Fast fashion is a major staple in the fashion industry, offering clothing that is cheap in both price and quality. While fast fashion has made trendy clothing affordable and attainable, it has many negative impacts on the environment and humanity. I am in no way shaming those who may choose to purchase fast fashion — I occasionally buy clothes from brands that unethically produce their products — but there are ways to avoid purchasing these items when possible.
According to Sustain Your Style, a fashion blog focused on making fashion more sustainable, the production of fast fashion items can have a number of negative effects on the environment. These can include water pollution from textile factories dumping untreated wastewater into rivers, leading to toxic substances such as lead, mercury and arsenic entering ecosystems; overconsumption of freshwater to produce clothing; a vast increase in textile waste due to a decrease in clothing quality; and the 10% of global carbon emissions attributable to the apparel industry. These companies also tend to have inhumane working conditions in order to quickly create low-cost clothing, according to a briefing from the European Parliament: Many of these products are made in countries that have minimal workers’ rights, and these conditions have been compared to slave labor. Employees often do not receive a livable wage, work 14-16 hours a day seven days a week and work in factories with poor ventilation that are full of fiber dust and other airborne toxic substances. Furthermore, it is common for these employees to be children, according to The Guardian.
Considering all of these factors, it’s hard not to question why everyone doesn’t boycott fast fashion. Speaking from experience, I have found boycotting these products is not always possible. When I was growing up, my family didn’t always have enough money for me to buy all of the trendy clothes from the nice stores that my friends shopped at. Fast fashion is popular because it’s cheap, and lots of people don’t have another option. But when I was younger, my parents bought a lot of my clothes from second-hand stores as well. At these stores, I could find clothes I liked for an even lower price than fast fashion stores offered, and sometimes I could find clothes from the trendy stores for a fraction of the price.
Shopping second-hand is a popular alternative to fast fashion, according to Sustain Your Style, and it’s something that I’ve done my entire life. Today, about 80% of my wardrobe comes from second-hand stores like Goodwill, Plato’s Closet or local vintage shops. And while some people purchase fast fashion in order to keep up with micro-trends and save money, according to Sustain Your Style, I have found that thrifting has allowed me to cultivate my own style, which helps me to avoid micro-trends altogether. I’m able to find a lot of unique pieces that I often can’t find in other stores, which allows me to tailor my wardrobe to my own tastes. In addition, finding clothes that actually fit me becomes much easier than in most fast fashion stores, which have a limited size range. Thrifting allows me to buy a lot of clothing for a lot less, and if I’m willing to splurge on certain pieces of clothing, I try to turn to vintage shops instead. How else would I find a Ralph Lauren silk cardigan or a genuine leather trench coat for less than $10?
Another way that I try to be more sustainable with my clothing is by doing everything I can to avoid having to throw my clothes away. I taught myself to sew by hand and using a machine, so that if something rips, I can just sew it up. If something is damaged beyond repair, I try to repurpose it by either using the fabric as scraps to repair other articles of clothing or making the fabric into patches, bags or cleaning rags. I also give old clothes to friends who like to make their own, so that they can use the fabric.
I understand that avoiding fast fashion can sometimes feel impossible. I still buy these brands on occasion if I’m looking for a very specific piece of clothing. But it’s important to keep in mind the impact fast fashion has on the world around us and try to avoid contributing to that if we can.