Fast Fashion 101: Why You Should Rethink the Way You Buy Clothing

Fast Fashion 101: Why You Should Rethink the Way You Buy Clothing

If you don't already know what fast fashion is, I'm terribly sorry to be the bearer of bad news:  Most of your clothes are an environmental disaster and are cheaply made in sweat shops in third world countries by workers in terrible conditions who barely make anything.

Allow me to elaborate.

Fast fashion is a term used to describe the current system in the fashion industry where new designs are cycled through quickly. Where the process of designing, producing, cat-walking and selling a line of clothing used to take many months, they now take weeks. Major designers and retailers used to come out with maybe a spring line and a fall line. That increased to four times a year, then eight, and now it is common for major retailers like Forever 21, H & M, and Old Navy to have new inventory weekly, sometimes even daily. Every time you walk into these stores you're going to find something new. This creates a culture in which trend turnover is high and it is necessary to shop often if you want to keep up with current trends. It also encourages the production of cheaply made clothing that is not intended to last. This is how so many of us end up with overloaded closets full of clothes we don't want to wear! We buy more than we need because they're so cheap we feel we can't resist, and we don't consider our purchases carefully because they're not a big investment. Then those clothes stretch out, tear, or wear out quickly because they were poor quality to begin with, or they're past trend so soon that we're back at the store for something new. Sound familiar?

Photo by Ryan McVay/DigitalVision / Getty Images
Photo by Ryan McVay/DigitalVision / Getty Images

To be able to produce new trends so quickly and cheaply, clothing retailers turn to developing third world countries for cheap labor. Check the tags on your clothing and you're likely to find that most of them were made in countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and China. Can you find a single one that was made in the USA? The only reason manufacturers would produce their inventory in these countries is because they can get away with paying workers there a few dollars a day to work long hours in terrible conditions. Many have been exposed for violating child labor laws and using very young children in their factories.

The reason I'm posting this Fast Fashion article now and not behind other posts I'd been working on is because yesterday was the three year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. This was a disaster in which a garment factory building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injured 2,500 more. I invite you to google image it, the results are truly horrifying. The workers inside were making clothing for American and Western European brands (like most Bangladeshi garment factories), and officials knew ahead of time about the unsafe conditions of the building and required their employees to come to work anyway on the day the collapse occurred. Oh, by the way, the minimum wage in Bangladesh when this happened was $37 a day. Oops, typo! That's $37 a month. It's since been raised to $68. Companies like H&M, Gap, and Nike are often given bad raps as the worst offenders of fast fashion, but the sad truth is that most of our clothing is produced in this way. And nothing is going to change unless consumers demand better. Many companies have launched massive PR campaigns and pledged commitments to doing everything they can to ensure the workers making their clothing are treated fairly, but the apparent truth is that outsourcing production so far away gives them little control over conditions.

So that's the human cost of fast fashion. Stick with me, the environmental impact is similarly staggering. Here are the facts: 

It takes 7,000 liters of water to produce the average pair of jeans -- 2,700 for a t-shirt. It takes a lot of water to grow cotton! And water consumption is a big part of environmental impact because while there is tons of water on the planet, only about 1% of it is accessible freshwater and we are rapidly consuming and polluting the freshwater available to us. 

That's not counting the energy required to manufacture and transport. Fashion is the world's 2nd most polluting industry, second only to oil. That makes sense if you think about all that clothing being shipped across the planet, right?  

 In 1991, the average American bought 34 items of clothing each year. By 2007, they were buying 67 items every year. (That means a family of four would bring in 268 new clothing items every year--no wonder our closets are a mess.) We buy 5 times as much clothing as we did in 1980! 

Only 15% of textiles are recycled in the U.S. That means 85% of all these clothes we are buying at such high human and environmental cost are ending up in the landfill! The fact that we so casually cast off something that so much went into makes me a little sick. 

I haven't even gotten to the chemical environmental and health affects of the clothing we buy--all the stuff sprayed on non-organic cotton crops, or during dying and processing clothing, because, you know what, I kind of already found plenty of good enough reasons to stop shopping fast fashion. But by all means, if child slave labor and destruction of the environment don't do it for you, google "toxic clothing dyes."

Are you cool with all of this?  I'm not. So what's a lady to do?

Buy less Clothing. There are a million other reasons to do this anyway! It's better for your wallet, you'll spend less time shopping that you can use pursuing better things, you'll spend less time organizing your clothes, and you'll be able to afford higher quality pieces when you do shop. Make what you have last. Wear it out, repair it, make it do. 

Buy used clothing. It's cool now. Thrift stores and Goodwill are great but aren't the only options. Vintage markets and boutiques are all over the place now, used clothing apps abound, or you could do a clothing swap with friends. You might be amazed you didn't try used sooner. 

And when you must buy new, buy high quality, ethically sourced items that will last. Items that you really need and have thought through. More thoughtful purchases, less impulse buys that will end up in the back of the closet.

Or you can always learn to make your own! An awesome way to do this is to alter thrift store finds to fit you and your style. 

When you really are finished with your clothing, always donate or recycle. Textiles can be recycled and need never end up in our landfills. 

Next time you're patting yourself on the back for finding a steal of a deal, I hope you'll ask yourself, "why so cheap?" Maybe you don't need another $5 shirt. 


Sources and Inspiring articles:

The True Cost - Watch on Netflix (highly recommended!) 

Ethical Fashion- Is the Tragedy in Bangladesh a Final Straw?

How your T-shirt can make a difference

Cotton's Water Footprint

Rana Plaza

The Facts About Textile Waste

Instagram: #whomademyclothes #fashionrevolution



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