The MO of “fast fashion” brands is to mass-produce trendy designs at a low cost. While some brands are working on a greener selection, we know that greenwashing, waste, and human rights violations abound in the fashion industry.
Emma Mathews, founder of the sustainable British sock brand Socko and author of How to Quit Fast Fashion: 100 Expert Tips for a Sustainable Wardrobe advised us on how to take meaningful steps towards quitting fast fashion.
Learn the True Cost of Fast Fashion
Clothing is more than the sum of its materials. Behind every garment are people, water, agriculture, energy, and transportation emissions, and much more.
The fashion industry produces more carbon emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined, and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply — despite this, 85% of all textiles end up in the dump each year.” –How to Quit Fast Fashion
In Mathews’ view, the hazards of fast fashion are greatest for textile and garment workers and the environment. “Clothes don’t magically appear. Think about the number of hands that handle that garment before it gets to you, about how much you pay versus what the person is paid — after retail and shipping costs — for something designed to be throwaway.”
Garment makers work in appalling conditions because retailers, to satisfy demand, prioritize low-cost clothing over people’s lives. One of the starkest examples is the 2013 Rana Plaza fire in Bangladesh, the fourth largest industrial disaster in history, during which 1,100 people died and another 2,500 were injured.
Reevaluating your relationship with fast fashion means reconciling with the environmental and human costs, but Mathews is adamant that preaching isn’t the goal. On the contrary, “it’s about providing tools so consumers can make the decision for themselves.”
Tips To Help You Quit Fast Fashion
Rethink Your Closet
“Even if we stopped production tomorrow, we have enough to clothe the next two generations,” says Mathews.
So, it’s not that we need more clothes — it’s that we’re bored with what we have.
- Form a stronger bond with your wardrobe. As the fashion industry adage goes, “The most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own.” To this, Mathews adds, “The back of the wardrobe is almost like being in a landfill” — if you don’t wear those clothes, you’re only putting off the inevitable.
- Dig around in the back of your drawers. If you can’t salvage that T-shirt, who can? Consider donations, clothing swaps, or giving your garments away — and be realistic. If you haven’t worn it in the last year or two, it may be time to say goodbye.
- Flirt with the capsule wardrobe. Take a page from the minimalist playbook and consider paring down to a capsule wardrobe, an approach that favors essential clothing items that don’t go out of fashion, augmented by seasonal pieces. Which are your seasonless staples? What can you easily mix and match?
Enhance Your Existing Wardrobe
Lessening your clothing’s impact on our ecosystem doesn’t have to mean sacrificing style.
- Old clothing favorites can take on new flair with the right jewelry, belts, shoes, bags, or glasses.
- Exploring your family’s vintage collection or shopping secondhand are cost-friendly alternatives to fast fashion.
- Cut, dye, tailor, taper, sew, paint … the possibilities are endless. Dying your old jeans requires a lot less water than what it takes to create a new pair.
Make Your Clothing Last
It’s in your hands as a consumer to take care of your clothing. Instead of buying new, learn fundamental preservation principles from “way back when.”
- Don’t ignore the tags. Tags display how to wash, bleach, iron, and otherwise care for our clothes. If you’re not sure how to read clothing tags, check this guide.
- Dive into YouTube. “People shouldn’t be daunted by material repair! With textiles, you can undo a stitch as if it was Control-Z,” says Mathews. You can learn everything from how to thread a needle to patching a hole within a few hours from YouTube videos. Plus, “once you know the rules, you can break them and go rogue.”
- Forget the sewing machine. You can make successful repairs with hand techniques — and it may even be easier because you can move the material around more flexibly. Start with Mathews’ denim repair tutorial in the highlights of Socko’s Instagram. She’ll soon be launching her own holistic clothing repair course.
Shop With Sustainability in Mind
Paying a fair price for clothing does mean it will be more expensive, Mathews says. That’s why consumers have to make a mindset shift between wanting a quick pick-me-up and thinking for all seasons.
- Shop sparingly. Set a goal of not shopping for just 30 days and work up. When you do shop, ask yourself what you really need. Don’t beat yourself up about past purchases: “If you love and wear an item day in and day out, then there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
- Research ethical certifications, including certifications of fair trade textiles and organic materials. Buy as local and fair as possible.
- Make the change. “People are programmed to think cheap prices on the discount rack are the going rate.” While you may pay more for ethical brands that have a takeback scheme or go the extra mile to help you mend your purchase (for example, Socko includes a darning kit with every purchase), you’re investing in a piece that will last you a lifetime — and supporting the safety and livelihoods of garment workers.
Final Thoughts About Fast Fashion
What makes it onto the clothing racks represents a give and take between brands and consumers. Since our closets don’t exist in a vacuum, both have a vested interest in designing for a circular economy and wearing for the long term.
Mathews believes retailers should educate consumers about the longevity of their items, and that we need legislation to regulate the fashion industry and protect garment workers. Changing consumer preferences are already making a positive impact, but there’s no quick fix.
That’s why brands, as well as consumers, must continue probing the way clothing production and consumption are interlinked. “If you want to have a sustainable business and lifestyle, How can you justify against what the planet needs?”
This article was originally published on January 7, 2021.