I always cared about the environment, but as embarrassing as it may be to admit, for the longest time I had no idea what an impact my choice of clothing was having. Fast fashion, although I have always been aware of it, is a concept that I only learned more about rather recently. In the last few years, I traveled a lot and didn’t really have a permanent home base. As such, the sustainability of my closet wasn’t really at the forefront of my mind. During that time my closet was defined by practicality and weight as well as availability and price. Now that I have a permanent (as permanent as a rental can be) home, my closet needs have changed accordingly. Sustainability and saying no to fast fashion are now central aspects in my fashion and closet choices.
In this post, I want to help those of you who are also interested in making more sustainable choices when it comes to your wardrobe, but aren’t sure where to start or what exactly fast fashion means and does to our environment. While I will talk a little about what the impacts of fast fashion are, the main focus of this post is to offer you some alternatives to lessen your impact.
What is fast fashion?
Merriam Webster defines fast fashion as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers”
There used to be two seasons in fashion but now stores like Top Shop, Zara and Forever 21 are pumping out 11-15 collections every year. The idea is to constantly create new fashion trends to continuously offer consumers something new. The way these brands achieve this is by producing clothing items as cheaply as possible and focusing more on high-quantity rather than high-quality.
In order to be able to produce clothing as cheaply as possible, these brands use countries with very low labor and environmental standards as their manufacturing countries. Often times the workers earn ridiculously low amounts and are exposed to dangerous working conditions. Not to mention the frequent use of child labor. In addition to the low manufacturing standards, fast fashion companies also use the cheapest materials available, which further increases the negative impact of fast fashion on the environment.
These items are not meant to last. You purchase them for a specific purpose and wear them for a short time, then they go out of style, or fall apart and you replace them with something new. Needless to say, this sort of shopping behavior not only creates an overflow of clothing in our homes, but also in the trash can.
Most of us are aware of this problem and try to ease our mind by donating our unwanted items to thrift stores or charities. However, most of these items are made so cheaply, they are impossible to resell. The majority of items get downcycled to industrial rags or insulation material or go straight to the landfill or incineration. If they are in decent shape or of better quality, that doesn’t really improve the situation much as these organizations are getting so flooded with unwanted clothing. The second hand clothing market is unable to cope with the quantity as there simply aren’t enough buyers.
Now that you know some of the negative impacts of fast fashion, let’s look at how you, as an individual, can join me and many others in saying no to fast fashion.
Reducing your wardrobe size
Most of us, including myself before I started travelling, have way more clothes than we use or need. Reducing your wardrobe size and maintaining a smaller wardrobe is a great place to start being more conscious about your fashion choices. Overconsumption is one of the biggest factors that drives fast fashion and that leads to the rapid depletion of natural resources. A smaller wardrobe is not only easier to manage, it also helps you define your personal style and makes it easier for you to decide what to wear. Needless to say, it also saves you money.
In an effort to achieve just that, I decided to start a capsule wardrobe experiment. When doing a capsule wardrobe, you essentially create and maintain a wardrobe of a set amount of items (25 in my case) for a season. During that time you don’t shop for new clothing or change your wardrobe. At the end of the period you create a new one for the next season, which may include some shopping.
If you don’t want to go that far, you could start by simply decluttering your wardrobe. Then, try setting yourself a certain time in which you will fashion fast (not buy any clothes) or give yourself a limit on the number of items you buy in a given time (such as 3 months). All these little things can help increase your awareness and make you think twice about buying that new dress you don’t even need.
Second hand shopping
Second hand shopping is a great way to remove yourself as a fashion consumer. By buying clothes second hand instead of new you help decrease the amount of clothing that goes into the trash. Moreover, you can save money and find some awesome unique pieces in the process.
There are also great alternative methods of shopping that are completely free such as swap parties where you can bring your unwanted clothes and swap it with other people for their unwanted clothes or facebook groups in which people give away their unwanted clothes for free.
If you do want to get new clothing, that is totally okay too. It is possible to buy brand new clothing while still saying no to fast fashion. Quality over quantity is the important factor. You should opt for clothing that will last you a long time and that has been manufactured in a more sustainable manner. This concept is also known as slow fashion, which is basically the opposite of fast fashion
The idea of slow fashion was originally inspired by the slow-food movement in the 80’s. The concept is about reliability, quality and transparency. Slow fashion brands often support small business as well as small scale production. They leverage artisan skills and quality in order to produce garments that are made to last. You can read more about the value of slow fashion here.
Understandably, slow fashion comes with a higher price tag. Those of us that are used to shopping low quality in retailers like H&M and Forever 21, may at first feel reluctant to pay the price for sustainable fashion. The important thing here is to keep in mind that the idea isn’t just to switch all your fast fashion to slow fashion items. The goals is to change the way you think about your clothing. Instead of buying a new outfit for every party, get one dress that you love that you can wear in many different combinations. In this way, choosing to say no to fast fashion can even save you money.
What to look for on a label
When you go into a store to purchase a new piece of clothing there are some things you can look out for that will help you make a more sustainable choice. First and foremost it is always a good idea to research the brand. Most brands have websites on which they talk about their CSR policies as well as any sustainability efforts. If you are already in the store, here are some things to look at:
Certain fabrics have a much higher impact on the environment than others. When I look at a piece of clothing one of the first things I do is look at the tag on the inside to see what fabric it is made of. Here are some fabrics to avoid and some you can feel better about buying.
- Polyester (sheds microfibers into water)
- Acrylic (toxic to produce)
- Viscose rayon (or any combination of these names) (while made from tree it requires a toxic production process to produce it)
- Non-organic cotton (heavy use of pesticides and herbicides that damage the environment)
- Leather (is an animal product and also often undergoes a toxic tanning process).
- If you have to buy polyester, look for polyester made of recycled plastic
- Tencel (a viscose rayon alternative made in a closed-loop process)
- Silk (however: most of the time not vegan as silk worms die in the process)
- Wool (be aware: sheep are sometimes not treated very well, this varies from brand to brand)
- Vegetable tanned leather (still an animal product, but has a non-toxic tanning process)
- Innovative sustainable fabrics (such as Piñatex, CRAiLAR or Qmilch)
Another good thing to look for are any certifications the brand has. This information you would usually find on the sales tag. The Ecolabel Index is a handy directory of labels, where you can find a list of many different certifications and labels and what they mean.
A few that are good to know or look out for are Oeko-Tex, GOTS and Forest Stewardship Council. You can never go wrong with those. Another great label to look for on clothing is the Fair Trade label. This label tells you that textile workers and manufacturing workers were fairly paid for their work.
I hope this post helps make it easier to purchase more sustainable clothing. If I left anything out or there is anything else you would like to know, feel free to comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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