odds & ends·
5 min read
by Michelle Alexander | 10/21/2021
Picture this: you’re out shopping, and spot a top that will be perfect for tonight’s outing. It’s trendy and will match everything in your closet! Next thing you know you’re pulling it out of the washer and realize it just doesn’t look or feel the same. But you only wore it once? WTF? Time to go shopping again! *repeats this cycle 500 times.*
For lots of us, especially Gen Z-ers, we’ve only grown up in a world of fast fashion. But we’re starting to cock our heads sideways and wonder (from a production standpoint) how exactly is this possible? We’re realizing that maybe it’s worth paying a li’l extra for clothing when we can that lasts longer and doesn’t leave a carbon footprint. But more than just a buzzword tossed around in sustainability-talk, what IS fast fashion?
Up until the middle of the 20th century, the fashion industry ran four seasons a year. There was time to plan, execute, and market clothing before it was actually in brick and mortar stores. So how did today’s fashion industry come to be? Like most things we know and love: the birth of the internet. Online shopping became a hobby, and big fashion retailers seized their opportunity to be the source for trendy, cheap clothes. Online shopping became way more accessible, not to mention convenient, than visiting an actual store — and behind the scenes, retailers were able to incorporate design elements from high fashion brands and replicate them quickly (and quite cheaply.)
How quickly? Fast fashion giants such as Forever 21 receive new garment shipments every single day as a part of a way to keep up with 52 micro-seasons. That’s a new collection every single week! And that’s… a lot of clothing that will sooner than later end up in a landfill or the ocean. Seriously, one study found that these clothing articles are made to typically last no more than 10 wearings.
Have you ever noticed that everyone on TikTok is wearing the same cute y2k top and suddenly you notice that exact style in the window of a store while walking to your doctor’s appointment? You may ask yourself — why would a company create a business model that even works that way? Seems a bit wasteful, doesn’t it?
Their business model = $$$ > environment + sustainability. Major fast fashion retailers are aware that trends dissipate quickly and garments will be thrown away (or not worn at all) shortly after. So these trendy clothes are made as cheaply as possible, leading to the exploitation of workers, overproduction of waste, and ultimately, overconsumption.
The impact fast fashion has on our environment is huge. Two major components include the use of cheap fabrics and toxic dyes that end up contaminating clean water sources. And yeah, you guessed it. That’s not really that great for the people working with these chemicals all day long. It really makes you wonder –– why exactly is this shirt $5? Who is really paying the price?
Over 11 million tons of clothing are thrown out every year. These items are full of toxic chemicals that don’t break down easily and end up circulating through air pollution, leaving a carbon footprint even greater than other planet-hurting industries, such as aviation or oil.
If the clothing is still intact and you no longer want it, trade with a friend or donate to a thrift shop, such as Goodwill. If the clothing is no longer able to be worn, look into textile donation or recycling centers.
In 2018, Global Labor Justice (GLJ) found that two major fast fashion retailers were to blame for the mistreatment of Asian women garment workers in Asian factories. They were physically abused, sexually harassed, experienced poor working conditions, and forced to work overtime with little to no pay. Constantly threatened with termination, workers are reported to less likely whistleblow instances of workplace abuse.
One woman in GLJ’s report stated, “once a worker makes a complaint, she won’t be able to get a job in any of the factories. She will be blacklisted.” High production targets lead to abhorrent policies such as forbidding workers to use the bathroom or eating lunch. As the demand increases for these items, workers will be worked to death (literally).
Action we can take starting today: try to be aware of if we are shopping out of necessity or just to consume. Check out some tips for shopping sustainably:
aim to build a sustainable wardrobe
When you can, prioritize collecting washable, durable clothing (like period underwear!) that will keep up with you through the years.
avoid microtrends and stick with the basics
Yeah, that collared crop top is cute but if it will only last 3 washes, is it worth it? Focus on quality over quantity. Try to make a majority of your clothing purchases ones that won’t go out of style in the next year.
shop brands that share the same values as you
Do your research! Before checking out, Google where/how their clothes are made or how their workers are treated. Not into it? Chances are, you can find a sustainable, ethically-focused shop that carries the items you want.
You may be washing your clothes too much! Overwashing can lead to breaking down the fabrics and shorten the lifespan of your clothing. At your discretion, reuse clothes in between washes when you can. You’ll save water and your threads.
Pro-tip: hang dry articles of clothing that can’t take the heat.
Whether it’s dryer safe or not — I never throw my *fave* anything in the dryer. Get the most wear out of your clothing by skipping the dryer. (This applies to your Thinx too.)
Got tips of your own? How do you practice sustainability when it comes to your shopping habits? Leave a comment below — we love hearing from you!
Michelle Alexander (she/her) is a freelance writer based out of colorful San Francisco. She enjoys sunny days, oat milk lattes, and hanging out in Mission Dolores Park with her fluffy canine companion, Winston.
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