OPINION: ‘Fast fashion is becoming a drug’

Clare Harby, general manager at Ward Recycling, explains what it means for the textiles recycling industry when fast fashion items are taken to the charity shops.

OPINION: We are all aware of the global issues that are having such a large impact on the textile industry over recent months with international economic and social affairs causing a variety of concerns that, when brought together, is enforcing the value of the material to plummet.

However, there’s an issue which will have an even longer lasting effect, much closer to home that is happening silently and on such a scale that could potentially be even more difficult to solve, as it derives in the psyche of the British public. This results in the supply and demand shifting, due to the mass-produced amount of cheap clothing.

Growing demands

We have acknowledged the growth of fast fashion and are mindfully aware of vast quantity of items produced every day. However, we need to acknowledge that the manufacturing of these garments is to meet the demands of the buying public. This is an issue that all sectors of the industry are facing, uniting charity shops, textile merchants, HWRC sites and end-buyers alike. They are all seeing a phenomenal drop in quality resulting in a substantial proportion of material that they are seeing having little to no value as a reusable item.

The fabrics in these garments are being produced using poor quality, mixed fibres, with blends containing high plastic content, which makes the recycling process expensive and not viable. This means that disposal costs soar to exponential levels, with the price per tonne to send the unusable items to energy-from-waste costing in the region of £170 per tonne.


To address this issue, we must understand the psychological mindset of vast amounts of people across the country. Buying new clothing items has become both a habit and a drug, it is scientifically proven that when purchasing new clothes, the body produces the feel-good hormone, serotonin, which becomes addictive. The ease of purchasing new is so readily available with the growth of online shopping. You no longer even need to leave home to purchase a new outfit. This coupled with easy pay options, such as Klarna, results in people clicking ‘add to basket’ and ‘buy now’ without any issues or great thought process. Reduced shipping costs for larger orders at low spend value results in the temptation to buy big.

Fashion to waste

More recently, manufacturing processes are with the intention of garments not lasting, with the emphasis on cost and quantity, often looking good until their first wash. The zips and buttons are low-quality and break extremely easily, lasting just long enough until the shoppers next large haul arrives through the post. Whilst people believe that their buying habits are justified by donating the castoffs to charity, the reality is that the charities and textile merchants are faced with items which have no resale value and become a waste product.

There is an interesting relationship between the shopper and their purchases. People are not forming emotional attachments to their garments. They do not take the time to carefully wash and iron their clothes like we would have seen historically. The dry-cleaning industry has dramatically declined with sales falling by 30% in recent years. We have become a throw-away society, constantly seeking the next thrill of the buy. We do not want to spend copious amounts of money, we want the cheaply made, replaceable single/ minimal use items with quantity overruling quality.

So even when other current challenges facing the industry are finally resolved, it needs to be acknowledged that whilst we continue to buy in such enormous quantities creating the demand for fast low-quality fashion, the value of the material will continue to drop affecting all second-hand clothing stakeholders.

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