What would you guess is the single most harmful thing we’re all buying? I’ll bet plastic or gasoline come to mind immediately! Yes, these things are harmful to the environment and both are connected to big oil but individually they aren’t the MOST harmful. The most dangerous and damaging item is something almost everyone in the world owns! It’s something we all buy. Statistically we buy it every single week now!
It’s fast fashion! Yes, the clothes on your back and the ones you’ll buy on your weekend shopping trip are the most harmful individual item. Not only to the environment but also to humanity. Don’t worry though, there is something you can do about it! If you’re wondering what’s so dangerous about fashion and why you should consider giving up trendy clothes, read on.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion has become a buzzword recently but most people have no idea what it means. There is even debate over the definition. In short it can be summarized as the practice of getting fashion from the runway to the consumer at break neck speed and rock bottom prices. This sounds great, so what’s the catch?
A Little Background…
When fashion first came into… well… fashion, there was a 2 season cycle. Designers and clothing manufacturers had half of a year to come up with new designs, create new garments and get them to the consumer. This was a bit more costly but the garments were made to last and people bought fewer more classic items and took excellent care of them.
Around the 1960’s the cycle became shorter and went from 2 to 4 and 4 to 8 and so forth and now there is a 52 week fashion cycle! That means what’s in this week will be out next week!!! Because of this clothing is incredibly inexpensive and poor quality. It is practically disposable!
How Does This Work?
Clothing is now distributed to stores twice a week to several times a day! And I’m not talking about similar items to simply restock due to demand. NO, these are new designs, creating new trends and making clothing that were bought even a week or a day ago outdated! At least 1 entirely new FULL collection is put on display EVERY week! One company even adds 400 new items every week!
What gets done with the old clothes? They are disposed of, often via incineration which creates significant pollution! This is done to prevent tarnishing the brand by making the items overly accessible.
Why Does This Matter?
To understand why this matters so much we need to think about where these clothes come from and where they end up! While they appear to be very inexpensive they come at an EXTREMELY high price. That is if you consider the humanitarian and environmental cost!
65 – 70 million people worldwide work in the garment industry! Most are women and many live FAR below the poverty level in developing nations. For example, women in Bangladesh earn about $63 per month. They often work 14 – 16 hours a day in deplorable and dangerous conditions. And they are forbidden from unionizing and often victims of violence and sexual harassment.
You might be thinking that $30 per month could be a lot in Bangladesh but let me clarify that the cost of living modestly is $807 per month. Not to mention that if you do the math, the pay rate is $0.07 per hour! Let me also clarify that these 14 – 16 hours are spent without breaks or any creature comforts. Add to that that garment manufacturing is often housed in condemned buildings. MANY women have died or been injured in building accidents (including collapses, fires etc). And of course these buildings have no air conditioning or sometimes even working plumbing!
Not only are workers who are employed by the industry mistreated, under paid and taken advantage of but slave labor and child labor is utilized as well!
When you purchase an inexpensive garment it comes at the cost of living wages for women all over the world. It may even be at the cost of someone’s life or freedom! These employees and slaves often have only 2 choices, work in the garment industry or starve. No one should have to make that choice!
You may have guessed that an industry that treats it’s workers so poorly is unlikely to be very environmentally conscious. You’re right! Fashion has become the 2nd dirtiest industry in the world after big oil (which is used to create multiple goods). It produces more green house gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined!
This is because the production of garments is a very dirty business! Creating disposable clothes creates A LOT of waste! in the process of mass producing garments toxic chemicals, dyes and synthetic fiber particles are dumped into water ways. Lead, Pesticides and other chemicals are often found on clothing. These are absorbed by the skin and get into the water supply during washing.
But that’s not all… because the clothing is generally quickly and poorly made and it is out of style so fast it ends up in landfills. The average American throws away 70 lbs of clothes per year which adds up to 11 million tons! Very often clothing is tossed after only a few wears! Usually, even clothing that is donated ends up in landfills. Now, take a guess at how long it takes for clothing to break down in a landfill… FOREVER! That’s right! It never breaks down, but it does emit dangerous gasses.
What Can We Do?
The fashion industry claims that consumer demand for the latest styles at reasonable prices caused fast fashion. Consumers would argue that flooding the market with new trends at extremely low cost created consumer pressure. This is like the chicken and the egg question. Which came first? We may never know but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything about it!
The average consumer purchased 60% more clothing in 2014 but kept it for half as long! Before buying consider whether you truly need the item. Will you wear it regularly? In order to offset the environmental impact of a garment you need to wear it at least 30 times. Consider buying high quality classic pieces that will last and buy fewer of them! Also consider sticking to fabrics like hemp and organic cotton rather than synthetics and look for natural dyes. This is good for you and the environment!
Second Hand & Vintage
Often times when you think of second hand stores you think of huge charity donation centers. There are many, many options though. You can find consignment and vintage stores in most communities now. Some even specialize in types of clothing or certain time periods. If you don’t have a store near you head online. Check out eBay, DePop, thredUP, and Poshmark.
If you’re creeped out by used clothes (or certain items used) you can simply look for unworn clothes. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll find! If you’re using an online resource simply search for “NWT” or “new with tags”.
How you get rid of your clothes matters too! It’s important that you try to mend, re-home or upcycle your clothes to help ensure that they don’t go from your closet to a landfill. A fun way to do this is to host a clothing swap. Invite your friends and neighbors or the mom’s from your child’s school or day care. This is a great way to build community too. You just ask everyone to bring any clothing they would like to get rid of and you swap items. You can even consider asking your child’s day care to provide a service like this. Often times parents are happy to trade their children’s clothes for the next size up! This is also a great way to refresh your wardrobe!
Sustainable Clothing Company
When you must buy new try to patronize sustainable clothing companies. Clothing companies that pay a living wage and are sustainable are often referred to as slow fashion. There are many lists available online to point you in the right direction. Consider checking them to find out if your favorite stores or brands are fast or slow fashion Price is not always a good indication. You can also look for local clothing manufacturers and artisans and boutiques.
Sharing support for slow fashion and sustainable companies and publicly talking about fast fashion helps. It sends a message to both and creates demand for changes in humanitarian and environmental policies. One way you can do this is by sharing on social media. Tag slow fashion companies or thrift stores you love. Also, take a picture of your clothing tag and use #whomademyclothes and don’t forget to tag the company on your post. It’s time to ask these brands who made our clothes, how they are treated and how the environment is being safeguarded!
STOP Buying! Demand Better!
Now that you know how dangerous and destructive the fashion industry is how can you turn a blind eye? Will you ever look at clothing the same way again? I know I won’t! Either the humanitarian or the environmental issues created by this industry would make me rethink my consumption! But with both… it’s staggering!
Maybe you don’t think your actions matter or are impactful. Let me assure you that they are. Your buying choices are already starting to change this industry. More and more companies are choosing to make changes to their policies. More artisan and slow fashion designers and manufacturers are coming up! And… here’s some awesome news… second hand stores are expanding. They are growing 21 times faster than the rest of the retail market! This is due in large part to consumer demand.
So, join the slow fashion movement! Keep demanding better from this industry! you’re making a difference!
Spread the word!!! Share this post and be a part of the change! Comment below with your best slow fashion tips!