When scrolling Instagram, how many times have you seen that bikini with the cute floral print — and the price is to die for? No, it’s not a scam, and the item could find its way to your doorstep within just a few days… But there is a catch. It’s not environmentally friendly, it’s not labor-friendly, and it’s probably not going to last more than one summer.
That’s because it’s “fast fashion” — cheap, trendy clothing that’s mass produced at a low cost to consumers, but a high cost to the planet and to the workers who produce it. The fast-fashion market is a booming industry, pushing out the latest designs by the thousands, faster than you can say “bargain!” In many cases, our closet space just can’t keep up with the constant click of the “buy now” button, the prices are just THAT good… but the long-term impact is very, very real. Here’s how you can be a smart shopper who still gets good deals, without the negative impact.
Distilling The Problem
The vast majority of textile fabrics — 63% — are derived from petrochemicals, and the fast fashion industry uses these liberally. Then, given the cheap nature of the items produced, these clothing items often end up in a landfill after just a few months’ time. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign of 2019, three out of five fast fashion garments end up in landfills. Then there’s the poor working conditions — the workers in the industry regularly work up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and according to data cited in the documentary The True Cost, these workers do not receive living wages, and work overtime all the time in order to meet the extreme demands of the industry.
Looking In Plain Sight
The tag on your clothing actually holds a lot of information about the item itself. Yes, they tell you how to wash your clothing, but they also offer a list of the materials used in making the item, and a look at the country where your item was made. To be a smart consumer, a little research is required, explains Jessica Kelly, founder and CEO of Thr3efold, an ethical fashion community. In order to know exactly what you’re purchasing and figure out how to extend the life of your fashion, you’ve got to do your homework.
Start with a simple Google search on the company you’re purchasing from to find out about the working conditions in their factories. Jane Thomas, Professor of Marketing at Winthrop University, suggests using any labor violations that you find out about seriously, and getting this information before you’re tempted to make a purchase.
Going On A “Fashion Diet”
When’s the last time you approached buying clothing from this perspective: I will only buy the clothing items that I need, rather than buying items because I like them or because they look cute. Maybe never.
The truth is, we don’t have to buy a new outfit for every occasion. Take a long look at your closet and see what you wear on a monthly basis. Being more aware of your wardrobe not only helps the environment, but can also save your wallet, Thomas says. Purging out our closets each year for spring cleaning might be the sensible thing to do, however, purchasing less and wearing the items we already own more often is the better idea.
I, too, am guilty of only wearing my clothes once or twice and then forgetting about them… but I know it’s time I resolved to stop. Enter the concept of a “minimalist closet.” It is the idea and practice of keeping the most durable, versatile clothing around for years, and mixing and matching among those on a daily basis, freshening them up with the right shoes and accessories. With a minimalist closet, you try to buy things that really never go out of style, and acknowledge that some of those items will be investment pieces… Whether you buy one $200 piece, or 10 $20 pieces, your investment is the same — but your impact on the world you live in couldn’t be more different.
Where To Look
Thrifting is back in a major way — even though some of us would say it never left. But in the last few years, “mom jeans” and XL vintage t-shirts seem to abound. Second-hand stores, charity shops and thrift stores are some of the best ways to find trendier pieces for far less than what you’d find at your local mall. Retailers like Plato’s Closet, the RealReal, and Thread-up are “resellers” that offer secondhand goods for less, but if secondhand isn’t your thing, you can also check out subscription boxes that cater to sustainable wardrobing, and rental clothing companies — like Rent The Runway and Nuuly — that can help keep your closets clear of clutter.
The Silver Lining
Not all companies that you might think of as “fast fashion” use sweatshops and contribute to vast amounts of environmental waste — many are trying to improve their reputation and ways of doing business. Scot Case, vice president of sustainability for the National Retail Federation says that not all companies producing today’s latest fashions are bad, and many of them are working to improve the sustainability of their clothing. H&M, for example, has taken several measures in recent years to improve the working conditions in factories and use environmentally friendly materials.
If you’re looking to build a sustainable wardrobe of your own and need help getting started, start by following #ethicalfashion on Instagram to see what small businesses you might want to support, and discover ways you can speak up for change.
More On HerMoney:
- Less Clothing, More Outfits: Save Money And Time With A Capsule Wardrobe
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- How to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe Without Going Broke
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- The Case For Splurging: 5 Staple Wardrobe Pieces You Should Spend More On
- The Messages Your Fashion Choices Are Really Sending And How To Make Sure You’re Always Commanding Respect
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