Break up with fast fashion. A hand trying to reach out from a pile of fast fashion clothes
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How to break up with fast fashion?

A step by step guide, this feature will help us all get out of a toxic relationship.

By Rutuja Sapre

‘Shopping’ was a term I once associated with visiting the many street shops with friends only to buy the cheapest earrings and footwear. It hardly mattered that most of the time, these cute accessories would fall apart after a couple of uses. They were designed only to last for a short time.

Only some five years and about 200 broken leather straps later did I begin to understand just why I repeatedly purchased and discarded these cheap buys. I was in a very, very toxic relationship and had to break up with fast fashion quickly.

Stage 1: Denial, shock and guilt

The first thing to do was to try and find out precisely what fast fashion was. The more information I got on social media pages, the more shocking and unbelievable it seemed.

It pained me terribly to read that the fashion industry produces 10% of global CO2 emissions every year and uses around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually. These staggering numbers were the biggest problem with fast fashion, but not its only issue. Guilt took over me. I never knew about so many underlying severe issues.

Stage 2: Anger

I started to say I wanted a break; I had seen enough. But then came a sudden change in the ideologies of fast fashion brands. They began to tell me that they knew they had been toxic before, but it was all about to change. They were going to make more conscious lines of clothing because even they cared about the environment.

I was so excited to hear them say they were willing to change. Fast fashion brands were finally going to make the same skirt styles which I loved using natural dyes and organic fibres. I would be able to shop guilt-free once more.

Stage 3: Grief

But if they did want to change, why could I only see one wall lined up with the organic cotton garments? The rest of the store still looked full of polyester – high energy, petroleum-based non-biodegradable fibre.

Why did the brands who made t-shirts that said ‘Feminist’ and ‘Girl Power’ refuse to pay a living wage to their women garment workers?

It dawned on me that this was greenwashing – a tactic of fast fashion brands to get me to stay loyal to them. They didn’t care about my interest in organic fibres or in reducing waste and pollution. They were not interested in equal rights for women.

They were going along with what they thought I wanted, but at the same time doing just what they’d been doing for years. Did I ever believe they would just change for me? This incident was the final straw for me. It made me realise that I had to break up with fast fashion for good.

Stage 4: Reconstruction

I shared my problems with near and dear ones, and I realised that I was not alone. My friends too were in a lousy relationship with fast fashion. They had also accepted the disposable nature of our clothing and accessories. We all just bought the lies sold to us. Lies of how we needed new things to look trendy every season. But what about the clothes from last season? What happens to them?

I turned to social media again for answers. My hope in the fashion industry renewed after in-depth and thorough research for alternatives. I saw that I didn’t have to stay in this toxic relationship anymore. Sustainable, viable and eco-friendly options were available for my use. Paid ads and sponsored content masked them from my worldview.

Stage 5: Acceptance

I finally came across the concept of slow fashion. An ideological opposite to fast fashion, slow fashion promotes less consumption focussing on quality over quantity.

Slow fashion brands use organic cotton or other earth-friendly alternatives for their entire line of clothes and not just single collections. They produce pieces by the dozens rather than thousands. Apparels are produced locally to avoid emissions caused by transportations. They use a transparent model of production and pricing. I also get to hear stories of people who make my clothes and where it is made.

Agreed this alternative was slightly expensive than my previous purchases. But it was an investment in the right direction. I was no longer shopping carelessly or every other week. I am carefully curating my wardrobe instead.

Now, I love my pieces more than ever. I wear them often and use them to the most. I even invest time to learn to care for them properly. I am so glad to have found a healthy and loving relationship with my fashion choices.

Fast fashion was an addiction I had given into. I was not alone; there are still people out there stuck in this endless loop – shopping, wearing a few times and throwing it out. But if I can get out of this toxic relationship, so can you. We all need to break up with fast fashion once and for all.


Rutuja is a freelance fashion designer and influencer from Pune with a degree in fashion design. She has been a womenswear designer for over four years, working exclusively with handloom fabrics. In her free time, runs an Instagram page called @thefashionconscience dedicated to promoting slow fashion practices and sustainable fashion brands.

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