At MERCURY DASHA we advocate for alternatives to fast fashion. We believe it is an exciting time as digital fashion has made it possible today to wear on-trend fashion that is creative, fashion forward and speaks to your aesthetic without buying into fast fashion culture.
What Is Fast Fashion Anyway?
Fast fashion is characterised by being trend-led 'throwaway' fashion, usually low priced, low quality apparel, that is usually bought to wear once or twice and then discarded. Due to the low price and low quality it is not valued or seen as a collectible piece to buy and keep - instead it appeals to our desire for variety, the vagaries of seasonality and ever changing trends.
It is also frequently associated with unfair manufacturing practises and low wages for makers and suppliers. It has been associated with a culture of over-production and damage to the environment as a result. In addition it is often blamed with fuelling a culture of consumerism as fast fashion marketing is designed at pushing what's 'new' which keeps consumers hooked into keeping up with artificial trends.
So Is Fast Fashion Bad?
Fast fashion can have its benefits for the consumer and the high street simply because it provides a product, when a customer needs or wants it, at an accessible price. And online fast fashion brands have done excellently at providing a variety of options on a regular basis and have developed methods to meet that demand quickly - often responding at lightning speed to trends, events and seasons.
However, it is clear now, with fashion being one of the most polluting industries in the world, that we cannot keep creating this much 'stuff', in the same ways, and using the same manufacturing and distribution methods.
We need to rethink how much we produce, how much we need, how to meet our desire for variety and play through fashion with less impact and how to create new product in ways that are in harmony with our environment, society and which is also fair and more economically inclusive.
There are many ways that fast fashion companies have tried to make their offerings less damaging to the environment, for example, by introducing sustainable lines and segments and trying to address labour and pay issues and recently they have also tried to encourage customers to recycle, up-cycle and reuse but this is really just dealing with the issue at a relatively superficial level.
We talk about sustainable fashion as the opposite of fast fashion - essentially, non fast fashion. And sustainable fashion has so many elements. Emerging brands and existing brands, whether high street or luxury, have tackled sustainability in different ways.
Some brands have focused on sourcing and using more sustainable materials, for example. This in itself can be controversial because, for example, some natural fabrics such as organic cotton, which are sometimes described as sustainable, for instance, are not necessarily less damaging in terms of environmental impact.
Sustainable materials can also mean using recycled materials such as recycled polyester. Although the material itself isn't natural it does address the issue of waste (and what to do with it and not creating more) and plays into a more circular economic model. Other ways to approach sustainability through fabrication is to use biodegradable materials as well as eco fabrics, such as bamboo.
However, none of these have really tackled the full impact and the root of the issue which is that simply we manufacture far too much and this in itself takes its toll on the environment. Of course all these efforts are helpful because we will always need clothes, but until we address the demand for more and newer in a realistic way we cannot really tackle the core of the issue.
Digital fashion, is one way, among other ways, that we at MERCURY DASHA, approach the issue of sustainability.
Rather than looking at ways of reducing the impact of physical fashion in the real world, we seek to create alternative fashion options: digital clothing and nft fashion, to be worn on social media (where so many of us 'live in 'real life' anyway) and also in digital space, such as video games and the emerging metaverse.
As digital fashion is still emerging but is quickly growing traction, we can now see the possibilities for it in all sorts of ways.
It provides a quicker and more sustainable way of producing new designs and can eliminate the need for costly and sometimes wasteful sampling in the fashion design process, it can mean that we can test new ideas without the risk of overproduction and, perhaps most significantly, it allows for people to buy fashion without anything even being produced.
The advantages over fast fashion is that we are not doing as much damage to the environment as nothing is being produced in making and consuming a digital fashion piece. Where digital assets are minted on the blockchain there is energy consumed in the minting process - but compared to the damage to the environment of physical fashion production, distribution and waste, it is small in comparison. Of course, this needs to be tested and monitored over time as digital fashion grows.
Also it is not always necessary or appropriate to mint our digital fashion assets. NFT minting is usually only for limited edition more luxury and artisanal pieces of digital clothing and fashion-art where we want to establish ownership and provenance of a collectible piece.
Where we are buying clothes to consume once for a digital occasion and discard, we simply can buy a digital asset to show off our look (much as you would for a one-off event in real life) and never wear it again.
In this way we can act like a 'fast fashion' customer in a much less impactful way compared to buying physical items you only intend to wear once.
But Is It Really An Alternative?
Time will tell whether digital fashion is an alternative to physical fast fashion and whether we are able to convince customers who love to experiment with new looks and trends at a cheap price that digital fashion is the answer.
However the ability that digital fashion has to create quick options overnight, respond to and create viral trends, and also address the issue of fit, means that it is even 'faster' than fast fashion and could be well-placed to replace it - at least in some segments.
In the realm of influencers and social media mavens, it seems a natural fit. However for people who look for cheap clothing just because they cannot afford more higher quality items and need the clothing for real life, digital clothing may not immediately help reduce the desire and need for fast fashion options.
The turning point will be where where more of our 'reality' becomes virtual reality - when that happens it will be interesting to see how many customers who need clothing for real life, and would previously have bought fast fashion, will now be able to replace it with virtual clothing or AR clothing.
Where so many of us work from home and connect online, we may for instance be able to replace a portion of our closer with a digital closet. And when jobs are not even conducted in the real world but in a multiverse somewhere, then we are not even thinking about our own clothes but are instead shopping for our avatar.
In the future, fast fashion will increasingly be digital fast fashion. Rather than grabbing a new throwaway on-trend top for a night out, you will likely spend that on an on-trend, wear once item, from a cool digital brand, to wear at a metaverse party or event.
So is digital fashion an alternative to fast fashion? Right now, the answer is mixed, it depends. But eventually, in a future perhaps not far off, fast fashion and digital fashion wont be alternatives, they will probably amount to the same thing.
Watch this space.