2 years without new clothes
The impetus for this blog post came from my colleague and friend Henning Heide.
Henning told me that he stopped buying clothes on March 5th, 2018. It doesn't sound terribly spectacular, but it was for him back then when he had lasted the first five weeks.
Henning describes his experience as follows:
“I've been interested in streetwear and sportswear for a long time. When it comes to the sometimes impulsive purchases, I tended to act according to the motto “Looks cool, I'm up for it” rather than really needing a piece.
So it happened at some point that I had seven between-seasons jackets, none of which really warmed or was rain proof, all served the same purpose and had a similar style.
Through my work as a photographer, I got countless packages from clothing companies for free and was able to get prototypes or samples through my shootings. In addition to that, I was bombarded with personalized advertising on Facebook and Instagram and, whether Nike, Patta or The North Face, they all knew how to get me. And I'm not alone with this. Most of you will be able to dress completely differently every day for over a month without repeating anything from your wardrobe.
Just as impulsively and spontaneously as my purchases, the decision was made 2.5 years ago to interrupt this behavior. The project was intended to last for a year. After the first 12 months, I bought some used pair of much-needed underpants and then started another year. I already didn't notice the second anniversary of my project."
This story is pretty exciting. Mainly because the old Henning is the best example of a fast fashion victim and the new Henning is the best example of a slow fashion nerd.
In this blog post we get to the bottom of both things. From fast to slow.
Fast fashion explained - the internet and politics as drivers
Fashion is actually something great. Fashion serves as a medium for us humans to express ourselves. We underline our personality with our clothing, assign ourselves to a certain group of people or want to underline a certain status. From an economic perspective, too, the fashion industry is something very wonderful, after all it generates well over a trillion US dollars a year and employs more than 300 million people worldwide. The question is, who really pays the bills here, but we´ll come to this later.
The internet makes fast fashion really fast
The fashion industry has shortened the cycles for fashion trends further and further over the past decades. This means that there are more and more collections each year, new colors, cuts, etc.
The internet has made it possible for us consumers to have constant access to the latest fashion. 24/7. Like many other things, fashion has been increasingly democratized by the Internet. Trends arise and sometimes go several times a year. It is also no longer necessarily great fashion designers who are responsible for trends, but rather skillful large companies who, with great competence, induce a large number of consumers to buy large quantities of new fashion products.
Fashion used to be reserved for a wealthy elite. Later, in the post-war years, fashion was available to all those who lived in cities where the big department stores presented the latest trends. Of course, not all of them could afford them yet, but it moved closer to the center of society. With the internet, fashion is now ubiquitous.
The fast fashion engine is fueled by certain political actions
On the one hand, there is hardly any ethical or environmental regulation in world trade or production. Nobody controls the conditions under which products are manufactured in South East Asia or Bangladesh. This allows a very cheap production of textiles in low-wage countries in the southern hemisphere. Of course, things are not happening in an ethically correct manner very often.
On the other hand, our governments are known for being strongly influenced by powerful industries/lobbies. This leads to subsidies that are sometimes completely absurd.
Want an example?
More than 60% of all textiles produced worldwide are made of polyester. This polyester is made from a by-product of petroleum / natural gas. Here in Germany (and also in other countries) there is e.g. a mineral oil tax that companies and ultimately also we consumers have to pay if we want to fill up our cars or our heating systems at home. However, if you produce plastic, e.g. polyester, the petroleum is tax-free to purchase by the manufacturing companies. So the price for producing plastic is immensely low. Nearly no other textile fibre can compete with this, polyester seems to be without real competition.
Some dead serious numbers
The statistics do not always agree who exactly tops the ranking, whether it is Germany, Belgium or the UK that buys and throws away the most clothes. The countries at the top definitely consume around 25 kilograms of clothing per capita per year. The German then throws away around 5 kilograms of clothing a year.
Further, we don't really wear our clothes anymore either. The average Brit owns around 115 items of clothing, more than 30% of which have not been worn in the last year.
Bottom line: we buy a lot more than before and wear the things significantly less often. The graphic below from the Allen MacArthur Foundation shows this very clearly. The purple-colored bar shows the increasing consumption of over 100 billion parts per year. The turquoise-colored bar shows how often we really wear the clothes.
And of course, none of this comes from anywhere. The fashion industry knows exactly how to make people buy that much. Large fashion chains start with around 26 collections a year. 26! This means a new one every 2 weeks.
The consequence of this excessive buying is the associated environmental pollution. These are so diverse and we discuss many of the problems in other blog posts. Here is a short list:
The clothing industry belongs worldwide to...
- one of the largest CO2 emitters
- one of the largest pollutants of water caused by chemicals used in the production process
- one of the largest consumers of crude oil for the production of polyester and other fibres
- one of the biggest wasters of water (cotton cultivation)
- one of the biggest polluters of water with microplastics
Here, too, the Allen MacArthur Foundation illustrates the problem quite well with a nice infographic.
What fast fashion means in the sportswear industry
In the context of fast fashion in sport, basically four developments can be observed.
1) Sports and functional clothing has become part of everyday fashion over the past two decades. Tracksuits are also worn in the modern office, as are running shoes or basketball shoes. This is most evident with shoes.
2) On the other hand, athletes dress more fashionably when practicing sports. You shouldn't look too much at the professionals here, because they wear what their sponsors asked them to wear. It's about us hobby athletes. Especially in running, it is increasingly important to many that the outfit is right when you go outside. Sports brands are very clever at imitating traditional fashion in some ways. Running shoes, for example, are offered in different color combinations that, from a visual point of view, can only be worn with matching outfits.
3) Artifical shortages and new versions fuel the buying frenzy. We know that a new iPhone comes out regularly and we feel the urge to own it. For many it is the same with cars. And sports brands do the same. Nike has mastered this marketing trick to perfection. Most sports shoes are only available for a limited time. The new model is coming soon, with a new look and supposedly better performance. This concept has been around for decades in basketball shoes. From now on you can also see this for running shoes.
4) Big fast fashion chains are now also making sportswear at absolute dumping prices. Chains like Topmen or Primark offer sports collections. With Decathlon, a fast sports fashion icon was born. Sports shirts and shorts for less than 10 euros set new standards and fuel the throw-away mentality of us consumers.
Slow fashion as a solution?
Fast fashion is of course just an artificial word that is used to describe a complex development in a compact way. It is the same with the opposite term "slow fashion".
Slow fashion can be discussed just as comprehensively as fast fashion. If you talk about it, it´s typically dealing with the following topics:
- The use of harmless materials in production
- Fair working conditions
- Resource-saving production
- The development of circular fashion concepts
- Professional 2nd hand sales
- Recycling clothes into new clothes
- Repair of clothing
- Special care for products to make them more durable
- Timeless fashion design
- Brands' resistance to constantly changing collections
- Rental models for clothes
- Exchange models for clothes
Slow fashion can thus be understood as a movement that often requires a certain awareness, among the makers and consumers of fashion.
The world of fashion seems to be further in many ways than the world of sports. However, there are also many great developments in the area of sports fashion.
In 2021 we can take a look at the first circular concepts for running shoes (Salomon, On, Adidas). Patagonia leads the way in many things. With their WornWear collection they turn old textiles into new ones. They also sell products with defects or offer a repair service. Tchibo offers a rental service for ski equipment.
Nevertheless, with all the exciting concepts we shouldn't forget that companies do the main business with new products. And for these new products they should at least use environmentally friendly materials and processes. After all, the world doesn't need any more harmful garbage.
We shouldn't neglect so-called "reverse effects" either: if I can get rid of my (sports) clothing with a clear conscience, the bottom line is that I'll probably buy even more. So if I know that something good will be made out of my plastic jacket, then maybe I'll throw it away sooner because I don't like it anymore and buy a new one.
How runamics is approaching slow fashion
Our main endeavor is first of all about to use the right materials in order to avoid later environmental damage (microplastic in water, non-bio-degradable toxic plastic trash on landfills). Our sportswear should not leave any negative marks after use. To achieve this, we aim to become the first Cradle to Cradle Certified sports brand.
We also understood that when it comes to cheap products, the bill is paid by others, namely exploited people who work 16 hours a day for $ 2. So we only work with partners who we know are ethically correct. Be it our sewing partners in Germany or Poland or a certified partner community with a German-Indian supply chain.
For runamics it was a very conscious decision not to work in so-called drops, i.e. to come up with new collections in spring / summer and autumn / winter. Instead, we want to make a sensible addition to our product range, but above all to improve the individual parts.
We also decided right from the start to design products that are simple and thus offer the greatest variability. In addition, they remain timeless and can therefore be worn for a long time.
With our Repair & Care program, we offer the opportunity to have our textiles repaired.
We are aware that we are just taking small steps at runamics at the moment, but we are equipped with the will to constantly improve.
The jack of all trades does not exist yet
What will certainly not work is to reduce the great appetite of us consumers for beautiful new clothes. That would be a superstition. Sure, there is a small portion of people who, like Henning, consciously curbs their purchasing needs or only buys 2nd hand clothing. But that will never be able to win a majority.
In the end, you can't blame all the smart sports brands either. They do everything right according to the rules of our system and go where the money is. If they did not do this, they would probably not remain competitive for long and would disappear from the market.
We are the ones who jump on it and always buy new things.
With our purchasing decisions and targeted inquiries, however, we have a voice and can force companies to be more responsible. The Circular Monday movement is a fine example of how you can collectively show your stance against absurd consumption orgies like Black Friday.
Then there is politics. This could prevent further environmental pollution with its legislation, the distributors of (sports) clothing could be held more accountable so that they have to take care of the garbage produced and sold. It could also stop bad subsidies and invest money in future-oriented concepts instead. However, you'd have to go on the streets for that.
Wait, don't we runners do that quite often? Maybe we should start not just running for ourselves, but for things that are important to us or to society. Demos in running shoes, so to speak.
PS. If you are interested in the topic, we can recommend the film The True Cost.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future, (2017, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications).
Photo by the blowup on Unsplash
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash
Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash
Photo by Gold Chain Collective on Unsplash