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Are influencers killing the planet?

These days, plastic has become a bit of a taboo. Straws are a no go, plastic bags are a sin and there’s a sense of public shaming when you tell the cashier in Pitstop that you didn’t bring your own coffee cup. However, although these anti-plastic initiatives do play their part in protecting the environment, they can often overshadow one of the biggest impacts we have on the planet: our wardrobes. 

‘Fast fashion’ has yet to take centre stage in the eco debate, but our shopping habits are having a huge impact on the environment. Fast fashion describes how designs and styles can move from the catwalk to high street retailers almost instantly, in order to quickly capture and capitalise on current fashion trends. However, it is not only the journey from runway to consumer that is fast in fast fashion, but also the clothing’s journey into landfill. Cheap, mass-produced items are often extremely low quality (think see-through PLT dresses or sheer Missguided leggings), meaning they quickly end up with rips and holes, and their low price makes it easier and cheaper to replace them than fixed. In addition, these mass-produced items can be sold at such low prices that we barely think twice about buying an outfit to wear just once, and the next destination for these cheap and poor-quality items is the bin. 

The environmental repercussions of fast fashion are devastating. The fashion and textiles industry has sky-high carbon emissions and wastewater production, and produces huge amounts of landfill. To add insult to injury, almost two thirds of our clothes are now made from plastic polymers and other petrochemicals, meaning we are adding even more plastic into the environment every time we purchase something new. Even agriculture and air travel is not as environmentally devastating – the only industry that pollutes more than fashion is oil.

But the environment isn’t the only thing suffering from fast fashion – our consumer habits have a human cost too. 97% of our clothes are manufactured overseas, with fashion brands exploiting cheap labour in developing countries where workers often have very minimal rights and safety standards are low. Garment workers, 85% of whom are women and often include children working to provide for their family, endure long hours for minimal pay, working in dangerous conditions with hazardous substances. In 2013, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1100 workers. These workers were producing clothes for brands such as Primark, Mango, Matalan and even Prada and Gucci when they died – and accidents like these are not as rare as brands would like us to believe. 

So fast fashion is harming our planet and the human beings involved in its production. But what can we do? It is easy to feel helpless when you think about the scale of the problem, especially when governments and big business don’t seem to care, but the best thing you can do as an individual is use your consumer power for good. As consumers, we have the power to make brands change the way they work – they want our money, and are prepared to adapt and change to get it if needs be. Think about how many brands have adapted their packaging to reduce plastic waste, or how many brands have been racing to become the most ‘conscious’; these changes (albeit often only the bare minimum of effort) wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for consumer demand.

The best thing we can do is simply buy less. Try to consider each purchase you make and decide whether it is actually worth it, and try to make less impulsive purchases. Sustainable, slow fashion brands exist, and the app Good On You is amazing for giving you an environmental and ethical rundown of each shop you buy from, but admittedly these brands are often expensive and therefore less accessible (particularly to poor students). However, one of the most sustainable ways of updating your wardrobe is to buy second hand – Depop, Asos Marketplace, eBay and even charity shops all have amazing finds and often cheap bargains, and shopping there means you aren’t adding another unnecessary garment into this vicious cycle. Unfortunately, trying to shop more consciously often means staying away from the cult favourite online retailers like Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Boohoo. Although their cheap deals can be alluring, there is always going to be someone or something paying the real price for a £1 bikini or a 75% off sale. 

And finally, in the age of the influencer, another important stand you can take is to unfollow and unsubscribe to those influencers who are relentlessly pushing an unsustainable level of consumption. An endless amount of sponsored posts, clothing hauls and outfit of the day posts can make us think we need to keep up and buy more and more, but the lifestyle and habits these influencers are selling to us are unsustainable – financially, environmentally and ethically. It’s not all doom and gloom – many influencers are now committing to being more sustainable by severing ties with fast fashion brands, no longer making haul videos and promoting eco-friendly products – but when even small influencers with only a few thousand followers are being sent hundreds and even thousands of pounds worth of clothing, it isn’t hard to see that there is a problem in this industry. 

So yes, influencers are killing the planet – but so are we. In a time where we are all striving to be more environmentally conscious, avoiding plastic straws and bringing our own coffee cups, we need to start making more conscious decisions when it comes to our wardrobes. It can seem hard or overwhelming, but every baby step taken by us as consumers is one closer to seeing change in the fashion industry.

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