Fashion is a wonderful thing. If you’re reading this article right now, I think it’s safe to say that you wholeheartedly agree with this. But what if I told you that sometimes… fashion is a terrible thing? That’s crazy talk, you think. Unfortunately, it’s not crazy. It’s a modern reality.
For all of human history -- well, the portion of it since we stopped running around naked -- clothing was made by hand in the home or by a select few skilled individuals. Any damages were mended, and the article of clothing inherited a lifespan that allowed it to be passed down through generations and worn again and again.
Fast forward to early 20th century. Machines allow for the mass production of multitudes of sizes and styles, and in a rapid, blooming explosion the fashion industry is born. Ateliers and fashion houses still produce their extravagantly beautiful pieces by hand for the runway, but the major change comes with the ability to bring these trends into a factory, produce a massive batch of clothing to sell immediately, and then do it all again in a few months when the seasons start changing. The lifespan of an article of clothing dwindled from tens of years to a measly few months: a shirt produced for the summer season was not made well enough to last through the winter. So what’s the problem here? This cycle of seasonal trend changes did bring us the magnificent and always changing styles of fashion that we know today. But it also brought with it the mentality that clothes aren’t made to last: they’re made to be thrown away. In short, the practice infamously known as fast fashion.
So why is fast fashion a bad thing? A statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency states that over THIRTEEN MILLION TONS of textiles are discarded every single year. That’s approximately equivalent to the weight of two million adult male African elephants. And that number is repeated year after year. The discarded textile waste takes up a massive amount of space in landfills and leeches toxins into the surrounding areas. Not to mention that the amount of resources required to produce these textiles in the first place is astronomical. It takes over 700 gallons of water to produce a single T-shirt. That’s enough water to fill the average sized shipping container.
I could spend days boring you with these statistics. But I’d rather jump to this present moment and have a chat with you about our own participation in fast fashion. You and I are (most likely) either a millennial or a gen z kid, and we were born into a time in which rapid cycles of fashion are the norm. It wasn’t until recently that we even became aware of fast fashion as a problem, and even more recently that we realized our own participation in this issue. The objective was quantity over quantity. We would buy piles of clothing from online stores, wear them for a few months, then either throw them away or send them to goodwill to collect dust in a corner. Out of sight, out of mind.
This is where we change our ways. Here’s a brief list of how we can accomplish that:
1) Start thrift shopping. A lot. Whenever you have the urge to go on a massive shopping spree, hit up your local consignment stores. You create absolutely NO waste in the process, and chances are you’ll be saving money. Plus, thrift and consignment stores always have radical hidden gems. Broken in (and soft) leather jacket straight from the seventies? Yes please.
1) Avoid brands with notoriously wasteful manufacturing processes like the plague. Yes, I will name drop. Fashion Nova, Zaful, Shein, Missguided, Boohoo… there’s countless others. If you’re paying next to nothing for a brand new article of clothing, there’s a reason for it. The clothes that they manufacture are made of cheap, synthetic fabrics that will totally disintegrate within a few months. Not to mention the severely underpaid (and often underage) factory workers that they staff who spend 14 hour days making that t-shirt that’ll end up in a landfill in three months.
3) Trust me, I know that last one stings a bit. We all love cheaper prices. But if you invest more money into a sustainably produced and high quality article of clothing, the many years that it’ll last you will make up for the many replacements you’d have to buy for the cheaper version. Brands like Reformation are open about their manufacturing processes, and are always striving to be more sustainable. Others, like Patagonia, even have a closed-circuit recycling program in which they will buy your old Patagonia gear from you, patch it up, and sell it again at a discount as “worn wear.” How frickin’ cool is that?
4) DO NOT THROW YOUR OLD CLOTHING IN THE TRASH. First, offer it up to friends or family. If you have no takers, try donating it to a cause local to your community, like a homeless shelter or public school. As a last resort, take your unused clothing items to a consignment or thrift store. If you’re feeling creative, you can turn old shirts into dish towels, quilts, pet beds, rugs… the opportunities are endless.
5) Download the app “Good On You.” It’s a search engine that ranks thousands of clothing brands for the sustainability of their practices. It lists information about their emissions, their willingness to clean up their act, and even includes information on how well they treat and compensate their employees. This will give you a clear insight into how your clothes are made.
We can do better. The fashion industry as a whole can do better. And we will. The tides are changing, and more brands than ever are hopping on the green train. Even the infamously fast-fashion H&M has recently released a sustainable collection. If they can do it, anyone can!