After originally buying into H&M, Zara and the other clothing giants, Laura Cordero is now embracing slow fashion and her clothes feel so much cleaner.
After a long wait, I had finally arrived to my destination.
I paused in the doorway to take it all in: a gold ornate chandelier dangled from a two-storey high ceiling, all framed by beautiful white archways. A harlequin tiled floor peeked through the rubble, with green foliage dotted about in random clumps.
I was standing in Swedish retail giant, H&M, on the hectic second day their doors had opened to the Australian public.
The promise of cheap prices and on-trend, fast fashion had lured me in. I was so hooked that I had stood in a ridiculous line over two hours for the chance to grab a bargain.
On the tram ride home, I reflected on the past few hours, thoughts swirling around in my head. I may have saved a bunch of money, but how could they offer such ridiculously low prices? How would this impact local Australian businesses and designers?
As I hung my new top and pants in an already full to bursting wardrobe, right next to a very similar top and an even more similar pair of pants – I wondered what fast fashion meant for the future of the environment.
Fast fashion is exactly as it sounds. No longer do certain retailers stick to seasonal selling; instead churning out new stock on a regular basis.
Britain’s Topshop landed in Melbourne during 2011 and Spanish megastore Zara followed a few months behind. With H&M’s plans to open more than 55 stores in Australia, fast fashion well and truly has us in its grip.
Although it’s still a relatively new concept in Australia, we have had enough time for it to negatively alter our consumption habits.
So, why should we oppose cheaper clothes and why should we deny ourselves a wider variety of immediate trends?
Because fast fashion has no long-term sustainability.
According to Elizabeth L. Cline’s book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, the industry in China is showing signs of distress.
“Because of the country’s one-child policy, the labour pool of young workers is finally shrinking and young people are choosing to better their lives by going to college and looking for office jobs instead of factory-line work,” says Cline.
“As a result of this, labour costs are surging by as much as 10 percent to 30 percent per year.”
To keep providing low prices, retailers have moved to poorer countries, like Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Vietnam. These places lack the infrastructure of China to support the exponential growth of the industry.
Relaxed labour laws and no union support mean factory workers usually work minimum 12-hour days, with one day off a week.
In 2013, at least 200 Bangladeshi garment workers died when their eight-story factory collapsed on them.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based textile rights group, estimates at least 700 workers have died since 2006.
There is also the huge environmental impact.
In Australia, a 2010 study by Constanza Bianchi and Grete Birtwistle, found textiles make up 4 per cent of current landfill, despite nearly 100 percent of textiles being recyclable.
50 percent of garments are made from polyester, which is really just plastic. Plastic that carries a heavy ecological footprint.
In January this year, Greenpeace found a textile treatment plant had discharged toxic waste into the ocean equivalent to 50 Olympic pools.
“From China to Bangladesh, rivers run purple, blue and black with waste from garment factories. Locals say they can tell what colors are in fashion by looking at the river,” writes Goldman Staff on the Goldman Environmental Prize blog.
In protest to the increasing rise of fast fashion, the concept of slow fashion has been gaining traction.
Slow fashion “celebrates personal style, encourages education, promotes conscious consumption, values quality and asks us to slow down,” says SlowFashioned.org.
It’s about becoming educated and asking where, how and who has produced your garment. It means paying more for pieces that will last longer and thinking hard about the far-reaching consequences.
Armed with my new knowledge, I returned to H&M a few weeks later to see if it was still teeming with people. Although thankful that the line had disappeared, the busy horde of shoppers that greeted me was saddening.
Where once I had grabbed armfuls of the latest fashions to try on, I now looked around and saw only a vast array of poorly manufactured clothes.
When once I was filled with awe at the styling of mannequins, who looked as though they had just stepped off a Paris runway, I now felt only disgust with myself for buying into the shoddy illusion.
As I touched the cheap material, seams almost falling apart in my hands, I saw the blood, sweat and tears of the workers in China, in Bangladesh, in Cambodia. I smelled the musty, rotting scent of landfills, slowly bloating with textiles around me. I heard the sounds of marine life drowning under colourful toxic waste dumped in the ocean.
I tasted our collective regret for the future…