to their clothing purchases.

So why is fast fashion so popular? One reason is that it’s often much cheaper than sustainably produced clothing. This makes it an attractive option for people on a budget, particularly young adults in underprivileged communities. Additionally, fast fashion brands are constantly releasing new collections, which creates a sense of urgency and pressure to keep up with the latest trends.

However, there are ways to reduce the environmental impact of fashion without breaking the bank. 

  1. Shop Secondhand: Buying pre-loved clothes from secondhand stores, thrift shops, or online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace, OLX, or Gumtree, can help reduce textile waste and save money. 
  2. Buy Sustainable Brands: Look for clothing brands prioritising sustainable and ethical practices. Do some research on the brand’s manufacturing processes, materials used, and transparency in the supply chain. Some affordable, sustainable brands available in South Africa include The Joinery, Afroism, and Good Clothing.
  3. Donate and Recycle: If you have clothes you no longer wear, consider donating them to local charities, shelters, or thrift stores. You can recycle clothes by turning them into rags, bags, or other household items.
  4. DIY Clothing: Transform old clothes into new items through DIY projects such as tie-dyeing, embroidery, or cropping. It’s fun to be creative and give old clothes a new life.

Ultimately, the fashion industry’s impact on the planet cannot be ignored, and it’s up to us to take responsibility for our choices. We can choose to be part of the solution by making sustainable fashion choices that benefit the planet and our wallets. Let’s take action today and positively impact the environment, one garment at a time.

Tell us: How do  you think we can make  sustainable fashion more accessible? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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