The Truth About Fast Fashion And How To Dress More Sustainably
by Maddy Shaw
Our society – especially online shopping – is constantly shifting, jumping from one trend to the next. I find it overwhelming to say the least, and still, there is always this pressure to feel like I have to keep up.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this – especially as someone who’s interested in fashion.
The sad reality is that if we don’t slow down and take a deeper look at what’s happening in this industry, the most vulnerable people in our world will continue to be affected in ways we can’t even fathom.
What do I mean? Keep reading to find out.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FAST FASHION
“Fast fashion” is what companies have developed to keep costs low for consumers, yet at the same time, creating high turnover rates to keep up with trends that change faster than we can talk about them.
Fast fashion is what you see in stores that saturate the mall. Fast fashion is the dozens of graphic tees with the latest fad, phrase or meme. And fast fashion is when stores have completely different options every week.
Unfortunately, fast fashion has a detrimental impact on the planet and its people.
With tons (and tons) of clothing being produced every year, it places strain on third-world countries and our precious resources. Instead of clothing crafted in small batches of high-quality materials by garment workers who make a living wage, the majority of the clothing sold is mass-produced, low quality, and made by workers who are paid less in a month than most of us make in a day.
Companies that have been globalized are so powerful and profitable that they are able to produce their clothing in countries overseas that have little to no government regulation. This means they rely on governments to turn a blind eye to low wages, incredibly unsafe working conditions and the welfare of the workers who produce our clothing.
According to this article, one of these specific companies actually moved their production to Asia because they were accused of sweatshop-like conditions in their American factories – and were aware that Asian governments are less involved than in the U.S. Another company’s factory was responsible for the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, where a building collapsed and killed over 1,000 garment workers due to third-party audits that were inaccurate and a lack of safety inspections.
These are just a few examples of many incidents that continue to happen because companies are not transparent about their ethics or trying to improve wages and working conditions in favor of profit.
Many of these companies have also tried greenwashing, a tactic that promotes environmental initiatives without actually implementing practices that minimize environmental impact. This means they are misleading consumers, like you and me, through marketing without following through on any productive directives. They instead distract us with initiatives that sound promising, but the most important changes are left ignored.
Fast fashion is one of the worst contributors to pollution and waste. Typically, for one ton of clothing produced, 200 tons of water is polluted; while clothing in landfills leak chemicals and dyes into groundwater and further pollute freshwater sources.
Most clothing also ends up back in the third-world countries it originally came from. There are literal mountains of clothing in Ghana, where 40% of used clothing imported into the country ends up rotting in landfills. According to this article, some countries, such as India, recycle the clothing into blankets used for disasters, but Ghana does not have recycling systems in place.
There are many other issues with fast fashion, but it’s safe to say, fashion needs to slow down.
3 WAYS TO DRESS MORE SUSTAINABLY
We all are looking for ways to slow down, take stock, and reflect on what is important. So here are 3 ways you can make a difference and dress more sustainably:
- Research and ask questions. Doing your research about who you purchase from, asking for transparency, and buying less are all ways to change the way fashion is manufactured. When we buy from companies who are transparent about where their clothing is made and willingly provide information about their workers’ conditions, it will not only provide garment workers in developing countries with jobs, but jobs that pay well and take care of them.
- Wear what we already own. Wearing our clothing until it literally falls apart is one of the most sustainable (and simple) things we can do. Buying clothing secondhand is another great option, though we should still be very particular about what we buy. Thrift stores often do not stock everything they receive and throw away a lot of what customers donate. (I actually used to work at a chain thrift store, and the clothes pulled off the racks end up in massive bins that are auctioned off to people that most likely resell the items and whatever doesn’t sell is usually sent to landfills.)
- Buy from companies that are taking care of their workers and the planet. The changing fashion industry is revealing many companies who are making changes like these and are leading the movement called “slow fashion.” Slow fashion is typically more costly, but sustainable brands are working towards paying their employees livable wages and lessening their environmental impact – factors that most larger corporations avoid to keep their costs down. It’s deciding between a few pieces of quality made to last, then multiple pieces of cheap material that fall apart in a few uses.
Ultimately, you hold the power to research companies and ask your own questions. And remember, no one is perfect. I certainly still make mistakes and buy from brands that I haven’t researched enough, but I try to learn from it and wear the clothes that I buy, and re-wear them, and re-wear them. It’s all about learning and making the most of what we already own.
Here are some resources that I’ve found helpful on my sustainable clothing search: The Good Trade, The Fashion Law, and the app Good On You can help you learn more about which brands are ethical and sustainable. Some of my favorite Instagram accounts who provide advice about ways to buy ethical fashion are: @sedonachristina, @kristenleo, @_stylemeethically (who is actually a PP fan as well!), and @selflessly_styled. And finally, some of my favorite ethical and sustainable brands are: Girlfriend Collective, MATE the label, Made by Minga, Tribe Alive and Janessa Leone.
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