It’s August, 1969. The electrifying sounds of Rock 'n' roll – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead – wash over you as your head spins under your flower-crown and your feet dance on the muddy ground.
Hypnotised, you gaze around at your friends, at the sea of people surrounding you: thousands of hearts beating as one, high on peace, sex and psychedelics. It’s the summer of love.
The mystical Woodstock Festival of 1969 has earned its place in pop-culture history as the era-defining moment that catapulted festival culture into the mainstream. In the 50 years since Woodstock, the number of people making their annual pilgrimage to music festivals such as Coachella, Glastonbury, and Burning Man has exploded into over 32 million every year, with five million festival-goers in the UK alone. That’s a lot of people. Wearing a lot of clothes.
The rise of fast fashion in festival culture
Festival culture has influenced the world of fashion just as much as it has the world of music. Since realising the massive potential for profitability following Woodstock’s success in the late-'60s, clothes companies have seized the opportunity to market ‘festival fashion’ as a trendsetting, unique selling point.
Festivals are often one of the most profitable seasons for fast fashion brands such as Forever 21, H&M and Zara, frequently resulting in the creation of entire ‘wear-it-once’ collections devoted to the festival aesthetic: flares, glitter, neon, tie-dye, mesh – you know the one.
Equally, the pervasiveness of social media influencers flaunting their brand new outfits everyday has created a cultural pressure to 'keep up' with this voracious fashion consumption. In an age ruled by social media, celebrity influencers hold phenomenal power (the Kardashians, for example, boast an incredible 820 million Instagram followers between them) to popularise trends and standards, both inside and outside of the fashion world.
So much so, in fact, that fashion brands now increasingly advertise their clothes by collaborating with social media influencers through sponsorships, promotions, and free giveaways, further supplying influencers’ wardrobes with endless outfits that will be worn only once. Consequently, we feel – whether consciously or unconsciously – a great pressure to purchase, style and of course document on social media, the latest (and constantly changing) festival fashion trends.
Thus, we are left with a festival culture driven by the incessant consumption of fast fashion. A recent study found that a shocking 7.5 million single-use outfits are purchased each year with the intention of being worn only once at music festivals, accounting for approximately $307 million worth of fast fashion items.
While the allure of festivals has always been characterised by the escape they offer from the ‘real’ world, we must ask ourselves this: have we also allowed ourselves to escape from the real-world impacts of our festival fashion choices?
The global impact of fast fashion
The fashion industry has been identified by the United Nations as the ‘second most polluting industry in world’ (after oil).
The Ellen McArthur foundation estimates that its annual greenhouse gas emissions equate to a staggering 1.2 billion tonnes – more than the global marine and aviation industries combined – and uses enough water to meet the needs of five million people, totalling 93 billion (yes, billion) cubic metres every year.
The industry further pollutes the environment through the use of various plastic micro-beads, pesticides, and toxic dyes.
The fashion industry also has a devastating human impact. The demand for cheap labour has driven many clothing companies to the use of sweatshops, in which garment factory workers endure long, often uncontracted hours, with minimal (if any) health compensation or safety measures in place.
The true extent of the human rights abuses experienced in such sweatshops was notably exemplified by the collapse of the eight-storey Bangladeshi Rana Plaza garment complex in 2013, killing over 1,000 factory workers and leaving a further 2,500 badly injured.
The profit-focussed ‘fast fashion’ business model, which encourages consumers to rapidly purchase and discard clothes by promoting constantly changing collections and trends, represents the most harmful sector of the fashion industry.
The continual consumption combined with the intentional obsolescence of poor-quality garments – thus driving customers to rapidly repurchase – inherently results in the mass production of waste and exponentially increases the damage done by the fashion industry.
Fast-fashion brands are also especially likely to utilise cheap, unethical labour in an attempt to save on cost.
Return to Woodstock style
Clearly, fast fashion isn’t the way forward. Instead, let’s do it Woodstock style, the festival where the fashion echoed the ethos: peace and love, man. Festivals are a way to escape, yes, but more importantly a way to connect – with ourselves, our friends and the world around us.
There are many ways to keep your fashion on trend, while ensuring your festival outfits are ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly. Here are some ideas to start you off:
Swap out your microplastic-y glitter and non-decomposable wet-wipes for biodegradable alternatives
Spread the love by purchasing from sustainable, eco-friendly brands
Go vintage – truly channel the Woodstock energy by wearing some second-hand items. Who knows, they just might have been worn in the summer of love…
Get creative with it - don’t want to buy new clothes? Embrace your inner hippie and make them yourself!
For more ideas, you can check out this Mindless article. Alternatively, you could follow the lead of the few brave Woodstockers who realised that the most sustainable way to wear their clothes was to, well, not wear them at all! But that’s up to you…
In the spirit of Woodstock, let’s keep rocking the fashion that won’t wreck the world.