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Is Fast Fashion Better for Consumers?

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Now, as per usual, we have recently copped some slander on the socials for quite directly calling out fast fashion brands. The clap-back in question wasn’t really all that different to what we’ve received before, however, it did make me think. In short, the angry response we got to our posts indicated that we shouldn’t call out these fast fashion businesses because secondhand fashion isn’t accessible to everyone. The inference was that financial status, body shape and size, and a number of other factors, make preloved fashion shopping impossible for many people, which then means that fast fashion is the only viable option for those that preloved and second hand shopping excludes.

So, I thought, why not? Let’s explore this theory and run some numbers. Have we in fact been steering in the wrong direction with what we’re preaching? Is fast fashion actually in fact better for consumers due to its accessibility?

Well to begin, there’s no doubt that the fashion market is absolutely saturated with fast fashion so it definitely is EVERYWHERE. Some days it feels like you just can’t get away from it, everywhere you turn there’s a new season edit, an end of season sale, buy one get 50% off, ‘wool coats’ made with 20% wool and 80% viscose and polyblends etc. In this sense you could end the argument right now with the fact that you can go to any shopping centre or website and pick up whatever you want in whatever size you wish. But stop, not so fast, I’ve done the numbers so you don’t have to.

Australian Bureau of Statistics research from the past 12 months showed that the average household spends $44-$66 weekly on clothing and footwear. Now obviously this is taking into account clothes for kids, school shoes, necessities. So, diving in deeper, a survey of over 900 Australian women came back showing that most survey participants reported to spend $100-$200 a month on clothing, while some others reported to spend upwards of $2000 per month. A new piece of clothing is worn on average 7 times or less before it’s thrown out, when you take into account that since 2020 upwards of 62% of new clothing was made from synthetic materials that don’t break down easily, this is truly horrifying.

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you dear readers that shopping sustainably is also a consistently cheap and affordable option, because a lot of the time it’s not. This is especially the case if you are buying something new from a sustainable label that ensures their garment workers are paid a living wage, and the fabrics used are sustainable; it’s the cost of fair labour and good material. Taking into account how much people are spending on clothes monthly, you’d be cutting the amount of garments you’d be able to purchase in half. But buying sustainably can be just as accessible, it just means putting in the effort to change your spending habits.

Putting aside businesses like ours which you can use to search and purchase secondhand clothing online, there are countless Facebook groups created specifically to buy, swap and sell clothes, additionally there’s Facebook Marketplace. Furthermore, there are upwards of 365 known Op Shops nationally across Australia. However, slow fashion and sustainable clothing options unfortunately don’t saturate the market in the same way that fast fashion does. So, it’s understandable to believe that fast fashion is the easiest and most inclusive option. BUT, if we change the way we shop, consumers would come to realise you can purchase all the same things, for a similar price point second hand or from sustainable labels, that you can purchase from fast fashion.

Now, let’s look at the issue of size inclusivity in the secondhand and sustainable fashion market. A lot of the defence of fast fashion is that there is a lack of appropriate size options available, especially at the plus and petite ends of the sizing scale, in the secondhand clothing market. Recent data indicates that the average size of the Australian woman is 14 - 16. This is reflected in the size options offered by most (if not all) clothing retailers, including most of the fast fashion retailers, unless the retailer specifically offers a plus size range. It seems that the difficulty in finding plus size clothing options is not solely reserved to the pre-loved garment industry - it is ubiquitous across the entire fashion and clothing sector. If these clothing options are not easily available in the retail sector, they are not going to be easily available in the resale sector either. Given this, I don’t believe that being outside of the average clothing size chart directly correlates to your only option being fast fashion outlets. I do see however, that there is a much bigger issue at play here around general availability of these clothing options and inclusivity as a whole, that does not have any bearing on whether a person can or should shop retail or resale.

Lastly, at the end of the day, you just have to weigh up the ethics of it all. We know for a fact, it is EXTREMELY easy to buy fast fashion, it’s everywhere, they have all the right sizes, it's affordable and oh look they have it in six other colours!

Until the market grows, shopping secondhand and sustainably will always require a little more effort. As consumers, we have to ask ourselves, every time we seek out the easier option, Is it worth it?

Is it worth the 260,000 tonnes of waste that reaches landfill each year?

Is it worth the 79 trillion litres of water used every year?

Is it worth adding to 10% of global carbon emissions produced by the fashion industry each year?

Is it worth knowing that there is a close to certain likelihood that the person who made the clothing you purchased wasn’t paid a liveable wage?

So in short, you’re right! You got us! Fast fashion may in fact be better for consumers, it's more accessible, more inclusive and overall in today’s market, more affordable. But at what true cost?




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