We know fast fashion as problematic, but let’s break down this sustainability buzz word real quick.
The main issues with fast fashion:
- It’s largely mass-produced in high volumes which means there is often a goal of selling a lot AND there is a lot leftover
- Often just quick replications of seasonal or short-lived trends which means they are pulling people in more frequently to keep up
- Quality is low and is not made to last which means consumers will be throwing away more and replacing it more often
- It’s mostly made out of cheap materials such as synthetics which means when it does get thrown away it will sit in the landfill for hundreds of years
- The cost of clothing is too low to entice buyers which means there is no way workers can be compensated fairly while the company profits
- Many corners are cut on garment durability and procedures which means safety of workers and the environment are at stake
- The bright trendy patterns and use of synthetics is achieved with chemicals which means water pollution, large levels of textile waste, microfibers, and toxic by-products are far too common (see Environmental Racism)
- Many large-scale retailers hold profit over all else which means they don’t have any standards in place for environmental or social practices because they have no reason to care about that
- Greenwashing is a tactic that has been adapted in order to appear “eco friendly” to buyers because more people are interested in sustainable products which means companies have started baiting consumers with false claims of their environmentalism through packaging, tree planting initiatives, marketing, etc.
Pretty bad right? It gets worse. The fashion industry is actually responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions on our planet. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but that puts fashion in the second highest position, just after the petroleum industry. If you added up all the emissions from all international flights and maritime shipping combined the fashion industry still creates more carbon (UN News 2019). Additionally, about 85% of clothing ends up in landfills every year which adds an extra potent greenhouse gas emission, methane. Microfibers are dumped into oceans each year by the ton creating about half a million tons of micro particles of plastic that can’t be extracted from our oceans. And guess what? Clothing production actually doubled between 2000 and 2014. Fast fashion brands are cranking out clothing faster and more irresponsibly than ever and the first way to avoid being part of the problem? Quit buying it.
Avoiding fast fashion can sometimes be tricky with brands trying more than ever to pull consumers in with ploys of planting trees, using leaves and key words like “natural”, “eco”, “green”, or “recycled” on their marketing or packaging. But, we won’t fall for their less than genuine intentions.
Here are some ways to keep fast fashion out of your shopping cart:
#1 Buy Secondhand
I’m sure you saw this tip coming. There are more outlets than ever before to find secondhand items to add to your closet.
Poshmark, Mercari, ThreadUP, TheRealReal, Depop, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace/Local Buy Nothing Groups, NextDoor, and even Craigslist make it incredibly easy to add brand new, gently used, and vintage items to your home or closet.
Goodwill, local thrift stores and consignment stores, estate/yard sales, Salvation Army, your mom’s closet, etc.
Minimize dependence on big box stores, support individuals selling their clothes, and find unique or discontinued pieces at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the footprint to our planet.
#2 Create a Capsule Wardrobe
Trying to minimize what comes into your house/closet is a step in the right direction. We like to start with a deep edit, at least once a season, of garments we already own. We keep what we truly enjoy and find new homes for items that don’t fit, aren’t “sparking joy”, or no longer serve a purpose in our closet. In doing this you’ll cultivate a capsule wardrobe of high quality basics that serve many purposes instead of overbuying. Work on managing volume by letting go of a piece every time you bring a new one in or editing when seasons change so you know what you have. It’s okay to say goodbye to those pants that never quite fit right or that sweater you got as a gift and haven’t touched in years. Being intentional with your closet makes you appreciate what you have and allows you to have more room to breathe and see your options easier than a cluttered closet or hiding clothes away in storage.
#3 Embrace Thrifting
Although this ties into #1, I want to go below the surface. Find your locally-owned thrift store or consignment shop and pop in if you haven’t before. Just like buying from resell apps and Goodwill, consignment stores support you local community by reselling items that you and your neighbors drop off. Some stores work on a commission-based model that give the original owner credit when you purchase their donated item, while others are able to stay afloat from clothing donations and work to give back to local non-profits, small churches, and provide jobs + experience to those who might not have many options. Supporting small businesses in your neighborhood is always a better option than falling for the click bait sale emails from the mega brands filling up your inbox.
#4 Clothing Swaps
Have you ever participated in a swap? It’s a free way to share with friends or even friends of friends. Many college students set up groups to trade textbooks each term so they don’t have to purchase something they’ll only use for 1 semester. So, the outfit you wore once to a wedding could be exactly what someone else would love for their next special occasion. Send a text to your group chat and see if anyone is ready to make an exchange happen. Set a time and place, have everyone fill up a bag with items they aren’t loving anymore, and meet up to do some swapping. Encourage accessories, makeup/skincare products, bags, and shoes to be fair game so everyone can feel included if matching sizing is an issue. Maybe some things are just to borrow and maybe some are for keeps, it’s up to your group to decide.
#5 Try A Clothing Rental Subscription
Many brands have set up rental options based around a subscription model. This way you can try out clothes before you buy them or rent and send them back to cycle through new looks instead of adding more physical garments to your closet. Gwynnie Bee Clothing offers a variety of brands with a wide range of sizes (0-32). Or check out Rent The Runway which now offers more than just formal wear so you can strut streetwear or serve up cute brunchy vibes without commitment. Another great option is the Tulerie app which allows you to connect with users locally or globally to rent, borrow, and share clothes and accessories for those fancier occasions. These are great options if you’re interested in trying out new trends without that luxury price tag that doesn’t fit your budget. Sharing gives items a longer and more meaningful life and gives you more freedom to express yourself instead of hoarding past season styles.
#6 Research Before You Buy
If you were wondering if there were actual brands to support that are part of a slow fashion movement, here you go. Sometimes you need to do your research instead of just taking marketing at face value. Putting in the time to read about the materials sourced, the labor practices, the company’s footprint and sustainability initiatives (assuming the brands you are interested in are transparent to begin with) sounds like a lot of work, because it can be. But, taking time to dig into the true mission and commitment of a brand to ethical and environmentally responsible practices will help you feel better about your shopping habits. Plus, it can ultimately rule out some options for you to ‘unsubscribe’ from. See our article about Brands To Trust for an inspiring guide of companies who talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to respecting people and our planet.
Pretty self-explanatory, but a great piece of advice from Patagonia. Only buy what you need, and demand more from the brands you buy from. Demand fair wages for workers at all levels of the supply chain. Demand organic cottons and natural materials like hemp that actually improve soil quality. Demand recycled materials and recyclable options for garments once they’ve lived their life. Demand accountability for sustainable practices. Demand responsible sourcing of materials and textiles that doesn’t negatively impact ecosystems and our environment. Demand quality products that are made to last and can be reused longer.
Look for brands with certifications that keep them accountable through third parties and for businesses who are doing extra good to combat any negative impacts they may create.
- Fair Trade Certifications
- Blue Sign Certifications
- Carbon Neutral Certifications
- Certified B Corporation
- 1% For The Planet
Additional criteria to take note of are a brand’s commitment to size and fit inclusivity, their inclusion of diverse bodies/people in their marketing and branding. Also look at their work outside of the supply chain and how they support their community in other ways through activism or building partnerships with non-profits. Do they have a buy/take back or recycling program for their items? Check out reviews about the quality of their items and if they use renewable materials that are built to last.
Watch out for “eco” gimmicks that brands use to reel you in with their false promises of environmentalism. There has been a push for companies to start tree planting initiatives which makes them seem like they care for the planet. Unfortunately, there can be some major issues with these projects. Few divulge what types of trees are getting planted and where. In many cases, more harm can be done to ecosystems than good when native species aren’t planted or taken into account and only one type of tree is planted. Creating a monoculture plantation instead of a forest will only create more problems. Read more about the dilemmas of tree-planting initiatives here.
It’s easy to get caught up in advertisements and email campaigns bragging about upgraded styles or *NEW* environmentally-friendly product lines. But, in the grand scheme of things, one pair of semi-upcycled denim jeans does not make up for a company’s emissions, lack of transparency in the rest of their products and manufacturing processes, and no sign of an annual impact report or intention to clean up their act. Our planet has limited resources and at the end of the day, finding the perfect pair of pre-loved jeans on Poshmark can save over 8,000 liters of water!