Fast fashion is destructive, pure and simple. Not only is the fashion industry one of the world’s biggest environmental polluters (it accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions), social harms are exponential, with workers (often young, disadvantaged women) facing dangerous working conditions, abuse, and poor pay.
Fast fashion refers to the mass-produced, mass-consumed, and (often but not always) inexpensive clothing produced by large retailers in order to keep up with the latest and quickly evolving fashion trends, almost always with negative environmental and social impacts.
Most large retailers add new micro-collections to their stores monthly, if not weekly. What’s trendy changes practically every month, and with vast quantities of cheap clothing easily accessible it’s only too easy to give in. Fast fashion promises the ability to express yourself, to reinvent yourself, to fit in with the current style. We are sold the idea that retail shopping is a mood booster, a form of therapy when we’re feeling down, a way to simultaneously show off and blend in.
Like most, I was once an avid consumer of fast fashion. I replenished and changed up my wardrobe like clockwork. Although it wasn’t a complete style overhaul every six months, it was rare for me to keep the same pieces in my wardrobe for more than a couple of years. I justified my shopping by telling myself I was fitting in with the trends, that I needed to switch things up. What was the harm of buying a few new skirts, dresses, pants and tops every year? Like most people, especially at the low prices fast fashion tends to offer, I thought why not?
Documentaries such as “The True Cost” completely changed my perspective on fast fashion and material consumption. I had never fully considered someone making my clothes, the lives of fear, abuse, and poverty they led, or the people they were trying to support on a paltry wage in an unsafe factory. If that wasn’t enough to put a halt on my fast fashion spending, the alarming environmental waste of fast fashion could hardly be ignored either: toxic chemicals spewing into waterways, countless microfibers shedding from clothes in the wash and heading to the ocean, and the sheer amount of textile waste that is disposed of (every second a garbage truck full of textiles is sent to landfill).
→ T R E N D S
When I first became aware of sustainable and slow fashion, the first question I asked myself was why. Why did I feel the need to buy clothes so often? Why was I always racing to keep up with trends I didn’t even like? I wasn’t happy topping up and changing my wardrobe every few months. In fact, I often felt miserable at stores, worried that I didn’t know what was stylish, worried that this season’s clothes wouldn’t flatter my body type, and I hated the amount of money I was practically throwing away. Slow fashion brought about a huge overhaul in the way I thought about my personal style and the need to keep up with trends.
I built my wardrobe (not a capsule wardrobe, just a set of pieces that are nearly all suitable for year-round use) based upon classic pieces in a neutral color scheme. This is easier both to maximise the amount of wear and feel comfortable and timeless in my fashion choices. When I selected pieces I loved, that I felt great in, I stopped worrying about trends, what other people were wearing, and what others thought about my own clothes. By switching to a sustainable, slow fashion wardrobe, I am happier and more confident in my wardrobe than ever before. And while timeless, flowing, and minimal pieces do seem to be synonymous with slow fashion and abandoning trends, the slow, minimal look has become a bit of a trend itself (nothing wrong with that), and there’s also nothing wrong with building a sustainable wardrobe based upon bright, vibrant colors.
→ A L T E R N A T I V E S
Once I decided to give up fast fashion, things quickly became overwhelming. What was I supposed to do with all of my fast fashion clothing? Where was I supposed to buy clothes now? But finding alternatives to fast fashion was actually a lot easier than I’d first thought.
Refraining from buying anything new
Use what you already have. Yes, plenty of fast fashion items are not made to last for an extended period of time, but lots of pieces do hold up for many years (more than half of my wardrobe is a testament to that). By throwing out all your fast fashion items, you’re only adding to the steady stream of textile waste heading to landfill. Additionally, I’ve learnt to patch up small holes in my clothing to ensure it lasts as long as possible, rather than replacing items right away as I once did.
Thrift and buy used
Buying used clothing, whether from brick and mortar stores or online, removes waste from the equation and prevents money from falling into the hands of corporations that abuse workers and pollute the environment. Plus, it’s a great way to change up your style or bolster your wardrobe at a very affordable price.
Sustainable, eco-friendly brands
Slow and sustainable fashion is beginning to be embraced by the mainstream public, and there are a wide variety of retailers who now offer items that are made by workers who receive a fair wage and work in safe conditions and whose companies take environmental and social responsibility for their actions. I try to keep any clothing purchases to a minimum these days, but those necessary or rare ‘treat yourself’ purchases I try to limit to stores that are sustainable and ethical. Everlane, Pact, Kowtow, Girlfriend Collective, SiiZU, Yala, and Sancho’s are just a few brands (at varying price ranges) that offer sustainably made clothes.
Host clothing swaps with friends or people in your community
Clothing swaps are a great way to get new-to-you items for no cost. Granted, it is a bit more complex than thrifting at a shop with friends, as the availability of all different clothing sizes would need to be considered, but clothing swaps go a long way to prevent clothes from being thrown out.
→ I N C L U S I V I T Y
Too often I see bloggers advocating for an entire wardrobe overhaul. Remove all fast fashion pieces from your wardrobe, only buy sustainable and environmentally-friendly sourced items. I know this comes from a well-meaning place, but these articles truly rub me the wrong way for three reasons:
- You are creating more waste by disposing of fast fashion pieces you currently use and enjoy.
- There is an overwhelming sense of privilege (and ignorance) in asserting one should/must buy new, sustainably made clothing. This is a rather elitist statement and only turns a vast number of people away from sustainable fashion when there are other ways to give up fast fashion without having to use all your savings for a few pieces in your wardrobe.
- Sustainable, slow fashion has become a sort of status symbol in its own right. There’s a prevalent idea that if you can give up fast fashion, then you are well off in life. While I have nothing against buying pricier sustainable, slow fashion pieces — I have done so myself on several occasions — advocating only for the purchase of sustainable fashion will not end fast fashion’s devastating impacts.
The idea of a brand new, sustainable wardrobe is simply out of the question for most people. The cost of new sustainably and ethically made items tend to be significantly more than fast fashion pieces. Suggesting that people simply save and invest in a quality garment is downright impossible for many. “Affordable” sustainable basic t-shirts, for example, tend to start at $35. Search just about any low-cost fast fashion chain and you’ll find similar style tees for $5-10. Sustainable fashion shouldn’t be — and certainly isn’t — limited only to those who have thousands of dollars of disposable income for new, ethical clothing.
Education on the hazards of fast fashion is key to getting people to change their shopping habits. Inform and encourage and talk up the benefits of sustainably made clothing by all means, but it’s key to provide viable alternatives for all (such as using and repairing what you have, thrifting, and sharing clothes amongst friends) if fast fashion is truly going to become a thing of the past.
Giving up fast fashion should not be synonymous with expenses and luxury. You do not need to spend any money, much less thousands of dollars, to give up fast fashion. Giving up fast fashion has saved me time, money, and stress and has made me far more confident in my style. And it’s always a good feeling to know you’re not contributing to the environmental, economic, and social harm that’s rife in the fast fashion industry.