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How to Shop Slowly in a World of Fast Fashion

How to Shop Slowly in a World of Fast Fashion

Whether you’re a fashion fanatic or live in sweatpants, clothing is something we all buy, own and use on a daily basis. Since clothing is such an integral part of our lives, it’s important that we examine the global clothing industry, our personal fashion practices and their impacts on the environment.

Believe it or not, there was a time when it was normal for people to own and wear pieces of clothing for decades, or even their entire lives. Two main factors played into this. First, clothing was usually made with high-quality textiles, making pieces durable to wear over many years. Second, fashion trends changed at a much slower pace, meaning that people felt less pressure to buy new clothes to keep up with emerging styles. But, around the 1990’s, the clothing industry began to change rapidly with the introduction of a practice called “fast fashion.”

You’ve probably heard of fast fashion, but maybe you don’t know exactly what it is or why it has such a big impact on the environment. In simple terms, fast fashion is a business model in which companies use cheap, non-sustainable materials and outsourced labor to quickly produce mass volumes of clothing. The low-quality nature of this clothing paired with the rapidly changing trends brought on by social media leads people to constantly throw out huge amounts of barely-worn clothing.

This phenomenon negatively impacts the environment in three main ways. First, the textiles used to make this clothing (such as polyester and nylon) contribute majorly to microplastic pollution in the environment and can take centuries to decompose. Second, the popularization of this business model has led the fashion industry to produce around 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of all global waste water. Finally, the rapid pace at which people throw out this clothing results in about 92 million tons of non-biodegradable textile waste ending up in landfills each year.

Honestly, it will probably take many years before the global clothing industry reforms its problematic practices. With that said, it’s crucial that we as consumers do our part to minimize our contribution to the vicious cycle of fast fashion. So, in the meantime, here’s a simple guide to being an eco-conscious clothing consumer:

  1. Boycott brands that promote the fast fashion business model. Popular clothing brands such as Shein, Forever 21, H&M and Zara utilize fast fashion practices to make massive profits at the expense of the environment. As a rule of thumb, if a piece of new clothing seems too cheap to be true, it’s probably a product created through fast fashion and should be avoided.
  2. Buy your clothing from thrift shops. Shopping at thrift stores is a great way to minimize textile waste, and there are many kinds of thrift shops that cater to almost any shopper’s needs and preferences. While many thrift shops take nearly all donations and sell their clothes for unbelievably cheap prices, others curate their inventory to allow shoppers to skip the hassle of sorting through piles of clothing. Also, consider supporting local or independent brands, as these companies are far less likely to employ fast fashion practices.
  3. Invest in high-quality, sustainable clothing. If you can afford it, investing in a few high-quality pieces will save you the time and money required to constantly replace low-quality clothing when it inevitably wears out quickly. Plus, supporting sustainable companies allows you to use your consumer power to prevent fast fashion brands from gaining the profits which allow them to continue their problematic practices. However, don’t be fooled by the greenwashing which many companies use to make their brands seem more eco-conscious. If you need help deciphering which brands to buy from, check out this list of certified sustainable clothing companies.
  4. Buy and resell your clothes online. Websites like Etsy, Poshmark and Depop offer a great way to shop sustainably from the comfort of your own home. These platforms allow people to sell their unwanted, vintage or upcycled clothes and ship them to buyers directly. Plus, you can even sell your own stuff to earn some extra cash.
  5. Donate your unwanted clothing. Donating your old clothing to thrift shops is an easy (and tax-deductible) way to reduce how much of it ends up in landfills. Plus, curated thrift ships will even sort through your clothes and pay you for anything they want to sell. However, even thrift shops contribute to textile waste, as they often throw away their unsold clothing. So, consider donating to local homeless, youth emergency or domestic violence shelters to help ensure that your old clothing actually ends up being reused.
  6. Host a garage sale or clothing swap. Garage sales are a tried-and-true way to declutter your closet and make a few bucks while doing it. Additionally, gathering friends or family to swap unwanted items is a great way to revamp your wardrobe for free.
  7. Learn how to sew. From hand-mending damaged clothes to upcycling them into something new, sewing is an extremely useful (and environmentally friendly) skill to know. Learning how to repair your clothes instead of throwing them out will drastically reduce your contribution to the textile waste which ends up in landfills each year. Plus, if you invest in a sewing machine, learning to upcycle old fabric into brand new pieces can be a super fun creative project.
  8. Unlearn your consumeristic mindset. The consumeristic nature of American society constantly engrains in us the need to “keep up with trends'' or “only wear something once.” To combat this damaging mentality, find your own personal style instead of following ever-changing trends and embrace the practice of wearing clothes repeatedly. Also, when shopping, genuinely ask yourself how many times you will realistically wear the item you are considering buying to avoid purchasing clothes that you’ll just end up throwing out.
  9. Stay educated. There are countless resources available to help you stay educated on the issue of fast fashion. Books like "Consumed" by Aja Barber and articles such as "Why clothes are so hard to recycle" by The BBC offer in-depth examinations of the global fashion industry which will keep you well-informed as a consumer. 
Apr 6th 2024 Sabrina Castle

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