It’s almost a month into the new year, so I thought I’d share a little update on my own personal New Year’s Resolution: rejecting “fast fashion” or at least consuming significantly less of it. Fast Fashion is a term that is becoming mainstream, but for those of you not yet in the know, the official definition (with my paraphrasing, of course) of “fast fashion” from my friends at Wikipedia is:
Fast Fashion: Term used to describe the speed at which clothing styles move from the runway to the clothing retailer. Fast Fashion styles are often manufactured quickly and cheaply to allow “average” consumers to participate in current design trends at low prices. The clothing industries began adopting a “fast fashion”process in the 1990s and the trend has continued into the 21st century. “Fast Fashion” has also become associated with “Disposable Fashion.”
So, some of that doesn’t sound so bad- fashionable clothes at a reasonable price sounds good at first, but unfortunately there are some real problems that are often inherent in the fast fashion model:
- Depletion of natural resources: There used to be a time when an average American’s wardrobe could fit comfortably in a two foot closet; if you had enough clothes to make it until your weekly laundry day you were doing well. In today’s culture of walk-in closets, many of us are guilty of having enough clothes to wear something different each day for months. With each of us collecting more stuff, more and more resources are used to produce our stuff. This is bad from a resource conservation perspective and because many material harvesting and production processes are very energy intensive.
- “Disposable” fashion requires disposal: My great grandmother had clothes that lasted her for decades. Clothes were well made and styles were “in fashion” (or at least acceptable) for years. When a button fell off or a seam got week the owner grabbed a sewing kit and fixed it. Much of today’s clothing seems to fall apart after a year or even a season and that’s intentional. Much of today’s clothing is trendy and will be out of style next year anyway, so why make it to last? That attitude feeds into the issue of resource use, but it also creates a waste management issue. What do you do with your out of date clothes? Many people throw them in the trash where they wind up taking up space in a landfill. Even if you donate your clothes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army these charities can only use so much inventory and if the clothes are poorly made to begin with, they may not even be suitable for reuse.
- Cheap clothes can mean questionable production practices: In order to drive down the cost of clothing, many manufacturers turn to overseas manufacturing. Worker wages and worker safety are often far less regulated in other countries. Just recently several extremely deadly garment factory fires have made the news. Two months ago, a fire in a factory in Bangladesh that was producing clothes for Walmart, Sears and other glodbal retailers killed 112 workers. Another garment factory fire occured just three days ago in Bangladesh killing another 7 people. Even if the workers aren’t dying in fires, their working conditions are likely to be unpleasant at best and extremely unsafe at worst and worker wages can literally be pennies an hour.
- Trendy may mean toxic: Greenpeace put out a pretty scary report titled “Toxic Threads” in November of 2012 that investigated the use of toxic and even carcinogenic chemical in clothing (read the report here). This investigation showed that nonylphenol ethoxylates, which are recognized hormone disruptors were found in 63% of the articles of clothing they tested. The study links the use of toxic chemicals to fast fashion producers like Zara, Gap and H&M with the explanation that tight deadlines and pressure to meet short fashion cycles often leads manufacturers to cut corners. It’s yet to be seen exactly what impact these chemicals will have on human health over time and it’s also likely that they will have a negative impact on our planet as these chemicals also end up in landfills or in the air when these clothes are dumped or burned at the end of the short useful lives.
It’s probably not realistic for me to say that I am never going to purchase pants from Gap or something “trendy” ever again, but I am trying to take a few steps to reduce my participation in the fast fashion trend:
- I’m paying close attention to the quality of pieces I purchase so that hopefully they can last for several seasons.
- I’m focusing on buying “timeless” or “basic” styles that will not be out of style anytime soon. I can still spice these up with interesting combinations or jewelry.
- I’m shopping more often at consignment shops and even thrift stores. If it’s washable, why do I care if someone else wore it first? It’s great keeping these clothes out of a landfill and getting a pair of jeans for less than $5 is also a nice perk.
- I’m pretty good with a needle and thread, so I am investing time in repairing or even altering clothes I already have instead of rushing out to buy new.
I’m only a month in to my new-found commitment to responsible clothing shopping, but I’m excited that a little more diligence on my part can potentially have a big impact on the environment as well as likely helping my family budget along the way!