Overconsumption in Fashion Industry

Didem Baltaci
5 min readDec 11, 2018

Is it possible to slow down the fast fashion movement by changing consumption pattern?

Fashion holds a significant point in our lives as it has impacts on our emotional well-being. Before fashion turns into a hugely profitable industry, it is about people and art. However, in the last three decades, the globalization movement occupied the world. Unfortunately, the fashion industry was one of the sectors most affected by the global economy movement.

Fast fashion is a new form of success because it offers us various cheaper garments and allows us to change our wardrobe continuously. Zara and H&M are the pioneers of the fast fashion movement. These companies increased their profits by producing cheap garments in high volumes and offering new styles once in a month. As consumers, we are impressed by this success, and we commenced to consume more and more without thinking of its drawbacks on environment, economy, and community.

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At the beginning of 2000, a new term emerged, called “slow fashion”, a movement to alter the retrogressive fashion system. The concept of slow fashion defends design, production, consumption and usage processes can be carried out in a more sustainable and ethical way. Even fast fashion affects our consumption pattern, as consumers, we have to share the responsibility and change our consumption attitudes to slow fashion movement. The transition from fast fashion consumerism to slow fashion consumerism will not be smooth, but it will be possible. Although the slow fashion movement seeks to develop more sustainable production methods, today’s fashion consumption pattern is not sustainable. As consumers, we can be sustainable fashion consumers by doing smart shopping and using what we have while continuing to be fashionable.

The average consumption rate sharply increased in the ’90s because of the global economy. Respectively fashion consumption rose, and our consumption habits changed from what we need to what we want. As a result, this attitude brought overconsumption and fashion waste into the fashion industry. In other words, we are buying more than we need, and seeing the garments as disposable products. How can we be smart shoppers? How can we relearn to buy what we need?

Overconsumption is one of the most significant issues in the contemporary world. Especially after 1980’s many studies have been done to understand the forces behind our increasing consumption levels and with the help of these researches, new solutions have been suggested. Consumer education is one of the most important outcomes of these studies. Researchers suggest that developing consumer education programs is essential to altering consumers’ patterns from a quantity-based consumption to a quality-based one. Even I strongly agree with their approach, since consumers cannot be enlightened suddenly and cannot perceive the facts of fast fashion on their own, the content of these consumer education programs is still unclear. Also, I believe that consumers can be more aware of the drawbacks of overconsumption and fashion waste through education. Consumers can learn how to read garment labels, so they can clarify which garment is more sustainable. After becoming conscious consumers, they will be able to review their consumption levels and remodel their habits, and they will become smarter shoppers. Smart shopping leads to a decrease in fashion consumption since smart shoppers spend their budget according to their needs and price-quality relation.

For the last few decades, we have been consuming without realizing the long-term consequences of our consumption. We need to stop bulk purchasing to leave a more sustainable world for the next generation. When we do a wardrobe inventory as Lucy Siegle successfully suggested we will realize how many same style white t-shirts or denim clothes we have. Even though we are not fashionistas or fashion addicts we keep purchasing because the new fashion goods are cheap. As consumers, we get rid of the cheaper fashion products more easily than the expensive ones. To put another way, if we keep getting more than we need, we can quickly throw away the products that we do not need. As a result, our clothes in our wardrobe become disposable goods for us. Every year, we send almost 2 million tons of textiles to the landfill. This figure shows that we are wasting the resources and the finished fashion product as well. Siegle continues her argument and proposes “Do not buy anything unless you can guarantee yourself that you are going to wear it 30 times.” When we compare the costs of purchasing one quality garment and thirty cheap garments, we will see that buying a low-price garment is costlier than the quality garment. Smart shopping is not only reading labels, but it is also assessing the budget, and doing necessary savings.

In conclusion, achieving a more sustainable fashion industry is only possible with the cooperation of consumers. Smart shopping is one of the significant tools to change the consumption pattern. This change will lead to a decrease in fashion consumption.

As mentioned above smart shopping is essential to decrease the consumption level; however, shopping less is not sufficient to make us conscious consumers. We also need to know how to utilize what we have. Repairing, reusing and recycling the garments also cause a decline in fashion consumption. In this perspective, I believe that metabolism of a wardrobe, one of the future projected scenarios in “The 2004 Lifetimes project” by Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham is useful to understand the effects of sharing and reusing of the clothes in our consumption habits. If we can create a system of reworking, sharing and reusing of the clothes without adding new ones to our wardrobes, buying new clothes will not be the focus of our “fashion experience”.

Photo by Adrienne Leonard on Unsplash

It would have been nice to hold the fashion companies responsible for the negative impacts of fast fashion, but the research conducted by the European Union in 2014 shows that consumers generate half of the impact of the fashion industry. This research reveals that the consumption pattern of fashion is as harmful as production. As Jochen Strähle stresses, we need to take actions to change the world through fashion consumption. There are various things we can do as well as buying less. We can learn how to repair our clothes rather than throwing them into the landfill. If we are not able to mend, reusing will be an answer. We can give our clothes to second-hand or thrift shops. Using recyclable items and returning them for recycling is another way of being sustainable. Instead of buying a garment which we will wear only once, we can rent it. Lastly, we need to repeat these actions to alter our consumption habits. As a result, taking care of our clothes as significant as reducing our consumption level to slow down the fast fashion.

In conclusion, fashion transformed into fast fashion, and it mostly lost its relationship with identity expression and creativity in recent years. The term fashion is “not to do with making clothes and identities anymore, now it is more with looking.” Even though fast fashion production causes negative impacts on the environment, economy, and society, consumption should share the responsibility. So we need to change our consumption pattern to achieve a more sustainable fashion industry. We can start by buying less and learn to repair, reuse and recycle our clothes.

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