Sustainable Alternatives to Fast Fashion


Having spent the past couple of years going through and de-cluttering my wardrobe I have become a lot more particular about what I allow back in it.  While it has felt so good to purge of what I no longer need or wear, I found that after taking bag after bag of clothing, shoes, and accessories to Good Will over the years I started to feel guilty.  As I would drop off my things Goodwill's door I cringed when I looked inside their backroom.  It was filled with bags and boxes of belongings that people had discarded.  As someone who promotes de-cluttering and mindful living it was encouraging to see that people were shedding what no longer served them however as someone who also values the environment, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.  I looked at all of the boxes and bags and couldn't help but thinking: "what a waste...what have we done?"  Not only did this gut reaction cause me to re-evaluate my own consumer habits but it also led me to go home and research the effect of mass consumerism on the environment, particularly when it comes to fast fashion.  What I found was life changing.

First of all, what exactly is fast fashion?  It is a term that has come about during the past few years to describe the increased amount of turn around time in the fashion industry.  While in our grandparents age, there were only two to four fashion seasons, now there are 52.  Zara, a well known fashion brand among millennials, is thought to be pioneer of the fast fashion concept, with deliveries arriving to their stores twice a week.  Brands such as H&M, Forever 21, and Topshop quickly took note and began receiving deliveries everyday.  Though this may seem like a good business model (these stores have done well after all) however there are a growing number of consumers throughout the world that are taking a stand against this wasteful, unsustainable system in which fast fashion titans strive to make the consumer always feel out of trend, which then encourages them to buy.  The fast fashion industry has not only wreaked havoc on our wallets but also our health and the environment.

Over the past 20 years, the volume of clothing that Americans alone have gotten rid of has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons per year, or 80 pounds per person (Wicker).  80 pounds.  Thinking back to the bags and bags of clothing that I had dropped off at Goodwill over the past few years, I could believe it.  A lot of the clothing that I dropped off during my purging was clothing from fast-fashion brands such as Target, Forever 21, and H&M, from my college days.  I was getting rid of it for multiple reasons but mainly because I had too much, I wasn't wearing it, and it wasn't holding up.  I had taken it to Goodwill with the hope that they would be able to take it and be able to sell it but also having the understanding that it could very well end up in the dumpster.  Many thrift stores have started to not accept clothing like this anymore because they know that the quality isn't there and they won't be able to make a profit.  Its basically trash.  Not only is this wasteful but its costing us money.  Nationwide, "a municipality pays $45 per ton of waste sent to landfill.  It costs New York city $20.6 million annually to ship textiles to landfills and incinerators...smaller municpalities have tried curbside collection programs, but most go underpublicized and unused (Wicker).  The waste doesn't just stop here, there are numerous negative effects that it has on the environment.

Unlike our food, you can't compost clothing - even those made from natural materials.  "Natural fibers go through a lot of unnatural processes in on their way of becoming clothing," says Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition (Wicker).  The clothing has been bleached, dyed, printed on, and scoured through chemicals.  These chemicals then get released in the ground.  Clothing made of synthetic materials are no better and are actually worse, as they are essentially made from plastic which takes hundreds, if not thousands of years to biodegrade.  Not only is the fashion industry one the biggest producers in the world but it is also one of the largest polluters, second only to the oil industry (Szokan).   Its not just the Earth that this is harming but also our bodies.  According to the Environmental Center for Health, Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, Wet Seal, and other fast-fashion enterprises continue to sell a large quantity of product with lead in them.  Lead.  They do this, after having signed a settlement years ago in which they claimed to reduce the amount of heavy metals in their products (Whitehead).  

So what do we do?  When people hear the words "sustainable alternatives" they often see dollar signs.  Its no surprise that many sustainable brands are often more expensive than their main-stream counter-parts however this is due to a variety of reasons (ahem, quality over mass quantity).  Not only are the materials used by sustainable brands ethically sourced and used from sustainable materials but they are also manufactured in a sustainable way*.  Many of these brands have ensured that the people are making their products are benefiting from some sort of fair trade program, where they will be paid fair wages, work in a safe and comfortable environment, and are treated with dignity and respect.  This is a stark contrast to the fast fashion industry in which many workers (men, women and children) labor in abominable conditions.  When making a purchase from sustainable brands you are investing not only in quality but in the environment and in people's lives.  Like you, I don't have the means to shop exclusively through sustainable brands however I try to support them whenever I can.

Shopping second hand is a second alternative to shopping fast fashion, and one that actually fits within our family's budget and environmental views, than shopping sustainable brands.  It is something that has taken a change of perspective and a humbling of myself, but something that I have come to love.  Growing up, whenever I thought of "second hand" I envisioned a poorly lit, humid building with old clothes squished together on clothing racks.  I couldn't imagine that I could possibly find anything in a second hand store that would work for me and look fashion forward.  However years later, after frequenting various second hand stores, I have found that this is rarely the case.  The second hand market has some amazing finds and is growing in popularity.  The market consists of: Good Will, The Salvation Army, and local thrift stores.  While these stores vary location to location, when shopping there, customers can find clothing, shoes, accessories, furniture, electronics, and more.  While it is a little bit of an adjustment from shopping at big-box stores, I've grown to really love shopping second hand.  Some of my favorite stores to shop are The Ashby, Clementine, and Mint Condition.

Every purchase that you make is a vote.  It is a vote for one system over another.  I don't say this to be dramatic or judging.  Like most of you, I'm on a budget.  My husband is in grad school, I run my own business, and we're saving up for a house and a baby.  It's all about doing the best that we can do.  If you need something - and I mean really need it not just want it - consider a sustainable alternative, such as shopping through a sustainable brand or at a second hand store.


*Unfortunately this is not always the case.  Do your research.  There are a lot of brands out there big and small that claim to be or do something and do not.



Mornings In Venice With Local Designer Lilly Ashwell.  The Chalkboard Magazine.  2017.  Photo Credit: Vitae Weddings

Szokan, Nancy.  The Fashion Industry Tries To Take Responsibility for Its Pollution.  The Washington Post.  2016.

Whitehead, Shannon.  5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn't Want You to Know.  Huff Post. 2014.

Wicker, Alden.  Fast Fashion is Creating an Environmental Crisis.  Newsweek. 2016.