I’m a little bit new to the whole idea of fast fashion and shopping sustainably, but over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing my research and thought I would share it! I won’t claim to know everything and I’m definitely not perfect but I’m doing my best to learn and implement changes. This isn’t to say that any of this information should make you feel pressured to shop a certain way, but I think it’s important to be educated so you can make informed decisions!
So… what even is fast fashion?
This term refers to designs that are moved quickly and inexpensively from the catwalk to various stores in response to clothing trends. The keywords here are quickly and inexpensively. Manufacturers use rapid production methods and low-quality materials to try to get clothes available to the consumer in as little time and with as little cost as possible.
Why can this be a bad thing?
About 60% of clothing manufactured in the fashion industry is made from synthetic fibers. With the overwhelming amounts of stock popular fast fashion brands acquire due to rapidly changing trends, the majority of clothing produced ends up as waste.
Clothing can end up in landfills, the ocean, or other aquatic environments where, similar to plastic, synthetic fibers or micro-fibers will become pollutants and release harmful chemicals/gases.
Additionally, wasted clothing may end up being incinerated. Since synthetic fibers are made from fossil fuels, burning clothing releases an exorbitant amount of carbon dioxide.
The number of times an item of clothing is worn is decreasing in recent years (the average number of times has decreased by 36% in the past 15 years), increasing how much product ends up as waste, especially places such as the United States and China. Similarly, less than 1% of the materials used in clothing production is recycled.
Aside from waste, what are the other environmental impacts?
At other stages during the production of textiles, producing fibers can require pesticide usage or other non-renewable materials such as oil, processes in factories can drastically increase greenhouse gas emissions, and toxic chemicals are used to make dye or finish textiles which can harm factory workers and pollute the water supply. Because clothing is produced so rapidly in order to keep up with trends, corners are often cut and proper measures to dispose of harmful materials safely or reduce waste are not taken.
Are there negative effects of the fast fashion industry beyond environmental impacts?
In recent years, many have become aware of the unethical nature of the fast fashion industry, specifically violations of the rights of laborers.
The most well-known example is perhaps the collapse of a factory in Bangladesh in 2013. Workers reportedly told their managers they noticed cracks in the building but were told to keep working. This continued, even after factory managers were told to evacuate the building. When the building collapsed, over 1,000 workers were killed.
Aside from this tragedy, work environments are often harmful with too-dim lighting and fumes from toxic chemicals causing illness and respiratory system damage. Workers are also incredibly poorly compensated, in some locations making around $67 per month.
How can we limit the impact of the fast-fashion industry?
- Buy from sustainable brands! (Everlane, ABLE, Pact, Organic Basics, Ecovibe, and so so many more. A simple Google search can give you so many options.)
- Buy clothes made with biodegradable materials!
- When ordering online, look into a brand’s shipping/packaging. When buying in-store, try to bring your own tote bag or go bagless.
- Donate your old/unwanted clothing to friends, family, and resale shops!
- Up-cycle old clothing to make it new! Even if you don’t have sewing skills, a pair of scissors or some fabric paint can make magic happen.
- Buy second hand! Look for thrift stores or consignment shops in your area and just explore. Websites like Depop and Poshmark are also good options, though pricier than somewhere like Goodwill.
- Rent clothes! This is not an option I have personally tested but renting clothes is a growing industry. I’ve seen and hear good things about Rent the Runway on social media.
You don’t have to make all of these changes at once! It can seem overwhelming to try to rapidly change your shopping habits, but even something as simple as buying a new item that you’ve been looking for from a sustainable brand helps reduce the impact of fast fashion and support brands that make it there mission to transform the fashion industry. Small changes can have a big impact.