by Ella Hussey
With the false reality that social media has created over recent years, the younger generation has developed a lack of awareness of how their desire to consume fast fashion has significantly damaged the environment. In a study completed in 2020, students of Aalto University found that fast fashion produces 92 million tonnes of pollution a year, which accounts for 10% of global waste. Village Magazine reported that the fast fashion market holds one-third of the world’s industry and employs one-sixth of the world’s population; fast fashion companies have capitalised on the human instinct to desire the unattainable.
Turbo consumption, which is the accelerated consumption of products, is central to fast fashion’s impact on climate change. Prioritising profit over the planet, the fast fashion industry and its many facets promote a lifestyle of constant consumption and constant changing of your wardrobe. This creates a conflict in the mind of consumers that can be attributed to the idea of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a conflict between what we believe is right and our actions and choices. The culture of consuming vast amounts of clothing to wear only once or twice has contributed to the capitalist nature of society. As a society, whether consciously or subconsciously, we are aware that consuming this level of disposable clothing won’t be good for the environment. We need to move away from this feeling to be closer to our actions, matching our equal thoughts.
“Prioritising profit over the planet, the fast fashion industry and its many facets promote a lifestyle of constant consumption and constant changing of your wardrobe”
With this generation, our interactions with people’s daily lives are often through social media posts, and it is so easy to expose ourselves to the idealised lifestyle of influencers. They have immersed themselves in their image’s perfections, the clothes they wear. Fashion brands now advertise their products as a feature of someone’s identity. Fashion Consumption is now a thoroughly socialised process in which actions are motivated by image.
The change is due to the lack of consumption for need and the increase in want. In recent years with the increased awareness from young climate change activists such as Greta Thunberg, the younger generation is aware of the problem. However, we continue to buy from fast fashion companies because we think the problem will not affect us in the global north. The fast fashion industry has created a social and psychological aspect surrounding consumption—a culture which contains system one versus system two of thinking. Companies have been able to capitalise from system one consideration, which is our initial response with little to no thought process behind it. If you see a great offer on SHEIN, your mind will immediately know the appeal rather than the damage it is doing to the environment.
Although consumption is necessary, the lack of knowledge accessible to the younger generation has formed its being. The lack of transparency and disinformation between multi-million-dollar corporations and consumers is a problem. Companies have faced a lack of accountability for contributing to the climate crisis. To tackle this issue, in 2016, the Fashion Transparency Index was founded to track human rights and environmental issues among 250 of the world’s leading fashion retailers. Although transparency is not sustainability, the index disclosed that “When Fashion Revolution published the first Index in 2016, only 5 out of 40 major brands (12.5%) disclosed their suppliers and now seven years later 121 out of 250 major brands (48%) disclose their suppliers.” With activism movements such as Fashion Revolution taking action against climate change through the index, it contributes towards tackling the greater issue of climate change.
“younger generations are growing up in a more consumer-saturated world, in a world in which market mediation is so much more important in defining their own identities, subjectivities and social dynamics”
In an interview with professor and author Juliet Schor, she discussed the acceleration in more youthful generations’ consumption. “younger generations are growing up in a more consumer-saturated world, in a world in which market mediation is so much more important in defining their own identities, subjectivities and social dynamics”. She expanded saying, “This is really the expansion of market culture, of consumer culture”. Village magazine wrote that the fashion industry has exponentially gained a “400% growth in the industry in the last 20 years”. The shift in the culture surrounding fashion has proved detrimental to the environment.
America is a primary example of how turbo consumption accelerated the climate crisis. Schor again stated, “what I found is that in 2003 the average American consumer purchased 57 pieces of apparel each year. That’s more than one new piece of apparel per week.”. She continued, “In 1991, the figure was 34, an increase of 23 pieces over a mere 12 years, or about two more each year, every year for more than a decade”. Cheapening of products has led to mass imports of units, which has proved to be destructive for the environment due to the over-exploitation of products and increase in waste.
Schor, discussing the issue, said, “I think we need to move in the direction of those assets being held small-scale, and locally, as opposed to large-scale and in large collective public units”. The problem with this issue is not consumption as the action; people need to consume to live. By creating a unified vision on a localised scale, they can slowly impose stricter laws on fast fashion companies – they need to make their costs and actions transparent. But it is how we directly do that and what type of consumers we want to be.
To tackle consumerist culture, we need to create something unique and translate it into the same appeal that designer products hold, as there is only a tiny amount of them. We need to replace this with something good or better. Getting social influencers on board will create a desirability that comes from their influence on the younger generation. Sustainable consumption needs to be aesthetically pleasing, so it becomes a trend.