Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

I can’t quit fast fashion as a student, but I can change how I shop

The expectation to stop shopping at fast-fashion brands comes with the assumption that people can afford alternatives

High-end ethical brands, such as Stella McCartney, can be overpriced for some. Courtesy Stella McCartney
High-end ethical brands, such as Stella McCartney, can be overpriced for some. Courtesy Stella McCartney

With the Dubai Shopping Festival and other sales in full swing, it’s almost impossible to walk through the crowds of people in malls, most of whom pack into fast-fashion clothing stores (think H&M, Mango and Zara). Despite this, I, too, find myself rummaging through the racks at Bershka and Forever 21, looking to update my wardrobe at half the price.

Fast fashion is described as mass-produced clothes usually made from low-quality materials and sold for relatively low prices. It is increasingly becoming known that the production of fast fashion contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions and non-­recyclable landfill waste. Growing consumer demand catalyses this, increasing supply and creating a never-ending cycle, which has led pop culture to tarnish fast fashion due to its negative impact on the environment and economy.

This is important to understand and acknowledge, and I find it incredible that, conversation aside, many people and companies are taking action and making sustainable fashion a reality. Yet, I cannot sit back and listen to eco warriors guilt consumers for buying into current trends at a cheaper price. An expectation that we quit fast fashion overnight implies that all buyers have the income to do so. The core solution of purchasing fewer items from ethical brands that tend to be more expensive is far from realistic for many. Not everyone can afford the alternatives.

Did I buy the same pair of jeans from Bershka thrice last year? Yes. Will I most likely continue to do so? Yes, and I refuse to be condemned for it. Why? It is far more plausible for me, a university student, to buy jeans for Dh80 at any given moment during the year, than a better quality pair for at least Dh300 in one go. That’s the harsh truth.

Sarah Afaneh 
Completely giving up fast-fashion stores is a tricky option for Sarah Afaneh

Many propose the cheaper alternative of thrift shopping that, at first glance, seems to be effective, but in reality is impractical. Thrifting is like rolling a dice and hoping to land on six, because you can never guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for. As yet, I have found one thrift store in the UAE that appeals to my style. My friends and I vow to visit it every week, but we rarely end up going. When we do, I buy clothes for unbelievably low prices, but leave with only one or two items after a three-hour trip. Thrifting can be inconvenient, while sustainable fashion brands tend to be more expensive, or cheap but unavailable. Irrespective, both often don’t fit into the current styles doing the rounds for those who like to stay up to date with trends (and for whom convenience is an important criteria when shopping).

As a consumer with a low income at present and a passion for fashion, I find it difficult to cut brands out when they meet the dual criteria of appeal and affordability. However, while I’ve realised I can’t yet quit fast fashion altogether, there are ways to reduce the negative environmental impact of buying from such brands.

Zara, a fast fashion brand, at The Galleria Mall in Abu Dhabi.
Zara, a fast fashion brand, at The Galleria Mall in Abu Dhabi.

To start, it helps to reduce impulse shopping. We’ve all been there: walking by a shop window that has a yellow sweater that’s all the more tempting because of the red sale sign next to it. We buy it because it’s cheap, yet end up wearing it once, if ever, and then disposing of. The next time you go shopping, take a step back and ask yourself if you actually need and want a garment – or are you simply tempted because of the cost, even if it’s not quite your style? If so, keep walking.

Once you’ve bought an article of clothing, wear it for longer. Style the same shirt in 10 ways, and genuinely take care of your clothes. Sure, fast fashion wears out easily, but wonders can be done with a simple needle and thread. I usually end up at a local tailor’s, which can fix clothes for low prices. Otherwise, you’ll find me on my sofa following DIY projects on YouTube for more creative solutions that don’t break the bank.

Updated: January 11, 2020 04:16 PM

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