11 Top Tips for Boycotting Fast Fashion

There is a lot of media noise about the evils of fast fashion at the moment, much of which I covered in my last blog you can check out here (getting the self-plug in early).

The optimist in me hopes that the high frequency of news on the unethical and unsustainable practices the fashion industry is in turn encouraging a greater appetite to learn about the origins of our clothes, and fostering an openness to change. However, I know from experience that good intentions alone aren't enough to change consumer habits. After all, how are we to start tackling habits that have been conditioned in us for years? The time couldn’t be better to publish the advice section of my confessions series, in the hopes that I can help guide fledgling fast fashion boycotters into the warm, open embrace of slow fashion and independent businesses.

As I write this series, I am acutely aware that I come from a position of privilege. I have held various waitressing positions since I was in high school, and throughout University, but unlike some who had to put all of this money towards living costs (living in London was extortionate to say the least) or covering debt, I was able to almost single-handedly fortify [insert fast fashion brand here]’s success with regular online hauls. 

I may not have kept everything (the amount of packaging and delivery emissions I have personally racked up throughout the years is enough for a lifetime and a shameful problem in itself), but to be able to have and part with that money in the first place was a privilege. To be able to boycott fast fashion will come easier to some than it will others, so it is up to individuals to honestly decide how much of a role they can play. What I can do is make the task seem more accessible and advocate the long-term merits I have been able to reap for some time now. As a fast fashion convert, I am saving money (a reward in itself) and I am able to invest those savings into items that are greater quality that I’ll get more use out of. I hope to show with the next tips how everyone can help minimise the negative impact their purchases have on the environment and workers in the supply chain as much as possible.

1) Tip number one is simple: just buy less. If you’re not quite ready to give up those brands who you rely on for the perfect fit or perfect style, try and wean yourself off slowly. Just like more people eating less meat on a regular basis is very beneficial for the environment, if more people were to buy less it would be a great start. I began by limiting myself to only shopping at stores that had at least an “It’s a start” rating on the Good on You app, an invaluable tool for anyone trying to forge the same path I have.

From there, I only looked at retailers branded with a “Good” rating, and now I try and focus on independent brands that have sustainability stitched in. People might say old habits die hard, but my post-fast fashion afterlife is frankly fabulous and couldn’t have come sooner. Buying less, turning to what you already have available, and prioritising quality over quantity is the sage advice that I will return to time and again so best get used to the message now. 

2) Always ask questions. A good place to start is: do I really need this? Is it really worth it? Consider the quality of the fabric – is it durable? Can it last the test of time in your wardrobe? Is it good for the environment?

When tempted to go on a fast fashion shopping spree, resist your impulses. You’ll not only save yourself the trouble of spending money on something that might sit neglected in your cupboard, you’ll be resisting supporting an industry that exploits workers who are mostly young, women, people of colour. Not everyone has the means to ask these questions, so it is up to those of us who can to change the industry. Pose the same questions with luxury retailers, as these are not exempt from the unethical treatment and unsustainable practices that stain fashion. For those who really do need a new item and have less money to part with, shop with the 30 wears minimum incentive, helping you narrow down your focus to items that will pay for themselves in terms of wear.

3) Repair your old clothing or see if there are any local tailors who can fix or alter items for you. Like any business during and post lockdown, tailors could use your support. You can up-cycle items yourself (if you're brave enough!) or consult a tailor with your wishes if you’re looking to upgrade the look of a piece of clothing you already own but is no longer to your taste.

4) Shop second hand – I have found much greater satisfaction in finding one of a kind items from vintage or second hand market places. It honestly feels great to source clothing that no one else has and that fits you like a dream. Thrift shops and vintage stores can be a bit overwhelming at times, but I guarantee there are some gems to be found. 

If you’re looking for an easy way to shop second hand, depop and Vinted are a good bet. depop’s sustainability section and simple interface make finding something that suits you very easy. If I ever feel the urge to browse clothes, like I used to trawl through the entire "New" section of UO or ASOS (thousands of items perused, hundreds of tabs opened, plenty of hours lost), depop can adequately fulfil that urge. But make sure you’re only buying what you need and will wear - be mindful of who relies on second-hand clothes and charity shops because they have a greater need. While I let myself indulge in the browsing, I am very scrutinising when it comes to what I actually need and let myself buy. I don’t want to continue to shop at an unsustainable rate just because I am buying second hand, and inadvertently push up the prices of second hand clothing for those less fortunate.

5) If you don't have the budget to invest in higher quality sustainable items, you can buy fast fashion second hand. When I was initially transitioning off of fast fashion, I sometimes found comfort in the fact that many of my more familiar brands I could find on depop, often in near new condition and cheaper. But there’s another catch – the existence of such platforms does encourage throw away culture, as people feel comfortable wearing an item once or twice before selling it on. Also, I risked purchasing something that I couldn't return so would have to be sure about the size and fit beforehand to avoid contributing to a cycle of waste. These sites should not exist as a safety net for irresponsible purchases, so I would recommend a use-as-needed strategy if you can't avoid fast fashion altogether!

6) Swap clothes with friends – I had a sturdy reputation established during university as a reliable source of clothes and outfits due to my shopping “addiction” and vast catalogue of outfits. Nowadays, I can get the same thrill of purchasing something new by simply sharing clothes with friends, trading old items for something that feels new, or temporarily borrowing a piece. 

7)Rent or borrow clothing if you need it for a one-time event. There are some great businesses that allow this. We already know that navigating an ethical fashion lifestyle is a task riddled with caveats and complications – is this fashion house sustainable collection actually sustainable? Is buying second hand from depop sustainable when it potentially validates consumers to buy and wear once only to then sell on? – the clothes rental business is no different. Next to manufacturing, consumer transport has the largest footprint of our collective fashion habit. For clothes rentals, shipping back and forth exacerbates this issue. On top of this (deeper into the rabbit hole we go!), every item has to be washed on its return regardless of whether or not it was worn. Most companies that rent out clothing use dry cleaning for every item, which is a high-impact and polluting process. Be wary that clothes rentals could increase our appetite for fast fashion by making it so accessible, whilst damaging the environment through this increase on shipping and cleaning. Whilst undoubtedly clothes rental services are a step up from buying fast fashion that is worn a handful of times before being thrown away, we can’t let this perceived progress lull us into complacency and a false sense of security. This is why I emphasise turning to clothes rental for special occasions, minimising the harmful impact. 

8) Build a capsule collection – a wardrobe that revolves around a number of basic high-quality long-lasting items that can be mix and matched. You don’t have to reduce the variation of outfits you wear – with only a handful of items you’ll soon find that the opportunities for getting creative are endless. With a focus on buying fewer items, you can save the money for those sustainable and independent pieces you lusted after but might have otherwise disregarded. 

I particularly enjoy buying clothes that have a dual purpose: swimsuits I can get away with as bodysuits; shirts that can be tied different ways, worn as cover ups or button ups; dresses I can tuck into bottoms or roll and pin to wear as a top. The more flexible and durable your pieces, the more fun you can have with them!

9) Delete fast fashion from your life as much as possible. Unsubscribe from fashion emails. Remove the fashion apps you don’t need – say goodbye to Zara, topshop, UO, asos, Zaful, Shein – any and all of your top fast fashion culprits. This slow extraction process was the first step for me and honestly made a world of difference. It is better to remove temptation entirely than to force yourself to endure the exercise of seeing new collections that you can’t buy.

10) Follow eco conscious and sustainable fashion social media accounts. It was easy for me to ignore my conscience without hearing about the damage fashion does to the planet. Luckily, today there are so many voices speaking up about the problems of fashion, including insider accounts. Following social media accounts who make it their job to educate on and expose fashion is a really easy way to lift yourself up and abandon unsustainable habits that have become part of a cycle. Be aware that social media can become an echo chamber, but it doesn’t take much searching to find people who can inform and encourage you on a better path. My previous article on fast fashion included a list of wonderful accounts that do a far better job educating on fashion, and holding up industry names to account, than I ever could.

Last but not least...

11) Support small, ethical, and sustainable businesses! When shopping in bulk from fast fashion, I laboured under the impression that more items meant better value for my money. This was unequivocally false. Purchasing one item from a source I can trust to align with my ethics and live the test of time in my wardrobe is more valuable by far. Another surefire way to encounter the thrill of finding something original and unique, as well as a great start to building as sustainable and ethical a wardrobe as possible, small businesses are the way forward. There are so many companies who focus on staying sustainable instead of growth and profitability and it is fun to build your own catalogue of independent businesses you trust or local businesses that can cater to your tastes. 

If you're ready to kickstart your slow fashion and sustainable lifestyle, head down to The Pop Up Club in Chelmsford and browse the incredible selection of local independent stockists!

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