• Helen Matthews

Fast Fashion: but what about the high street sustainable ranges?

As high street clothing retailers launch their new lines for the Autumn and those pesky targeted ads keep on popping up on your Facebook feed, it’s clear one style in particular is trending this season: sustainability.

But what is sustainability? And how can this apply to the ever-changing, ever-growing world of fashion? According to the Collins Dictionary, sustainability is ‘the ability to be maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage’. So, the fact that prominent high street retailers such as Primark, H&M, and Zara have all made significant promises in terms of their ongoing

sustainability is a good thing, right?

Not quite…

Let’s take Primark for an example. The launch of their new Autumn range, ‘Time for Change. A Better Future’ pledges to improve their sustainability, focusing on three key areas: single-use plastics, sustainable cotton, and recycled materials. Since cotton makes up a large proportion of Primark’s products, from towels to t shirts, this understandably links in with the most ambitious part of their pledge: to produce over 60 million items in the Primark Sustainable Cotton Range.

Primark states that their sustainable cotton is produced in a way that minimises the need for ‘pesticides, fertilisers and water’, and that it ‘improves the livelihood of the farmers by increasing their income’, which is a great start, and the importance of a high street retailer raising awareness of the ethics of cotton shouldn’t be understated. However, unfortunately, it’s not enough just to make empty promises and throw around eco

friendly buzzwords in the hope that it will encourage consumers to make conscious decisions. For example, ‘minimising’ the use of chemicals used to grow cotton is fantastic, but what does this mean exactly? And how can we, the consumer, trace their progress? Furthermore, if companies like White te. can use totally organic cotton, free from nasty chemicals, why can’t Primark?

The answer to that is a complex one, but it all stems down to consumer demand.

With bright colours, bold styles, and bargain prices, consumers are trapped into thinking that we need a new outfit for every occasion, and with some fashion retailers producing up to 52 micro-seasons a year, what you wear has become the new best way for keeping up with the Joneses (or perhaps that should that be Kardashians nowadays…)

But in order to keep up with the demands of an ever-changing wardrobe, the cheapest, most cost-effective way to do this is by using chemical-intensive pesticides and insecticides. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to you that the fashion industry is the world’s largest user of chemical fertilisers for growing cotton, responsible for 6% of pesticide and 16% insecticide use worldwide; more than any other single crop. Obviously, this has a disastrous impact on the planet, creating pest resistance, contaminating water sources

as well as driving a general decrease in soil fertility. In addition, agrochemical cotton farming causes up to 77 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year around the globe, with many of these farmers being exploited and forced to suffer lifelong health ailments, poor working conditions, and unlivable wages.

This is where Primark’s sustainability statement starts to falter. Yes, of course, it’s amazing news that they’re trying to lower the quantity of chemicals needed in production and improve the pay for their farmers, but without any specific facts or figures to measure their progress, this is just one of the many examples of green-washing seen on our high streets today. Without measurable goals, we can’t be sure as consumers that what we’re paying for is fair and sustainable, and honestly, if you’re picking up a t-shirt for less than the price of a cup of coffee, chances are the farmers aren’t being paid a decent living wage either. The truth of the matter is, if fashion keeps being seen as something we consume rather than something we invest in, there’s no way it can be sustainable because it’s using up ecological resources faster than it can replenish them, and harming the livelihoods of cotton growers across the world. So, if you’re truly wanting to find the perfect outfit then sustainable fashion is the way forward. Build up a wardrobe of clothes you love and cherish, that you can dress up or down for any occasion. Start with the basics, a good pair of jeans, a White te. and accessorise your outfit from there. Be sure to check out the previous blog post for style ideas, and in the meantime slow down and be a part of the change.


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