Is fast fashion harmful to our mental health?

Is fast fashion harmful to our mental health?

We take a closer look into why we’re addicted to fast fashion and how to resist its siren call

Is fast fashion harmful to our mental health?

Since the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh almost ten years ago, many of us are now acutely aware of fashion's dark side. Made as cheaply as possible and designed to be replaced after just a few wears, fast fashion is incentivising us to keep on buying more clothes which, in turn, is harming people, our planet, our purse - and our mental health. 

With that said, it’s estimated that in the UK, a whopping £30 billion worth of clothing is currently hanging in our wardrobes that haven’t been worn once, and each year, clothes worth £140 million end up in landfills - and we continue to buy more. Our addiction to cheap fashion goes as far that more than two tonnes of clothes are bought each minute! So, why can’t we stop? 

It’s all about dopamine 

From a neurological point of view, shopping is quite a complex process: not only does our brain release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, or in other words it gets a kick when we purchase something that we really want but it especially gets excited when we find a good deal. And fast fashion perfectly feeds into this neurological process, literally turning us into shopping addicts. Because the clothes are so inexpensive, it’s easy to give in to the urge to splurge and with fast fashion brands churning out 52 so-called ‘micro-seasons’ every year, there’s always something new to desire. But this addictive behaviour comes at a high cost. 

The true cost of the shopper’s high 

Fast fashion’s environmental impact is enormous: the pressure to produce as fast and as cheaply as possible results in environmental and ethical corners being cut wherever possible. As a consequence, the fashion industry’s carbon footprint is one of the largest in the world while it is also the second most predominant sector driving slavery

In addition to the detrimental effects on the environment and the people making these clothes, fast fashion leaves us with a wardrobe full of poor quality clothing and with a yearning for more. In fact, the surge of dopamine that’s released by purchasing something is just triggered by the feeling of anticipation and doesn’t last long. The minute you’ve handed over your credit card, your dopamine levels return to normal and your ‘shopper’s high’ is over - until you find something new to desire.  

So, how can we break this addictive cycle? 

Curb your retail therapy

First of all, analyse whether you have a tendency to impulse-purchase clothing - and be honest with yourself. Try to understand if there might also be some underlying cause for your shopping behaviour as your mind might use bargain hunting as an escape from having to deal with an unpleasant feeling. Have you ever had a bad day and thought that shopping would improve your mood? Welcome to retail therapy. Take a step back, recognize your triggers and find habits that could replace shopping whenever you feel in need of a pick-me-up. It’s also important to understand that just because our brains seem to enjoy the act of spending money on clothes, doesn’t mean that you have to blindly give in every time you see something that you want or if you feel like you need a treat. 

Quit by taking it slow

Fast fashion is designed to make us feel out of trend and tries to encourage us to buy lots of cheap clothes - which will quickly fall out of fashion and get disregarded and/or will degrade after just a few wears. To resist the lure of fast fashion’s empty promise of being on-trend, concentrate on finding a personal style that is ethical and aesthetically pleasing. Find reward in knowing that you are spending your well-earned money wisely and buying something that will last decades, not days. There’s a lot of small makers and non-fast fashion brands out there that are offering alternatives to fast fashion’s quick fix. As a rule of thumb, opt for a few well- and slow-made garments that you’ll love forever.