The Volte co-founder Bernadette Olivier believes the rising influence of fast fashion players must be stopped. 

Behind the glitter and glamour of Melbourne Fashion Week is a simmering uncomfortable undercurrent. Many of the stunning designs debuted on the catwalk will within weeks have thousands of fast fashion copies appear in large, global chains at a fraction of the cost.

These garments are not ‘inspired’ by the trends of our celebrated Australian designers, they are flagrant breaches of copyright harming one of the industries who has been amongst the hardest hit economically during the pandemic. No one was buying party dresses during lock down.

In addition, these imitations are produced in factories in developing nations, in appalling working conditions where workers are barely paid a living wage.

Grace Forrest has recently begun a campaign fighting for this often-forgotten group. Shockingly, this fast fashion garment industry is the second largest contributor to modern slavery today – and those slaves are predominantly women and children.

As troubling is the fact that fast fashion is now the second largest contributor to CO2 emissions, second only to the oil industry. While we all worry about offsetting our carbon footprint when we fly, your luggage is actually causing more harm to the planet.

Textiles are no longer produced in environmentally friendly ways and the water used in production, estimated to be 95 litres per garment, is mind blowing, particularly given much of the world is currently experiencing longer periods of drought due to climate change.

The luxury fashion industry over the last two years has become hyper focused on sustainability. Designers like Stella McCartney, and Australian labels Zimmermann, Aje and Alemais have pioneered changing the out-dated practices that have led to huge environmental harm.

However, there is one problem – fast fashion cannot make these changes. Their business model simply does not work with slow textiles, well paid manufacturing and making clothes that last.

The fast fashion model is based on the idea that clothing is disposable and therefore should be priced this way.

With the rise of fast fashion our consumer habits followed suit and now according to a recent study by the Australian Fashion Council, Australians on average purchase 27 kilograms of clothing each year per person and on average discard 23 kilograms.

Despite many of us with good intentions passing these garments to charity shops or donating them, the majority end up in landfill either here or overseas.

This fast fashion habit has meant that Australia is now the second largest textile consumer globally, second only to the US. However, there are solutions. We are in an age of innovation, and the fashion industry is innovating at high speed.

Fast fashion is a relatively young industry, first beginning in London in the 1960s but only really gaining huge traction in the 1990s and 2000s with the rise of global giants like Zara and H&M.

Our fast fashion habits are not ingrained through generations. In fact, historically the biggest spenders on fast fashion were millennials and Generation Z consumers who grew up purchasing a new outfit for the weekend, every week.

But it is these consumers that are the most aware and concerned about climate change and who are making choices about which brands to support based on values and sustainable practices.

Frankly, you shouldn’t be buying a t-shirt for under $10 – it’s not frugal, or a bargain – it’s unethical and unsustainable for our planet.

As a lover of fashion myself, I believe we will still all want the joy of a new dress or planning an outfit for a special occasion. In my personal experience preparing for the ball was always more fun than attending the ball.

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