The Moment I Faced Up To The Problems With Fast Fashion

by: Maggie Zhou | 3 months ago | Features

Image: The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which occurred in 2013, and in which over 1,100 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured. Image source.

The first time I heard about the devastating impacts of fast fashion, I shrugged it off. When I heard about the Rana Plaza Collapse that killed 1134 people, I sat in the grief for a moment before continuing about my day.

As heartless as it sounds, I just didn’t make the connection between my purchasing habits and the tragedy that fast fashion fuels. Granted, I was only 14 years old and was probably busy daydreaming about boy bands.

I’ve always embraced fashion as a tool for self-expression. Ever since my early teenage days, I’d play around with clashing patterns and bright colours, never shying away from the playfulness that fashion has to offer.

I was also raised to appreciate the value of a $20 note. In my mind, a $20 t-shirt was verging on expensive. So, I’d take my coins and spend them at my local op shop or at a fast fashion sale.

As a typical Gen Z, I spent the better half of my teenage years on the Internet. Posting too many outfit photos on Instagram led me to collaborate with many fast fashion brands. Free clothes and gifts sounded very glamorous to me; it was all extremely enticing. While I felt a sort of nagging shame when I received new parcels, I would quickly squash the guilt and instead focus on the glittery garments at hand.

As years passed, I could not ignore the growing disharmony within me. Online conversations about fast fashion became louder, schoolyards discussed the latest sustainability documentaries, and fashion publications reported on the failures of fast fashion more consistently than ever before.

But it was a while longer before it really clicked with me. There wasn’t one major event that incited my love of slow fashion, nor was it one conversation or documentary either. It was a gentle trickle of various events and information that slowly changed my heart.

A quote by Jade Sarita Arnott, founder of Arnsdorf, summarises it for me. “When you dress to reflect both your style and your values, you feel confident about presenting yourself to the world in a cohesive and authentic way.”

I realised that fashion isn’t only a reflection of one’s style; it’s inherently political because of the global structures it facilitates. No matter how hard glossy shopfronts and shiny magazines try to sell fashion as a manufactured image of prestige and beauty, there’s an undeniable ugliness behind it.

I felt my best – my most authentic self – when I wore second-hand clothes. Nowadays, I feel my best when I wear brands that share the same values as me.

In the age of social media where slogan caps dictate political standings and ‘cancelled’ brands are shunned to the back of our closets, clothes allow us to speak loudly, without having to open our mouths at all.

The reason why I began to care about the horrific impacts of fast fashion was entirely selfish. Simply put, I didn’t feel right within myself when I was wearing clothes that didn’t align with my values.

“It’s both exciting and freeing to align your way of living and your actions every day with how you feel and with your own sense of justice and morality,” says Emma Hakånsson, founder of Collective Fashion Justice. “It feels uncomfortable to act not in accordance with your own sense of what’s right.”

From then, I began to unpack my cognitive dissonance that stemmed from the physical distancing of consumers from the production of our clothes.

I found that I didn’t even allow myself to previously really consider garment workers’ livelihoods and working conditions, or really reflect on the environmental impact clothes had. I realised that I was unconsciously hiding information from myself, as the guilt and weight of industry at hand was too difficult to digest.

Over the past year, I’ve gently opened the doors to the reality of fast fashion. Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s a blindfold. It’s only when you muster up the courage to remove the mask that you can truly recognise the power – both good and bad – that fashion holds.

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