Is sustainability intertwined into the industry, or a disposable concept ?

By ANNA ALFORD: Arts Columnist

It is near impossible to scroll through your Instagram feed without coming across another #AD from an ex-Love-Island-contestant-turned-influencer, advertising the newest speedily-made, usually poor-quality garments catering to the latest micro-trends.

These ‘fast fashion’ items are sold at a price point meant to keep your pocket happy, by retailers such as Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Boohoo.

These clothes are now easier than ever to get your hands on, with the businesses selling them performing much of their operation online. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated online sales and the shift towards an increasingly digital world, likely changing the state of ecommerce forever. After all, it is all too tempting to open a new tab to start some cyber window shopping when you are meant to be ‘working’ from home.

A dive into the history reveals that fast fashion existed long before the age of the internet and reality dating shows. It turns out we have been edging towards the thriftless norm for nearly 400 years.

The concept of the ‘High Street’ came about in the 17th century, and now holds the title for the most common street name in the UK. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, the whole city had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Retail shops were to be built on the principle street, or ‘High Street’, to encourage trade and avoid congestion that would have built up were they placed on the narrow lanes and back streets.

Social Attitudes

In the following centuries, the number of High Streets increased considerably. The ‘golden era’ for High Street stores came in the 19th century, with the rise of the middle class in Victorian England.

Attitudes towards consumption became more favourable and rows of retail outlets became places for recreational purchasing and promenading.

It was only after World War II that buyers became more receptive to the benefit of purchasing mass-produced clothing. Simultaneously, big name fast fashion outlets, Topshop (1964), Zara (1974) and Primark (1969) among others, were launched – all committed to offering cheap and trendy clothing. They achieved this by shifting their manufacturing to off-shore factories, allowing increasingly competitive prices.

Fashion purchases were once something we may have counted our pennies for, considered for a few weeks and then worn to death.


Now it seems, clothes are something bought for instant gratification, worn a handful of times, and then discarded. We treat the things we put on our body as disposable, or leave apparel in our wardrobes untouched with the tags still on.

The situation is more harrowing than ever, with an estimated £140 million worth of clothing ending up in landfill in the UK every year. Although, our wardrobes must still be bursting at the seams (no pun intended), with Brits obtaining five times as many glad rags compared to 40 years ago, giving us more clothes per person than in any other European country.

The UK has a dark relationship with fast fashion, with exploitation at its epicentre. Companies are cashing in on cheap clothing production labour, often by children, in countries like Bangladesh and China. Workers are paid next-to-nothing, and encouraged to work faster and faster and cheaper and cheaper than their contenders, in order to get a dupe pair of sunglasses or a lookalike of the next best pair of jeans flung onto the rails, after one of the Hadid or Jenner sisters have been papped wearing them just a week prior.

All the long-haul shipping and the escalating numbers of items sent to landfill has a fatal effect on the environment too. In the summer of 2019, the government declined recommendations to add a 1p garment tax onto clothes sales, to raise funds for better recycling processes. Unfortunately, the profits for these corporations are held in higher regard than the state of the planet.

Capitalism is in overdrive and regrettably fast fashion is Britain’s new status quo, headed by a ‘buy now or it’s gone’ and commitment-phobe consumer mentality. This is why it is more important than ever to shop small, buy second-hand and proudly re-wear the same outfits again and again. If you do decide you are tired of your wardrobe, donate it to charity. Button or strap come off and your textile skills are a little bit rusty? There are probably thousands upon thousands of YouTube videos for that. For the sake of the planet, it’s time to make fast fashion a trend of the past.