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Fast Fashion?

Bringing together, art, business, design, lifestyle and self-expression, fashion is an industry like no other. Unfortunately it also substantially contributes to excessive waste and pollution. In this interview, Elisa Ann Scerri explains the impact of fast fashion on the world.

What is the difference between fast fashion and slow fashion?

Fast fashion: The term is inspired by fast food and was coined in the 1990s to describe ZARA’s mission of taking only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores. In a few words, fast fashion means the production of low-quality garments which are sold at a very low price. Such clothing is manufactured with mass-production system using machines. Fast fashion largely contributes to waste in landfills.

Slow fashion: this makes up the handmade garments which are given attention to detail, thus very time-consuming, showcase the designer’s skills, are of a finer quality, and more expensive. This bears a resemblance to the traditional way of looking at and producing clothes before the industrial revolution. Slow fashion does not follow trends and sticks only to staple pieces. At its centrepiece, this concept has fair labour, supporting local businesses, an eco-friendly supply chain, and clean and efficient production, among others.

The impact of the fashion industry on the environment is often under-estimated. Why is sustainability important and how can we make a difference as consumers?

We must first understand that sustainability is made up of 3 pillars: environment, society, and economy. They are equally essential and affect each other directly.

Environment: The fashion industry is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world, after the oil industry.

Society: One example is that fashion workers in developing countries are being exploited: they are paid very little and work in disastrous conditions.

Economy: Companies should be able to make a profit without compromising the two other pillars. Companies should opt for a circular economy system instead of a linear economy (the take, make, use, throw away cycle). An example of how companies are being unsustainable is not being transparent about their practices with their stakeholders.

As consumers, there are several ways how we can make our part:

  • Firstly, get educated on the subject from reliable sources

  • Avoid purchasing garments from fast fashion companies, like SHEIN or ZARA

  • Support sustainable brands

  • Choose natural fibres. Manufactured fibres, like polyester, release microplastics every time they are washed. These then go into our oceans, get consumed by seafood & fish, and then we eat them.

  • Donate, swap, sell: don’t throw out

  • Opt for secondhand clothing

  • Purchase organic clothing e.g., made from organic cotton

  • Opt for clothing made of sustainable fibres like hemp and bamboo.

  • Take sewing classes: you will be able to upcycle your clothes or even make your clothes from scratch!

  • Research on the companies “behind the scenes”. Such info can usually be found on their website (if none can be found, there is a great possibility that they are using unsustainable practices). A great document is the yearly Fashion Transparency Index by Fashion Revolution. Remember to check the details for all 3 sustainability pillars.

  • Dry your clothes outside instead of a tumble dryer

What are the main challenges for sustainable fashion?

Fast fashion is very incorporated in today’s society. Young people do not even know a world without fast fashion so it is very difficult to act otherwise. Lots of damages were made to the different aspects of sustainability and it is now extremely difficult to reverse them. The only way how we can make a difference is by everyone giving their part. We should not rely on activists or the government to work on this matter. We all should.

What is your research about?

My research focuses on sustainability, which is a term often heard in today’s society. It answers these 3 questions:

  • Do we know the significance of sustainability, and how it relates to fashion?

  • Where do we, as an island, stand in the process of building a more sustainable future for the coming generations?

  • What do the present and the future of the fashion industry look like, and what can we do to make it brighter?

It mostly focuses on the damages of fast fashion on the three pillars of sustainability, and then it discusses some case studies of foreign fashion companies and organisations by highlighting the sustainable projects that they have adopted. Surveys with different groups of stakeholders of the fashion industry: consumers aged 18-26, retail employees of the fashion industry, and local fashion designers were conducted. The questions mostly focused on discovering if these groups know the real meaning of sustainability, fast fashion, and slow fashion, and then they were asked specific questions on their lifestyle with regards to fashion.

Perceptions influence behaviour. What were the main findings of your research?

Education regarding fashion sustainability is key, as many may only have a superficial understanding of the topic. The social dimension of sustainability and fast & slow fashion is overlooked. Tapping the creativity of key stakeholders in the Maltese fashion industry has the potential of a transition toward a sustainable future for the fashion industry. The engagement of all stakeholders, from policymakers to employees, is needed.

What does fashion mean to you?

It is a way of expressing yourself through your unique style to show off a glimpse of your personality. It is an art form.

Why did you choose fashion as your main area of research?

I have always loved fashion. This course gave me the opportunity to study different aspects of fashion. So it was a no-brainer that I would choose fashion as my main area of research.

What are your career aspirations?

I want to be a Fashion & Textiles teacher. I also want to be involved in organisations related to fashion to contribute towards spreading knowledge about sustainability in the field, which is very much needed in Malta.

ELISA ANN SCERRI is a B. Sc. (Hons) Home Economics, specialising in Fashion, Textiles and Interior Studies at the University of Malta. She will be reading a Master in Teaching and Learning course in October. Her main interests are drawing, travelling, the arts, partying, fashion & interiors as well as nature. Describing herself as resilient, easy-going, and open-minded, she believes that mindset is truly important for a positive approach to life.



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