If you see a trendy look on the runway one day and the same style of garment in your local mall the next (for half the price), you’ve caught the “fast fashion” industry in the act. While fast fashion makes it easy and affordable to wear the trendiest looks, that comes at a price. Our environment is (and has been) suffering for decades from the harmful environmental impacts resulting from the immense amount of textile waste that the fast fashion industry generates. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep our closets filled in more sustainable ways.
Fast Fashion’s Biggest Faux Pas
The fast fashion industry is booming, producing over 1 billion garments annually – and our planet is suffering because of it. That massive level of production results in 1.2 billion tons of CO2 emitted each year. The industry is also responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater per year and is the second leading cause of water pollution in the world. While profits are growing exponentially (an estimated 3 trillion dollars per year to be exact,) environmental experts are warning consumers about the price our planet is paying for these quick-to-make and quick-to-sell garments. To make matters worse, projections are showing that with the rate consumers are buying clothes, the fast fashion industry is predicted to increase by an estimated 60% within the next decade.
In a report conducted by the Circular Fibres Initiative and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation alongside fashion mogul Stella McCartney and retail giant H&M, their findings found that between 1992 and 2002, the time for which we keep our clothes in our closets decreased by 50%. Their research suggests that this percentage will only worsen as time goes on; the fast fashion industry is one of the main culprits behind this growing environmental issue.
Dr. Julian Allwood, Professor of Engineering and the Environment at the University of Cambridge, published a notable study in 2006 that explored the dangers of the fast fashion industry. One of the most prolific statements that came from his study points to an answer to the growing fast fashion crisis – and it lies in the hands of buyers.
“Any change that will result in environmental and social benefits in the textile industry will be driven by consumers,” Allwood shared from his findings. “How would an ‘ideal’ consumer act? They would buy fewer, longer-lasting garments, choosing those with the least ‘carbon footprint’ made by workers in reasonable working conditions; buy more second-hand clothing; wash clothes less often at a lower temperature using eco-detergents; and recycle those clothes that had reached the end of their lives.”
How Consumers Can Fight Fast Fashion
Ever sifted through racks of garments at a thrift store? How about wearing a hand-me-down, or dropping off a bag of worn clothes to a clothing donation box? Maybe you’ve offered clothes that still have some life left to a friend that shares the same pant size as you. All of these small actions reduce our carbon footprint. They might seem like no-brainers, but they extend the life of a garment, slowing the demand for fast fashion and decreasing the amount of clothing waste entering landfills. While there are many ways to make our closets more eco-friendly, here are a few avenues to get you and your wardrobe started on a more sustainable path. In short: when it comes to fighting the fast fashion industry, upcycling is your new BFF.
If you’re looking for a starting place, H&M’s Garment Program is a superb avenue for supporting sustainability in the fashion industry. Their program is simple: bring a bag of gently used or unwanted clothing to any of their store locations and H&M will take it from there. The popular clothing retailer accepts any fabric, brand, and condition of clothing (one lone sock, worn-out bras, and even old bedsheets are among the hodgepodge items that they will accept.) H&M will send your items to a recycling plant to be hand-sorted. Some items will be recycled, and others that are still in good, wearable condition will be sold as a second-hand item. The best part? You’ll receive a 15% discount card to use the next time you shop with H&M. A win-win for your closet and Mother Earth.
If you’re looking to make a few bucks from your no longer worn clothes that are just taking up space, there are plenty of apps that let you sell clothes from the comfort of your closet. Poshmark and Depop are two iOS and Android apps that allow you to sell your gently used clothing within their online marketplace. Both apps also provide you the opportunity to explore what other users have up for sale. While Poshmark has a “make an offer” feature if you want to haggle the price with a seller, Depop has a messaging feature to negotiate prices within. Both apps take a small percentage of what you sell your items for and offer easy shipping options. Depop’s marketplace tends to have a heavier focus on trendy, in-style name-brand items, while Poshmark’s offerings are a more mixed bag of options, from low to high-end brands of clothes. It’s free to make an account on both platforms, and you don’t have to sell clothes in order to browse and buy from their virtual clothing marketplaces. Who knows? You might end up finding your next favorite denim jacket or pair of flats from someone else’s closet.
ThredUp is another great service that makes selling or donating used clothes super easy. Cleaning out your closet is daunting enough; ThredUp takes care of the aftermath by selling and donating your unwanted clothes for you. Simply order a “closet cleanout” bag from their site. They’ll mail you a large shipping bag to send in all of your gently worn items (label and postage included!). ThredUp stylists will sort through your items once they reach their facility and put them on sale on their marketplace. The company takes a small cut of profits if your clothes sell. And if they don’t sell, don’t fret – ThredUp gives you the option to donate them to an organization in need of clothing, or ship them right back to you. That way, you can feel good about where your clothes are going while possibly making an extra buck or two.
The next time you find yourself going through old clothes collecting dust in your closet, consider how you can extend their life. Do you know a friend who would look great in that cocktail dress you wore out to a party once? Or how about those sneakers that just don’t seem to fit right? Maybe there’s a thrift shop or organization that can donate them to someone in need of a solid pair of shoes. Wherever your closet cleaning journey may lead you, be mindful of where your clothes are going once they leave your closet. After all, our planet is counting on you.