Fast-fashion snub or Eurocentric snobbery?

Ok, so I need to get some things off my chest. To be abundantly clear, I’m not writing in defence of fast-fashion, but neither am I advocating for sustainable fashion. I feel like it’s fess up time, to be honest about the state of fashion today, in order to realise an alternate fashion story, better than the one we have, and the one we have inherited.

The Guardian 15/03/24

There is something deeply unsettling to me about the latest regulations being voted in, in the name of environmental protection; policies that have their teeth bared for fast-fashion and synthetic textiles in particular. Last week, France became the first country in the world legislating to “limit the excesses of ultra fast fashion” Which comes hot on the heels of the French AGEC eco-labelling law, in which companies are required to disclose, amongst other things, whether a product contains more than 50% synthetic content, to warn of microplastic pollution risk. This is despite the fact that the science supports that all textiles, synthetic and natural alike contribute to ocean microfibre pollution.

Without question, fast-fashion is fuelling resource consumption, biodiversity loss and garment worker exploitation, therefore measures taken to limit these impacts are certainly welcome and well overdue, but what I’m questioning is the motivations behind this change of heart. After all, we were kind of ok with the model when Zara and H&M ushered in affordable, bi-weekly newness to our stores, there didn’t seem to be much interest from policymakers to limit these excesses a decade ago. But now that China (Think Shein and Temu) are racing ahead, technologically outstripping the European fast-fashion kingpins; replacing weekly newness with daily newness and universally condemned as ‘disposable fashion. It appears that…


If policymakers were so keen on reducing the excesses of fashion, I question why in the UK, our government has kicked off the new year by increasing the tax burden on individuals selling on peer-to-peer sites, such as Ebay and Vinted, signalling a discouragement of reuse and resale, despite the fact that all the noises from government, business and NGOs is to promote a circular economy approach; to reduce waste and limit resources. 

Vogue Business 05/01/24

And when the law could have been passed a decade ago why now? Does the French legal action signal that the situation has got out of hand, and that policy is at last accepting that consumption AND our economies must decline? As much as I desperately want to believe this is true, I think not. 

I suspect ulterior motives. I suggest instead of environmental protection, IT IS THE STORY OF GROWTH, of market protectionism, market’s whose success is dependent on growth at all costs.

Is it a growth story alone, or how about its routes in colonialism?..

“Asia as the global north’s factory is one thing, made in China is fine, but OWNED by China is something else!”

Is this the retelling of a story from a Eurocentric gaze, a history built on a greedy share of the carbon budget, overlooking an Asian growth economy, looking on jealously and resentfully at OTHER success?

Beyond economic growth and colonial control, how about the patriarchy? Fashion is particularly female. Is this the shaming of women for buying too much? Laws passed from the powers-that-be…

To control excess and CURB WOMEN’S DESIRE?  

Is it also a story about class? ‘Ultra fast-fashion’ is cheap to make, from cheap textiles and cheap to buy, an affront to European manufacturers and ‘taste makers’, to France as the fashion PATRON of the world. Fast-fashion is mass-market, mass-appeal. One hundred years ago the poorest in society had one suit or one dress, whilst the richest had many, made from textiles that denoted their class and their relationship with labour, their status in society.

Is this what we want to get back to?

“Garments were used to control her and since women did not have their own money, the complex garments they wore showed there father’s or husband’s wealth” Wearable History, Molly O’Donnell

The view from the other side of fast-fashion 

I’m going to make some assumptions that we are where we are, based on a combination of these interwoven stories. And you may well ask, whether it matters what the motivations are, as long as the goal remains to reduce the exploitative and extractive impacts of fast-fashion…

In pursuit of ‘better’ materials and more RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION 

This is where things get sticky for me, to ‘limit the excesses of ultra fast-fashion’, we must first know it when we see it. Is it purely defined by its price-point? Or what it is made of? Or by whom it is made?  And if we struggle to define fast-fashion, how about sustainable fashion? Then there is defining excess, what is our point of reference for sufficiency? How many pieces of clothing is ENOUGH?  

If it is like our approach to resolving obesity, by taxing junk food and sugar, this should be of concern. Obesity is increasing all the while, without us confronting why our consumptive behaviours go in the opposite direction of WHAT IS GOOD FOR US

Retelling the fashion story

I’m not one to leave things in mid-air, in despair. What if we could turn the page to a more optimistic story, one in which we reclaim fashion? Instead of the growth economy owning our desire, our creativity, our style and our self-expression. Can we harness our creativity and break out of our individual story, beyond ownership, one which is connected and favours the many over the few? How about the people our current system leaves behind? The makers the growers? Can we include them too?

It is clear our inherited story is not fit for the world we live in today.

To poach off the brilliant economist Kate Raworth, It is time to tell a new story, to redesign a regenerative fashion system and co-create a fashion economy which is designed in service of life, not growth. 

Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, Kate Raworth/Doughnut economics

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