Fast-fashion has been a hot button topic in environmental circles for a while now, though outside these communities it’s rarely discussed as a green issue. See, it’s not your typical environmental dilemma – you never see a turtle being choked by a crop top or witness smoke plumes coming out of a leggings factory. More often, the industry is linked to ethical issues and the problems of globalization and labor. Yet it’s still a growing and real concern for the planet and those who study it and here’s why.
The waste generated by the production of garments, especially with new synthetic materials being the norm, is staggering. The water and energy needed to produce all these fabrics, textiles, and final clothing pieces is immense. For any production of garments, the same waste and pollution would be generated. However, fast fashion is defined by the volume and pace of the industry. This exaggerated scale of operation is what makes it so problematic.
The clothing waste that follows the death of a trend can be measured in actual mountains. The average American throws away about 81 lbs of clothing every year. Nationwide, that’s 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothes heading to landfills annually.
Global brands like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M stock thousands of styles every season, and it would be unreasonable to think that:
- They sell out their entire inventory
- Once bought, the clothes become well-loved, lasting staples in their owners closets.
It’s unreasonable and impossible to allow for these two provisions to be true because they run against the very idea of fast-fashion. Fast fashion is meant only to sustain the hungry diet of trend-loving consumers. The industry itself would collapse if people could purchase their perfect life lasting capsule wardrobes from these retailers.
Then you have Instagram fashion powerhouse brands. They have millions of followers and have perfected the online outfit-of-the-day hype-based consumption of clothes that this decade is based on. Their followers adore them because they let you get Kim Kardashian’s outfit for less than 30 dollars and at your doorstep in less than a day after you see her wear it. What’s not to love?
Cheap price tags are only so because the environmental cost is treated as an unaccounted for externality of the production process. The consumer is not given complete information – the rivers polluted and the landfills clogged? These aren’t sold alongside that trendy new top or that sleek skirt. The true cost is hidden, so consumers have no real choice but to participate in what is an ultimately destructive (though very pretty) cycle, unless they go out of their way to educate themselves on sustainable garments.
The fast in fast fashion also means fast moving wardrobes, constantly evolving and changing. Old clothes are discarded as quickly as they can be bought. This isn’t even selfish or consumerist behavior. Even the most adored piece will fall to threads if it isn’t properly constructed. Consumers often have no choice but to buy new, and buy more. For an industry that cuts corners in production, going from the drawing board to racks in less than a week (which is what many brands pride themselves on), the garment itself is probably not going to be that well made and cannot be expected to last.
This high turn over is acceptable for the industry. Fast fashion doesn’t need its products to be lifelong investments, so they don’t make them to be. The expected lifetime of an outfit is only so long as it’d take to get a photo of it and post, but beyond that is considered extra mileage. This is the interplay between the internet and the industry – the constant consumption of media needs a constant source of new outfits, new looks, and new trends. There’s more to say about that, but it goes into the culture of consumerism more than there is time for now.
See, this isn’t an article meant to deeply criticize any one person’s consumption habits. Rather, it’s an attempt to discuss further the oft-ignored problem of clothing waste. Also, it is meant to be a guide for how to live more green, even through your closet.
There are more than a few take downs of fast fashion going around online for the interested shopper to learn more about the exact practices of these brands that make them so harmful. For now, let’s move towards something a bit different and focus on what steps can be actively taken to combat, in a personal way, the problem of fast fashion.
Use all the pieces you have as many times as you can. Be creative. Suppress and rebel against the idea that outfit repeating is a faux pas. It isn’t. If anything, working within a limited wardrobe will challenge you to make the most of what you already have, leading to combinations you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. There’s really no need to buy a new dress or a ‘special’ outfit for that one big night, not when you have a working imagination.
Second, select where you purchase.
A quick internet search can shed light into most popular brand’s manufacturing processes. This is especially important if you care about the way the garments are manufactured and sourced and if these were ethical. Shopping local is usually a smarter move, since there is less shipping and travel before the garment gets to you. Purchase pieces you can image yourself in for at least a few years.
Third, watch the fabric.
All textiles wear down with every wash, meaning bits of the material itself goes down the drain with your washwater. Natural textiles mean natural fibers, which are biodegradable and non-toxic. Synthetic materials lead to microplastics, which are a growing problem in our marine ecosystem. Choose fabrics that will age well and stay long.
And fourth? Own it.
Own your purchase and realize that your buying power is your voting power as a consumer. Fashion is one of the most intimate forms of self-expression, so it wouldn’t make sense if your closet didn’t reflect your environmental activism. By choosing to say no to unsustainable garment trade and choosing to be more mindful about which products you buy, which brands you patronize, and how exactly you want to consume your fashion, you can put and end to the trend of fast fashion.