Fast fashion values efficiency over quality, and, as convenient and cheap is it is, this quantity over quality approach contributes to an environmental hazard on a global scale. The clothing industry is one of the largest contributors to waste, at each stage of its life. From development to distribution to your waste bin, clothing is immensely damaging to the environment.
Sustainable fashion is the new frontier
Fast fashion has achieved its niche due to the competitive speed and price it is able to deliver to impatient and frugal consumers. Meanwhile, sustainability has introduced a new niche and cultivated a loyal consumership that is happy to trade fast fashion’s low prices for conscious, feel-good shopping.
We have a growing range of stylish, eco-friendly options that are responding to the fashion waste crisis, giving consumers who may not be willing to spend designer prices, access to ethical fashion.
Most eco-conscious brands are a pricing tier above fast fashion but still significantly lower priced than designer goods. This may mean rather than three effervescent tops, you may have to save for just one that is more durable and timeless. And so the old adage goes, quality is worth more than quantity.
And given the viral cult nature evidenced via social media and blogger culture, consumers are not only embracing ethical shopping, they are demanding it.
The new accountability-Will fast fashion keep up with the new eco-conscious consumers?
Companies are faced with a new level of unprecedented accountability. In our current socioeconomic climate, there is greater demand for and access to brand transparency. Propelled by technology, there is greater chance for potentially viral confrontation to behind the scenes processes.
Customers are more insistent upon knowing the life of a garment before it makes it to their closet. And it is a radical movement that has gone beyond the demand for simple transparency. They want deliberate and widespread change.
The modern consumer demands to know whether the seams were stitched in underpaid sweatshops overseas or if dyes were tested on animals. Furthermore, the new consumer wants to know if they can feel good about their purchase; if perhaps proceeds will go on to benefit someone or something in need.
Now we are no longer solely concerned with the appearance of the garment. Our concern is preoccupied with transparency of the entire process, even if our concern will cost us more at the register.
Fast fashion has quickly responded to the new demand, potentially for no other reason than adapting to a new trend. (Which is merely second nature, as fast fashion brands are already accustomed to interpreting and adapting to trends in record time.) Nike, Zara and H&M have all recently promoted product lines that champion sustainability.
But regardless of the motivation behind their new enlightenment, fast fashion’s ethical shift shows sustainability is provoking the environmental assailant enough to make a change.
It is our responsibility too
Though there are new economic processes arising to resolve and regulate the widespread issues caused by fast fashion production, we have a role at the micro level as well.
We as a consumer may be enjoying our increasing control of corporation logistics, but what about our own? Do we remember to require the same kind of consciousness when the responsibility lies in our own hands?
What about when we are spring cleaning, freeing up space in our closets? When we dispose of clothes we are adding to the same problem we demand resolution to.
When we are done with a garment, we are most inclined to dispose of it, adding to the 84% of clothes that end up in a landfill or incinerator. Americans alone trash their clothing at a rate of 80 pounds per person.
And once in their grave, synthetic materials can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Even natural fibers, by the time they make it to the market, have been unnaturally overprocessed with chemicals, dyes, and bleaches, which, once disposed of, can seep into groundwater or release the toxins into the air.
According to this Newsweek article, “the EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.”
So how can you make sure you are doing you are not contributing to an environmental hazard?
Identify that there is an issue and recognize what fuels that problem.
Many materials used by fast fashion brands do not break down once disposed of, meaning that it is adding to a problem that does not naturally disintegrate or recycle. This makes for a non-cyclical ecosystem that only exponentially maximizes waste. Using this knowledge as the cornerstone for your wardrobe will turn your closet in the right direction.
Foster a wardrobe with a sustainable approach
-Rather than investing in a new article of clothing, invest in tailoring or mending. A ripped zipper or split seam can likely be fixed for less than buying an entirely new garment.
-Seek the versatility of your wardrobe. Try wearing your dress as a skirt by layering a t-shirt over it for a whole new look. Mix and match. Layer it up for maximalist outfits and then next time decompose those pieces for a minimalist vibe. This will help your wardrobe always feel fresh and new so that you don’t get the shopping itch from closet fatigue.
How to shop sustainably
-Only buy what you need. Try to quiet the impulses by first knowing your wardrobe. Have you ever impulsively bought clothes only to realize you already own something similar? Or perhaps you saw somebody wear something that you felt so inspired by only to get it home and realize that it’s not even your style. Knowing your wardrobe is the first rule of thumb in shopping sustainably.
-The second step is knowing the brands you are shopping. With a bit of light research, you can find out what a brand stands for and even how it engineers the production and logistics processes of your future outfits. Then, if you are still on board with their operations, swipe your card accordingly.
A list of brands with a clean bill of environmental ethics
In an age where it is not only conscious to be green, but also trendy, there are a plethora of brands and designers committing to an eco-friendly method of production and consumers are favorably responding with their wallets. Below is a short list to get you started:
And a few fast fashion brands that have efforts promoting sustainability:
URBN Brands (Free People, Urban Outfitters, Antrhopologie)
Also published on Medium.