The death knell has been sounded for fast fashion. Gen Z-ers want to shop more sustainably, the argument goes, while profits at major players like Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and ASOS have slumped in recent years.
Still, the fact that H&M and Zara have seen sizeable profits of late, combined with the rise of ultra fast fashion behemoths such as Shein (and its recent viral influencer trip), suggests that the appetite for cheap, trend-driven clothing – the vast majority of which ends up in landfill – is not going away anytime soon. Indeed, the fact that Shein adds, on average, an eye-watering 6,000 new styles to its website every day shows the scale of the challenge that we’re facing.
That’s why the European Union has backed a raft of new regulations to “end fast fashion”, including policies designed to make clothes more durable, easier to reuse, repairable and recyclable. “We cannot continue with the current linear model, where [clothing waste] has tripled in the past 20 years,” Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, tells Vogue. “We need to address [this].”
Moving away from a linear model to a circular one – where all garments can be reused, recycled or are biodegrade and compostable – is crucial in order to tackle fashion’s impact on the planet. But experts have questioned whether the EU’s proposals actually do enough to halt fast fashion.
“It’s not physical durability that is the problem,” Veronica Bates Kassatly, an independent analyst and sustainable fashion consultant, says, pointing to the fact that a lace dress would fare less well in wash tests typically used to test durability, compared to a polyester garment. “If you look at the piles of discarded clothing in the Atacama Desert in [Chile] or in Ghana or Kenya, it’s not lace dresses that are dumped there. It’s not physical durability that is the problem.”
In fact, a 2022 French study found that while 35 per cent of people say they throw away their clothes because they’re worn out, 26 per cent say that it’s because they don’t suit them anymore, while 30 per cent say it’s because they’re bored of them – suggesting durability isn’t the primary issue. “If more than 50 per cent of clothes are being thrown out for reasons that have nothing to do with durability, legislating durability is not going to solve the problem,” Bates Kassatly continues.