Updated: Apr 10, 2019
I noticed an issue with the fashion industry when I traveled across the ocean for the first time and ended up in Fiji. I was completely in shock that they had the same clothes in this small island, and I started to ask A LOT of questions that previously never occurred to me:
How are clothes so cheap?
How do we have the resources to make so much of them?
Where are these clothes being made?
What happens when these clothes don't get sold?
Who makes these clothes?
I remembered growing up we would only go shopping at the beginning of the school year. I would get a new jacket for winter and a few new clothes for Christmas, some springtime clothes at Easter, and my favorite time of all was summer clothes shopping.
It didn't occur to me that now most of the world has access to an obscene amount of cheaply-made clothes--that weren't made to last very long and that quickly fill up landfills.
It took even longer for me to realize that the clothes were often being made unethically by children or women being paid unlivable wages. Even longer still to realize that sometimes animals are involved and treated very cruelly. And the longest time to realize that this would be affecting the environment through the harmful chemicals, water waste, and travel costs.
All I initially saw was waste filling up the land around me, but now I am absolutely sickened as I think of how our "cheap" fashion purchases affect the lives of SO MANY OTHERS. It is disgusting to me when I hear of people bragging about "how cheap" this thing they ordered online was. I want to hear about how ethical it is, and then we can talk about cost.
I believe people are good, and that given the opportunity we would make the right decisions. All it takes to make a difference is individual action and you can watch as it impacts cultural masses.
The first part of combatting Fast Fashion is awareness and education. So without further ado:
What is Fast Fashion?
"Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed." Definition provided by Good On You.
What is Fast Fashion's Impact?
Fast Fashion supports unethical business practices.
It is estimated that 100 pairs of human hands touch our clothes before they ever land in ours. The apparel industry employs more than 300 million people globally and an estimated 80% of them are women. The working conditions of many leave much to be desired. The limited regulation and accountability of companies in countries that are able to cheaply provide fast fashion leave workers vulnerable often working in dangerous environments for low wages without basic human rights.
Watch the documentary "The True Cost" which gives more insight into the lives of apparel workers even down to the level of the farmers who often deal with harmful chemicals that impact their mental and physical health.
A small percentage of people are profiting a lot out of the exploitation of people, animals, and the environment.
Fast Fashion is harmful for the environment.
Toxic dyes and micro-plastic leak into our waterways from cheap plastic materials such as polyester and chemical dyes. This pollution affects animals, the ocean, and our ecosystem on a large scale.
The fashion industry the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture.
Farming natural fibers such as cotton at large quantities threatens our water supply. It can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton. That’s enough to make just one t-shirt and one pair of jeans.
In developing countries where many of the textiles are produced, farming practices include use of harmful dangerous chemicals and deforestation.
The pressures for fast production contribute to concerns on land clearing, biodiversity, carbon footprints, and soil quality.
Partially because of how items are cheaply produced and partially because of the throw away culture, fast fashion contributes to large amounts of waste. It is estimated that the U.S. alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. According to Science times, New York alone is responsible for 200 million pounds of clothing being thrown in the trash every year. It takes 200 years for that textile to decompose and as it is decomposing it produces methane.
Fast Fashion puts animals at risk.
Animal welfare is largely at risk when cheap leather and fur are used. The animals are exploited in horrible living conditions, and because of poor regulation and a cheaper cost of production, more and more REAL fur is being used and sold as "FAUX FUR".
The plastic leaked into the ocean are often ingested by sea creatures.
Chemicals leaked into the ocean contribute to ocean acidification that is killing our coral reefs, the home of many diverse animals and an important contributor for our ecosystem.
How can you make a difference?
1. Share information. Please. Spread the word as much as you can. Education and Awareness is Key. We need people to be aware of their personal impact in order to make a global difference.
2. Make smart purchases and do your research:
Are you going to wear the item of clothing at least 30 times? The throw-away culture that currently plagues us make the fashion industry extremely volatile and the environment especially vulnerable. Is it made from good materials? Are they safe for the environment and designed in a way to support reuse and recycling?
Does it support good economy? Does money get dispersed evenly throughout the supply chain?
Does it use good energy? Is it made with renewable, sustainable energy?
Does it support water conservation? Is water in the area kept clean and available to all?
Does it support good lives? Are the living conditions of the workers safe, regulated, and dignified.
Is their information transparent? Avoid companies that do not share their sustainability practices.
3. Use less.
Buy less clothes. The most unsustainable part of "Fast Fashion" is the pressure it puts on people and the environment to produce more and more clothing at a fast rate. By buying less clothes, you are decreasing the demand which will decrease the supply.
Wear your clothes more. Use the #30Wears to encourage others to spread the word to do the same.
Borrow Clothes from your friends. Opening up your closet to a friend and vice-versa adds a bonding element to the whole "getting ready" experience. It will help you both feel like you have more clothing and discourage you from wanting to buy more in the first place.
Associate each purchase with the lives you will impact. This tool helps me to refrain from simply buying things that I think are cute and move forward with passion to encourage others to do the same.
4. Get Creative.
Make your own clothing. There is no better way to express yourself than to make your own clothing. Source your materials from a thrift store or use your own closet for a creative new take on old clothes.
5. Be Responsible.
Be sure to dispose of your clothing ethically. Give it a second life through handing it down to family or friends. Donate clothes to local charities or thrift stores that are more likely to place your items on the shelves than international stores.Take unwearable clothing to textile recycling centers.
It is a constant process in today's environment to make sure that we are supporting ethical and sustainable businesses. I highly suggest downloading the app from "Good On You" (App Store, Google Play) to make more informed consumer decisions, but let's buy less in general. Let's celebrate our friends who wear the same thing over again-- because hey, that outfit looks great on them! Let's join each other in making a difference and figure out a loving way to inform our friends and family. Times like these call for unity and love.
We would love to hear how you plan on informing your family and friends about the impacts of fast fashion.