Take a look at the shirt you’re wearing. Where did you buy it? How long have you had it? How much did it cost? Do you know who made it? Do you know if the place in which it was made is a safe place for the workers? Are you sure it wasn’t made by a 9-year-old kid? You probably don’t know the answers the the last few questions. I doubt any of us do. But we should. Because if we don’t, we are contributing to the unethical industry that is fast fashion.
The fast fashion industry can be summed up as such: quick manufacturing at an affordable price. Sounds pretty great when you put it like that, right? Large retailers are constantly producing massive quantities of clothing in order to keep up with our desire to stay on trend and on budget. That all seems well and good until you realize what is going on behind the scenes for us to get those budget-friendly prices. In order to keep prices low in a world where prices are always rising, fast fashion is held up by a system that utilizes unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and environmental risk factors. Read on to learn more and figure out how you can help (if you just want my list of ways to help, scroll past these next few paragraphs. But I encourage you to read it later because learning is fun, and this is important).
Let’s talk about the supply chain. This is “a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer” (wikipedia is the real MVP). I’m no business guru, but this definition seems to be broad enough to apply to all retail industries, including fashion. With that in mind, think about all of the people on the fast fashion supply chain who need to be paid for their work. You have the farmer who grows the cotton, the textile maker who turns the cotton into fabric, the designer who dreams up the clothing design, the seamstress who makes the designers vision come to life, the buyer who decides what to purchase for their store, the retail worker who sells the clothing….I’m sure the list goes on and on. Now, call me crazy, but I don’t think $3 tank tops, $9 skirts, or even $15 pants (I’m looking at you, Forever 21) can allow for fair, living wages for all on the supply chain. To be considered a “living wage,” it needs to be enough to allow for a normal standard of living – AKA workers need to be able to meet the basic needs of their families. While the amount needed to do this varies from country to country, it’s safe to say that the minimum wage doesn’t cut it. Somebody who works full time (or more) should not have to worry about whether or not they’ll make enough money this week to feed their family. Why are we letting this happen?
There’s a documentary on Netflix called “The True Cost” that I would encourage you to watch. It explains why and how the fast fashion industry exists and also touches on issues dealing with fair wages, safe working conditions, and the impact the fast fashion industry is having on the environment. It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things and made me want to do better as a consumer. I hope it does the same for you. If you’re not going to watch it, I’ll fill you in on the main points. First of all, the way we produce cotton is damaging not only to the environment, but also to our health. There are more pesticides used on cotton than on any other crop. This causes severe damage to the soil, air, and even water supply. (Also, on a little bit of a side note, it takes roughly 400 gallons of water to produce enough cotton [organic or otherwise] for a t shirt. Holy moly, that’s a lot of water. Maybe there are other fabrics we can produce more sustainably? I have no idea, just thinking out loud). I’m not a farmer and can’t pretend to know anything about pesticides or the difficulties of organic farming, but an organic cotton farmer on the documentary shares her story about why she switched to organic cotton farming so watch it and see what she has to say. Second (and this one is the main reason I feel so passionately about working to change the fast fashion industry), it’s the people making our clothes who are taking the financial hit on the supply chain. They are the people in third world countries where the minimum wage is not enough to live on and sometimes doesn’t even exist – they take whatever wage they are offered in the hope that it will be enough to feed their families. Not only can they barely afford to live, but some do not even work in a safe environment. The buildings are crumbling to the ground and there are countless fire hazards – entirely too many workers have died in clothing factory fires like this one. And this one. And this one. It is SO sad. I know I said “if you’re not going to watch it…” about The True Cost but, seriously, you should just go ahead and watch it because if I wrote about everything in the documentary, this would be way too long and nobody would read it. So watch it. You won’t regret it. If anything, you’ll regret that you’ve been uninformed for so long.
Now that you know a little bit more about fast fashion, let’s talk about what you can do to help.
- Shop brands that are committed to ethical and sustainable fashion.
- Any clothing store that doesn’t explicitly mark itself as an “ethical” or “sustainable” brand is pretty much guaranteed to be part of fast fashion. Try and read about a company’s business practices before purchasing anything from them. I was pleasantly surprised with Target’s business practices (you can read them here), although because they don’t specifically state that they are an ethical company, I’m not entirely convinced there isn’t some shady stuff going on in the background. Here is a list of popular ethical brands – my personal favorite is Krochet Kids. They have the name of the woman who made a particular item of clothing sewn on the inside so that you can go to their website and read about who made your shirt or hat or whatever! Is that not the coolest thing?! Also, keep in mind that when you choose to shop ethical and sustainable brands, you are going to be spending more money. There’s no way around that. But the pieces you buy will be quality items that won’t wear out after 3 or 4 uses (again, looking at you Forever 21), forcing you to buy more of the same, mediocre product. With that being said, you also need to check the labels on how to wash the items you buy – I’ve lost a couple nice pieces due to my lack of reading how to wash and dry (or not dry) them. Don’t be like me! Read your labels.
- Shop at thrift stores.
- Another thing the documentary touched on was the fact that only 10% of what we donate actually gets sold in thrift stores (!!!). The remaining 90% gets shipped to third world countries (which can be both harmful and helpful) or it ends up in landfills where it emits toxic chemicals into the environment. Yum. How does shopping at thrift stores help? First off, you’re no longer putting money directly into the hands of the unethical fast fashion brands. Some people even make the choice not to purchase fast fashion brands at thrift stores so as not to be a walking advertisement for them – that’s up to you. Second, when you shop at thrift stores you’re ensuring that less items end up in landfills. Yay, you! Third, you’re saving money. Ethically and sustainably produced clothing is expensive (but worth it). Thrift store clothing is not. Everybody wins!
- Reduce, reuse, recycle. And give to charity.
- Reduce the amount of clothing you purchase. Easy peasy. When you do purchase something, be completely sure it’s something you will wear multiple (at least 30) times. If not, don’t buy it. When it comes to the clothing you already have, think of creative ways to reuse and/or recycle those items. My father is the king of using old t shirts as dust rags. It’s a great idea! Granted, eventually you’ll have to throw that out anyway. But it’s still a great use for t shirts instead of throwing them away immediately. If some of the shirts have sentimental value, consider making (or having someone else make) a t shirt quilt or a pillow like this one. There are a million crafts you can make with old clothes instead of throwing them out. I’ll find my favorites and post about that in the near future! Since thrift stores aren’t always the best option for getting rid of your old clothes, consider donating to a local homeless shelter, women’s shelter, or orphanage. Call around and see who is needing donations – I’m sure you’ll find a place where people can really use what you have!
- Use Consignment shops/sell your clothes to friends or online.
- When cleaning out your closet (read about my experience with that here), be sure to consider places like Plato’s Closet (or whatever local consignment shop you may have) as an option to resell your clothes before you drop off twelve boxes at a thrift store that probably won’t end using much of what you brought! An online consignment option is ThredUp – they aren’t always taking clothes, but you can fill out a form online to be put on a waitlist. Whenever they are ready for more clothes, they will send you an email with instructions. You’re not going to make a huge amount of money doing this, but hey, extra cash is extra cash! You can also find great pieces at consignment shops and they tend to be a little more organized than thrift stores. I recently purchased a red sweater for family pictures at Plato’s closet for $5 – can’t beat that! A great option for selling your clothes online is Poshmark. I love how easy it is to use. When someone makes an offer to buy an item in your online closet, you can either accept it or make a counter offer. If you accept, Poshmark will send you an email with a prepaid shipping label and then it’s your job to package your item(s) and get them shipped to your customer – super easy! If you have a Poshmark closet already, let me know and I will follow it! Here’s mine: https://poshmark.com/closet/haleyjparrish. Another fun option for selling clothes would be to have a “closet party” with a few friends. You all can shop each other’s closets and buy/sell/trade items! How fun!
- Consider building a capsule wardrobe.
- This one might seem a little weird, but stay with me. When you have a capsule wardrobe (a post on my own capsule is in the works), you love everything in your closet and never tire of wearing it. This means that you don’t feel the need to shop constantly, and you’re less likely to contribute to fast fashion if you don’t feel like you need new clothes all the time. That’s exactly what the fast fashion industry does – they try to convince us that we need the newest trends as soon as they come out. And they come out constantly. Designers used to create new lines for each of the four seasons – they’ve now moved to 52 “micro-seasons.” FIFTY-TWO! We barely need new clothes four times a year, let alone 52! But the fast fashion industry has tried to convince us that we do. If you commit to creating a capsule wardrobe, you will not be shopping as much which means you will not be putting money into the fast fashion industry. Simple as that. A good rule of thumb when starting your capsule is to ask yourself if you will wear an item at least 30 times. If the answer is no, don’t buy it. Also, let me just say from experience that when I cleaned out my closet and began my capsule wardrobe project (again, read about that here) I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. This is coming from a girl who LOVES shopping. I am much happier with my closet now that it’s not jam packed with things I never wear. I’m telling you, capsule wardrobes are a beautiful thing.
Thank you for reading my spiel on fast fashion. I hope you learned something and that you can use one (or all) of my tips on how to combat this unethical industry. I’m constantly researching fast fashion and trying to figure out ways to help the workers who are stuck in it, so be on the lookout for future posts! Until then, watch The True Cost and share what you learn with others. We can, and should, work to change the fast fashion industry.