Reducing Your Impact: Fast Fashion
I recently watched a CBC Marketplace special on fast fashion & its impact on our world. (I love Canadian tv.) No big surprise: clothing waste doesn’t have a very good impact. This isn’t the first news report about fast fashion & it won’t be the last.
For starters, what is fast fashion?
For about a century, fashion was divided into seasons: summer, fall, winter, spring. Fashion houses would debut fall & spring designs, take orders from buyers who attended fashion shows, produce those orders, and sell to consumers through department or specialty stores. The turnaround took months because labor was expensive and materials were high quality.
This started changing in the middle of the 20th century. Retailers like Kmart, Walmart, Kohl’s, and Target began producing discount clothing for consumers with less access to expensive, high-quality clothing. The quality deteriorated with the introduction of synthetic materials and labor costs were lowered by shipping production overseas. Still, discount retailers worked on a slower model with seasons, buyers, and slower production and distribution strategies.
Toward the end of the 20th century, in the 90s and early 2000s, retailers like H&M, Zara, Forever21, and Primark introduced clothing that was very cheaply made in more impoverished countries (often with lower labor safety standards), on an almost instantaneous timeline. H&M, for example, gets new clothing in their stores four days a week! Whoa.
And the fast fashion we use up and donate? The Salvation Army says only about 5% of clothing gets in the hands of needy people in the US. The rest goes to developing countries and eventually ends up in landfills. Burning, garbage landfills in Kenya.
I am absolutely not an expert on the economic, environmental, and global impact of fast fashion. I really recommend researching that on your own. It’s pretty eye opening. Documentaries, articles, and books like this leave me wondering how to reduce my own impact on the planet. If something really bothers you in the world, it’s so important to see your impact and find out ways to change it. I don’t want to load up on shocking reports and exposes without figuring out simple, small ways to change things.
Here are some ways I’m trying to combat this wasteful trend. I encourage you to give some of them a try! If we work together, we can improve our environmental impact, increase clothing quality, better labor conditions for garment workers, and reduce our impact on developing countries.
I don’t know about you, but doing those kinds of things gives me warm, fuzzy feelings and makes me feel like a responsible global citizen. It’s worth a try, right?
+ do your homework
If you are unaware of the impact of fast fashion, start doing your research. Keep your mind open to not just the sensationalized reports but also to the viewpoints of clothing manufacturers who have some pretty compelling counter-arguments. I like to hear all sides to get a better idea of where the spin ends and the truth begins. If you happen to buy from fast fashion retailers, it’s a good idea to check out their websites and read your labels to check out where their products are produced and what materials they use. You can also research how more expensive, but far more sustainable companies produce their products. Companies like Shinola, Patagonia, and Everlane are doing good in their communities and on the planet. Their products, while pricey, are built to last. If you love a brand that’s somewhere between H&M and Patagonia price-wise, start doing your homework on how they produce things and their standards. You might find some cool brands you’ve never heard of and get excited about trying something new! If you find that the company you purchase from meets your high ethical standards, you can feel confident purchasing those items and even share the news with friends.
+ buy secondhand
One Lent, I gave myself a challenge to not buy any new clothing for 40 days. I once had this thing about used clothing – it smelled weird, it would be stained, it was just, ew. I was so wrong! I don’t know where I got those ideas from. I started looking at local resale shops, charity secondhand stores, and luxury consignment shops. I got some sick deals on clothing! I was able to wear these items for years. I started to have a more discerning eye when it came to things I would actually wear and love and was able to quickly sort out what I liked vs. what was truly useful. There are more and more online retailers getting in on the game too. Thread Up and Poshmark are two places to find gently used secondhand clothing. It’s also great to visit thrift and consignment shops in wealthier neighborhoods near you so you can find better quality castoffs.
+ buy what you love. really love.
One thing I love about Marie Kondo’s KonMari method is the idea that everything in your home should be your absolute favorite. Before you discard or purchase anything, it’s important to hold the item in your hands and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If you’ve gone through the whole KonMari method like I have, this question becomes so much more clear as you practice it. I have prevented myself from really piling up my clothing by following this advice. If I’m in a store and I try on twenty items, I now walk away with one or two or none at all. Not a lot truly “sparks joy,” so I truly treasure the things I bring home. Serviceable things or things I’m buying just because they’re on sale are no longer a part of my shopping habits. Even my less exciting but useful stuff, like camis and socks, are higher quality and my absolute favorite. Just consuming less offsets the problems of fast fashion.
+ avoid fast fashion and cheap clothing
To be honest, I don’t even walk into stores like Forever 21 or H&M these days. I know those cute dresses and tops are adorable, crazy cheap, disposable, and binge-worthy. If I don’t even go into those stores, I avoid the temptation of, “but it’s only $5!” I’m also accountable to my husband. Our finances are a team effort, so he steers me away from those kinds of stores. It’s cool having him on board and knowing that someone is watching out for my closet and bottom line. You can totally do this with friends and family members. Plan fun activities that have nothing to do with shopping. Or you can research stores together so you can have a really solid reason why you are avoiding certain retailers.
+ take care of your stuff
Invest in a toolkit of items to repair and tend your clothing. This is probably my most effective technique for avoiding fast fashion. If you need to take something to the tailor just to repair a button or sew up a hole in a favorite sweater, it’s so hard to get around to it. I visit my tailor so irregularly and it’s such a pain to trudge over, explain the problem, pick up the item later, and spend money on a simple repair. I’ll be posting on Thursday my tips and favorite products for taking care of your clothing and accessories. Stay tuned!
+ fancy friends & hand-me-downs
I’m not saying to make friends solely on the basis of their castoffs… It’s just nice when you have friends who purchase more clothing than you do and wear a similar size. I’ve gotten my fair share of gorgeous hand-me-downs from a good friend of mine when things aren’t right or shrink a little for her tall frame. I also happily accept her boys’ hand-me-downs. I’ve had to buy very few baby outfits because she’s been so generous. It’s always good to let your local friends and family know you would love to accept their hand-me-downs and leftover clothing.
Those are just a few ideas to get you started with making more responsible clothing choices.
Am I perfect at this? No way! I love Target pjs and t-shirts and wear them forever. Though Target doesn’t have quite the same business model as H&M and Forever21, it’s heading in that direction. In the future, I may have to reexamine my own fashion choices.
I hope you’ll join me in working toward a less wasteful, more just world for every citizen on the planet, not just us fancy, developed world folks.
I’ll see you on Thursday with some ideas, tips, and products to help you take care of your stuff.
Lent starts tomorrow & it might be fun to give a second-hand clothing challenge a try! If you do, let me know in the comments below.