A handful of ways to reduce fast fashion consumption and it's impacts.
When I first started to shop for my own clothing, I was thrilled for the chance to choose out my own items and to get something new. I had spent many years with hand-me-downs. But, somewhere along the way, I discovered the term fast-fashion. Instead of being something that sparks excitement, shopping has become a source of guilt. The more I learn, the more difficult I find it to accept fast fashion and all that it encompasses.
Fast fashion is defined as, “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. This definition does not bring to light the behind the scenes methods of the production and distribution practices of fast fashion. According to Global News, the industry is one of the top polluting and emission producing practices. It produces more emissions than the shipping and aviation industries combined. The realities of this industry are harmful to the environment in many ways. In addition to this, it comes with a high human cost.
The rise of fast fashion is not one which is hard to explain. It has managed to thrive due to its affordability, its promotion in a consumer culture and the fact that the negative practices are out of sight and out of mind. Instead of emptying our wallets, fast fashion empties our resources, pollutes our ecosystems and takes advantage of people in struggling areas of the world.
The Independent explains that the process of making clothing begins with the cultivation of crops and materials. Oftentimes materials that are sprayed with pesticides to ensure a high yield. This has negative affects farmers and pollutes the water and air. It can even lead to pests becoming immune to pesticides, giving the cycle more ferocity as it goes.
These materials are then transformed into the items we wear. This transformation occurs in unsafe working conditions and harms those producing the products says CBC’s Passionate Eye. The UN Environment says the process of dyeing fibers is often toxic and has a large water consumption footprint, generating large amounts of wastewater (20% of the world’s wastewater).
The detriments of fast fashion do not end once they are in consumer’s hands if anything this is just the middle point of the clothing article’s lifetime. The Independent says the process of washing materials such as polyester contributes to minute pieces of plastic entering our water systems and our food systems. When we are through with an article it still ends up somewhere. They may end up in landfills or incinerated. One method releases methane as it breaks down, the other pollutes the air says Global News.
This may all seem overwhelming, and hopeless to deal with, but there is hope and actions that can be taken. These actions can start at the individual level.
Mend and care for what you have extending the life of an article of clothing. CBCs’ Graham Duggan recommends taking part in a clothing swap or borrowing items. Consider whether something is truly needed before purchasing anything. When purchases are made look for items of quality that will have a longer lifespan.
Shopping Second Hand
Choose items already in existence that would otherwise go to waste. Doing this doesn't add to the demand for new clothing or support the practices of fast fashion.
Choosing Sustainably and Ethically Sourced Clothing
This can be a difficult one to navigate since there are so many steps within the system of creating clothing. Look for clothing created with natural materials, and companies which are taking initiatives to produce sustainable items, recommends the UN Environment Cities and Lifestyle section.
Adjusting your Laundry Routine
An article posted on the UN Environment website makes a few recommendations for limiting the plastics that enter our water systems. A few of these include washing clothes less often, a washing bag that captures the loosened fabric particles, the Cora Ball and a filtration system which can be added to your laundry system.
Bonus environmentally friendly tip: air dry laundry to lower your energy use.
If an article of clothing is no longer serving you or has reached the end of its usability donate it, including a single mitten or glove, old socks and even underwear, says both CBC and Global News. Global News says many donation places have partnerships with organizations to dispose of textiles in ways other than sending them to landfills. The UN Environment says that there is also the option of take-back programs which collect garments at the end of their usability and reuse or recycle them appropriately.
The benefits to the environment by moving away from fast fashion are great in a variety of ways. While not all these options are the most affordable option, some can save money and give a deeper appreciation for the items in your wardrobe.
Interested in learning more? Below you’ll find links to the sources used to create this post:
Kaya Dory's article: Why Fast Fashion Needs to Slow Down
UN Environment article: Fashion's Tiny Hidden Secret
CBC News Network’s The Passionate Eye article: Our fast fashion habit is killing the planet
The Independent's article: The environmental costs of fast fashion
Global News article: ‘Fast Fashion’: environmental impacts and what you can do as a consumer
Merriam-Webster: Definition of fast fashion