According to Good on You, “Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.”
‘Fast fashion’ is dominating the fashion industry today due to cheap prices and the availability of quick fashion trends. Consumers want to wear the latest looks from the catwalk or an outfit worn by their favourite celebrities instantly due to affordability and accessibility.
The fashion industry used to have four main seasons per year, which took longer to prepare for. Today, new collections are delivered weekly so that’s 52 different collections a year at least. Many ‘fast fashion’ retail stores receive new deliveries several times a week or even daily.
This has led to a culture of ‘throw-away fashion,’ wearing an item of clothing a few times before it is discarded and ends up in landfills. This leads to huge amounts of textile waste, which releases harmful toxic chemicals into the air.
A lot of unwanted clothing is also shipped and dumped in developing countries such as Tanzania in East Africa. It provides employment, as sole traders sell the clothing at second-hand ‘mitumba‘ markets, and also makes clothing more affordable.
However, it has also contributed to destroying the local textile and clothing industry, as they cannot compete with the second-hand clothing imports due to price and sometimes quality. Did you know that the unwanted clothing you donate to charity shops, in North America and Europe, often ends up in developing countries, as they cannot cope with the amount they receive?
Unwanted second-hand clothing called ‘mitumba’ in Swahili
A ‘fast fashion’ brand can have thousands of different clothing styles that are produced overseas, with poor quality materials and cheap labour, before being delivered to stores within 2 weeks. Garment workers are often exploited, working in unsafe environments, with little or no human rights, and are paid below the minimum wage.
The supply chains of ‘fast fashion’ brands and retailers are usually very complex and therefore, they are unaware and unable to prevent their orders from being sub-contracted to other factories (or to homeworkers) where exploitation of garment workers is more common.
Examples of ‘fast fashion’ retailers include H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, Primark, Topshop, Forever 21 and e-commerce only retailers such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing, which turn around even cheaper and faster clothing.
Even supermarket clothing is ‘fast fashion’. It can be found on every high street and many online shops including Amazon and Ebay. Many people choose to go shopping regularly for entertainment and often purchase items that they do not need.
The main problems caused by ‘fast fashion’ are the negative impact it has on people and the environment. The exploitation of workers and harm to the environment often occur due to high pressures put on overseas suppliers, by fashion buyers in the west, so that delivery speeds are increased and prices squeezed.
Usually, cheap and toxic fabric dyes are used, which pollutes rivers and water supplies that are relied on by local people, often in developing countries, for washing, cleaning and cooking. The chemicals that are released also kill animals such as fish, which is a valuable source of food for many.
When we wash our clothes in the machine they release microfibers, which increase microplastics in our oceans. ‘Fast fashion’ uses a lot of cheap, synthetic fabric like polyester, which sheds many microfibres when washed. Fish and other animals that depend on the ocean, including turtles and birds, eat microplastics which causes death and health issues.
Even cotton uses huge amounts of water when it is cultivated leading to droughts and poor soil quality. The agriculture of cotton also causes long-term health complications (including suicide) for farmers who use pesticides (strong chemicals) to grow their crops.
You may have seen recycling schemes in stores, such as H&M, that encourage you to donate your unwanted clothing but only a very small proportion of it is recycled into new material.
Greenwashing is increasing with ‘fast fashion’ retailers making small capsule collections using ‘natural’ or ‘recycled’ fabrics. They even design the labels and swing tickets to make it look like the clothing is eco-friendly, which can be misleading.
If we want to make a positive impact on the environment and eradicate ‘fast fashion’ then we need to make better choices when it comes to buying clothes. Continue reading to learn how we can all achieve this!
Here are some examples of simple changes that we can make to limit the negative impact ‘fast fashion’ has on our environment by slowing down the fashion cycle and shopping smarter:
1) Buy less by wearing the clothes you currently have in your wardrobe. Could any of the garments be mended, altered or up-cycled?
Could you go to a clothes swapping event or arrange one with your friends?
2) Choose quality over quantity by purchasing clothing that has natural fabrics such as organic cotton, linen, wool, silk and hemp. Your clothes will then last longer and will be more comfortable to wear so you can get more use out of them.
3) Buy second-hand over brand new clothing to prevent it from ending up in landfills. You may find some high-quality bargains and will have a more unique and individual style than everybody else!
4) Make it last by wearing your clothes for as long as possible to prolong their lifecycle.
5) Support responsible brands that practice ‘slow fashion’ rather than ‘fast fashion’ and use sustainable materials. It will make you feel good knowing that the people who have contributed to making your clothes have been treated well and paid fairly.
You can check if a company is ethical and sustainable by carrying out some research on their website beforehand if you are unsure. There are also some great mobile phone apps that support eco-friendly brands that can help confirm this information for you quickly.
The Fashion Revolution campaign also produce a helpful and insightful Fashion Transparency Index. We can also reduce our impact by slowly switching to buying more bespoke or made to measure clothing for sustainable and ethical reasons.
Bespoke clothing is designed completely from scratch and is largely handmade. The customer has complete control over the design process and selects the fabrics they wish to be used. The bespoke process requires several fittings and is very labour intensive, which is reflected in the higher price.
Made to measure clothing uses more machinery to construct a garment so it is cheaper than bespoke. It uses standard patterns to start off with and then the measurements are adjusted accordingly to fit the customer perfectly. For example, the measurements of a made to measure shirt can be modified so that the shoulder width is wider and the sleeve length and shirt length longer.
There is usually the option to choose certain design features such as the collar, cuff, placket and pocket style for custom made shirts, so you can express your individual style.
To get a better understanding, read our blog on the differences between made to measure and bespoke.
Made to measure and bespoke clothing can help to reduce issues associated with ‘fast fashion’ and have a positive effect on the clothing industry. It is more likely that you will wear a bespoke or made to measure garment for longer due to high-quality materials, excellent craftsmanship and perfect fit.
Extending the lifecycle of a garment means that it won’t get binned after one wear so reduces the amount of unwanted clothing ending up in landfills. The fabric used is cut to order so there is no unnecessary surplus stock held by a retailer at the end of each season, which is then heavily discounted to clear it quickly.
Kitenge tailor, Tairo, cutting the fabric by hand in Tanzania to make an African menswear bespoke outfit
Made to measure and bespoke clothing can also help to reduce offcuts if the fabric is carefully cut by hand to avoid unnecessary waste. Any offcuts can easily be used to make the pocket on a shirt or the drawstring tie of a pair of trousers for example.
Apart from durability and sustainability, it is also more comfortable to wear than off-the-peg clothing due to its superior fit and high-quality materials. You have more control of the design process so you can make a unique garment that suits your own personality and sense of style perfectly. You could be the only person in the world wearing such a garment!
Kitenge offers high-quality, customisable, made to measure trousers, made to measure shorts and custom made shirts for both men and women. Their stylish African print pencil skirts are also custom-made for a perfect fit using authentic, colourful, and unique African wax print fabrics.Shop Men’s MTM Clothing Shop Women’s MTM Clothing
All Kitenge clothing is lovingly handcrafted by our talented team of tailors in Tanzania using premium raw materials that are locally sourced from small businesses. Kitenge is a social enterprise as well as an ethical fashion brand. Kitenge’s social mission is to empower their tailors to improve their livelihoods one colourful, made to measure garment at a time!
Kitenge founder, Sian, standing with tailors Hassan and Abdallah at his workshop in Tanzania
Kitenge ensures that all fabric offcuts are recycled by turning them into men’s accessories including bow ties, neckties and pocket squares. Any offcuts that are too small to be used are donated to female artisans in Tanzania. All made to measure clothing is cut to order and our expert tailors accurately cut all fabrics by hand.
If you want to make a difference and eradicate fast fashion, why not browse Kitenge’s range of ethical and sustainable clothing in our African boutique online including our African menswear and Women’s African print clothing collections? It’s really simple and easy to measure a shirt, pair of trousers or shorts that fit you well at home by following our ‘how to measure‘ guides. Feel free to adjust each individual measurement to suit you best.
We also offer a Perfect Fit Guarantee for added peace of mind. If you are not happy with the fit of your first made to measure garment then we will either pay for it to be adjusted locally or re-make it and ship it to you for free! This shouldn’t be necessary though if you follow our helpful ‘how to measure’ guides.
Kitenge also currently has a fantastic special offer on their made to measure online shirts for men and women. When you order your first made to measure shirt you can receive another one for free! The two shirts can be the same or different prints. Simply design and add two shirts with the same sleeve length to your basket and enter the coupon ‘MTMFIRST‘ to get 50% off.
Kitenge made to measure shirts with long sleeves, classic collars, a front placket and a side pocket
If you have any questions please visit our FAQ’s page, which is packed full of lots of useful information, or contact us and we will be more than happy to help. You can also see what our lovely customers have to say about our brightly coloured African print clothing and made to measure clothing service.
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