| How Fast Fashion is Destroying the Planet and What We Can Do About It |
The fear of outfit repeating is ingrained in many young women at an early age. Growing up, I can vividly recall TV show and movie characters facing ridicule for being caught at an event in familiar attire and popular magazine headlines shaming celebrities for re-wearing an iconic dress. Worst of all, when I first heard the infamous line “Lizzie Mcguire, you’re an outfit repeater” in the 5th grade, I immediately understood the taboo and vowed to never incur the same tragic and humiliating fate as our on-screen Disney fav.
Since then, I’ve internalized the idea that I need to buy a new outfit for every event in order to prevent such a fashion faux-pas. Even outside of my social life, content creators, especially Instagram fashion bloggers, are constantly aware of the need to put out new and varied posts. The desire to remain “fresh” generally means avoiding the same clothing in every photo and attempting to make every day of your life look different from but still just as exciting as the day before.
Nonetheless, buying cheap comes at a high cost. By trying to stay trendy, I found myself repeatedly thinking “I can’t wear that shirt again, it’s already on my Instagram!” or staring at mountains of clothes thrown across my bedroom floor and complaining “I have absolutely nothing to wear!”
And so began the cycle of buying new clothes and relegating my old ones to the back of my closet.
For the past few years, my shopping habits have consisted of everything that I have now come to despise about the clothing industry. I didn’t shop ethically, I didn’t shop for quality, and I definitely didn’t shop consciously!
The problem is, most buyers are completely blind to the damaging consequences that they’re supporting, and thus, being a consumer in the era of fast fashion gives the term “fashion victim” a whole new meaning.
What Is Fast Fashion, Anyway?
Sounds a lot like fast food, doesn’t it? Honestly, they’re not too different – cheap, quick, and probably of questionable quality.
By definition, fast fashion is “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers”. Essentially, fast fashion is the industry’s response to consumers who want high fashion at a low cost – the best way for shoppers to get the largest quantity of trendy clothes for the least amount of money.
So, how did fast fashion manage to take over our closets without us noticing?
Whilst fast fashion may have begun as a way to “appease the consumer”, it has since expanded into a way for brands to line their own pockets. Instead of replenishing their stocks of older clothing items, fast fashion brands feed into the consumer mentality by replacing older items with new items of a different style. This makes our current clothes appear to be off-trend and leads us right back to the mall, credit card in hand, to purchase new items.
The Dark Side of The Fashion Industry
In order to quickly get enormous quantities of clothing from a factory and into your shopping cart, many fashion companies rely on sweatshop workers, child labor, or slave labor in less developed nations with lenient labor laws.
The exploitation of labor in the fashion industry is a lot more common than many realize. In Bangladesh, most workers earn $64 per month, a wage far below the cost of living. For further perspective, a shirt that a consumer buys for $50 was most likely produced by someone who received around $0.60 to make it.
Sweatshop workers are also exposed to harmful carcinogens/chemicals and many women face sexual harassment, discrimination, and are refused maternity leave. If those conditions aren’t enough to make you reconsider the brands you support, since 1990, more than 400 workers have died in sweatshops and thousands have been injured including children, due to factory fires.
But wait, there’s more! Not only are fashion brands putting human lives at risk to make these products, but since brands are constantly hunting for new trends, they often steal or copy ideas from smaller creators (without giving credit) in order to stay relevant.
In addition to the social implications of fast fashion, there are also very serious environmental costs.
Because fast fashion is so cheap and “disposable”, many consumers throw their clothes away at enormous rates. In the United States, 5% of all landfill waste comes from textiles and the average U.S. citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year.
The textile industry also emits more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined, with some reports claiming that it is the second dirtiest industry in the world. This industry also uses large quantities of water and electricity in order to create their products. Further, chemical waste from textile factories is dumped into streams, water supplies, and the soil of nearby areas which harms ecosystems and contributes to global pollution.
Creating The New Normal
Now that you know what’s wrong with the fast fashion industry, what are you going to do about it?
The easy answer is to stop giving business to fast fashion brands altogether but this isn’t accessible or economically feasible for everyone. Some people don’t have access to thrift stores in their city or cannot afford ethical brands, but there are still other ways to build a more sustainable closet!
Changing your habits!
First, and foremost, stop throwing so many clothes away! A rip in your favorite pair of jeans or a stain on your favorite t-shirt doesn’t have to be the end of the world! There are lots of ways to repair damaged clothing and many DIY videos online that will show you just how to do it! Even when you feel like your clothes are past the point of wear, those textiles can still be used to create a dish rag or other household items! Lastly, before donating, try to find a home for your clothes! Maybe give them away to friends or sell them online. There is no guarantee that the company to which you’re donating your clothes will be able to find a new owner and those clothes might still end up in a landfill anyway.
Choose Second Hand!
If you have thrift or vintage stores in your area, this can be a great way to shop more sustainably because you aren’t supporting the production of new items! If you don’t have thrift or vintage stores in your area, you can also do it online with websites like Depop or other second-hand online stores like Poshmark! There are, however, some clothes that you need to try on and some things you just shouldn’t buy second hand (like underwear!) which brings me to my next point…
Invest in Ethical Fashion Brands
When it comes to ethical fashion brands, it’s all about quality over quantity. It’s important to know ahead of time, however, that you can’t expect fast-fashion prices without the fast-fashion impacts. Thus, ethical stores can be pricey sometimes. Here are some directories of ethical brands that are stylish and affordable to look into:
Some more options provided by sustainable fashion blogger, Ezaura
- Reformation (currently having 30% off)
- Girlfriend Collective
- Hara Label (underwear)
- Whimsey and Row
- Matt and Nat (vegan leather)
- People Tree
- Los Angeles Apparel (like American Apparel but sustainable)
- Vetta (for capsule closets)
- Lazy Oaf
Another option to reduce the consequences of fast fashion is to buy clothing produced in your country. These clothes may not necessarily be ethically made but at least you’re supporting your local economy AND it’s a more eco-friendly option that reduces transportation costs.
At the end of the day, if fast fashion is the only shopping you can afford, that’s okay too! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying something that you need from the only accessible option. My hope now, however, is that you are more aware and can be more conscious of how much you are buying from these stores and maybe make sure you get the full wear out of the clothes that you buy!
If you want more information on this topic, I strongly recommend watching the Fast Fashion documentary The True Costs on Netflix.
Hopefully if we, as consumers, are armed with the knowledge of how fast fashion works and everything that needs to be fixed, we can be the ones to change not only just the fashion industry but also the way that our society views clothing.