Fast Fashion. We all know that it is harmful to the environment. Billions of tons of water go into making the clothes we impulse buy in Forever 21 or H&M, Lululemon or Aritzia. Oil is used to make the majority of fabrics, polyesters, requiring mass amounts of fossil fuels to create the clothes we’re wearing. Check the tag on your shirt right now… what materials is it made of? Plastics or synthetics? Part cotton? Consider the amount of energy and water used to create a simple t-shirt. The amount of greenhouse gases created by the fashion industry surpasses that of airlines around the world. The microplastics we avoid in skincare products and household cleaners are released into the environment when we wash clothes made with synthetic fibres.
Ethically, fast fashion fares no better. Labour and pay in many factories are far from humanitarian and many scandals have shown just how bad conditions can be in these mega-brand factories. Health and safety of workers is often disregarded, and workers may face long term exposure to pesticides, lead-based dyes, and other chemicals.
What can we do though? We want to help, but the fast fashion industry is pervasive. It’s hard to know which brands are safe, especially with false “eco” campaigns (See: The Patriot Act: The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion), and it’s hard to know how much of an impact consumers can have on the industry.
So how can we help?
- Take a buying break. The easiest way to stop contributing to fast fashion is to stop buying. Think about which items you need, why you need them, and how long they will last. Before purchasing take some time to cool off and think it through, you may change your mind.
- If you do buy new clothing, try to buy it secondhand. Save money and reduce waste buy holding a clothing swap with friends, going to a secondhand store, or checking out your local free & for sale.
- When purchasing, focus on items that will stay in style (so you don’t throw them away, contributing to landfill) made by ethical brands out of sustainable materials (such as cotton) that won’t contribute to microplastic waste during laundring. It’s important to remember that even sustainable materials will contribute to energy and water use, and will contribute to landfill if you throw them away. You may initially feel that you’re spending more, but if you focus on buying less or mostly buying second-hand a few more expensive ethical items won’t set you back.
- If you want to take the extra step: Launder synthetic clothes less frequently, use a colder wash setting, or buy a filter or wash bag for your laundry machine to capture microplastics.
- Share clothes! If you’re lucky enough to have housemates, a partner, or siblings you can share clothes with, you can borrow each others clothes instead of buying to mix up your wardrobe.
- Research! If you’re wary of a brand claiming “eco-friendliness” you’re probably right to wonder. Dig deep and make sure the brand is legit.
- For special events, borrow instead of buying new. If you need formal attire or business-wear see if a friend can lend you something to reduce waste.
- When buying gifts for loved ones keep the fast fashion industry in mind. Try to avoid buying clothes for others that they may not use frequently, or focus on experiential gifts to minimize waste.
- Educate others: the main way consumers can make a difference is by working together. Talk to friends about buying less, and buying smart.
Of course, at the end of the day making consumer choices like these comes from a place of privledge and it’s important to do what’s best for you and your budget. Educate others, but don’t judge if some are not able to follow in your footsteps as you slow down your fashion habits.