Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Do you wear clothes? Have you ever used the internet? Are you on social media? If you answered yes to any of the questions on my very elaborate quiz, then you've probably heard the phrase "fast fashion" buzzing around.
Here's a refresher:
Merriam-Webster defines fast fashion as an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.
Before we dive into why this is a problem, let's go back a few hundred years.
How did fashion trends come to be?
Back in the olden days, clothing was primarily handmade for utility's sake. The rich and powerful used fashion to showcase wealth and status, commissioning dress makers to create beautifully ornate designs, but for the majority of the world clothing was simple and made to last. Most people relied on raising sheep to get wool to spin yarn and so on. Most available materials were course and the process from fiber to fashion was slow and labor-intensive.
Cue the Industrial Revolution. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the western world was taken by storm with new inventions leading to greater efficiency, ease of transportation, and lowered costs. Sewing machines and spinning jennies allowed for mass production and quality control. The middle class could finally afford to participate in fashion in a way that had never previously been possible. More people moved into the city and factories employed swarms of migrant workers. The conditions of these factories were often abysmal as workers were underpaid, abused, and packed into hazardous buildings where fires often broke out. Practices that continue today; we'll get into that later.
Despite the boom in garment factories and sewing innovations, the majority of clothing was still handmade or purchased from local garment shops into the 20th century. It wasn't until WWII that standardized production became an expectation of the average middle-class consumer and mass-produced clothing became more popular and more valued. In the 1960s, the youths were making more money than ever and fashion blossomed into a tool for creativity and self-expression. Traditional hierarchies dissolved with the beatniks, mods, and hippies and "increased economic power fuelled a new sense of identity and the need to express it". The fashion industry designed particularly for the youngins of the era rather than creating copies of older, more "grown up" styles. It was here that trends really began to gain footing and continued with dizzying speed.
Fast-forward to the 1990s and 2000s when it became chic to pay less. Celebrities and high-status public figures began mixing high and low fashion, encouraging bargain buys, and increasing demand for more affordable clothing. The fashion industry responded and the cycle continued until we came to a period of constant demand, constant production, and a thirst for "the next best thing".
But wait, I like saving $$$ and changing up my look. What's so bad about fast fashion?
Hey, I'm ALLLL about saving a buck and expressing my plethora of moods through fashion, but let's do it in a conscious way. Here are a few reasons fast fashion is, well, really icky:
Fast fashion impacts the people who wear the clothes and the people who make them. The vast majority of our clothes are made overseas by workers who are underpaid, underfed, and pushed beyond their limits. They are often packed into unsafe work spaces, physically and emotionally abused, and forced to interact with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis. When we wear these clothes, we are wearing that energy. We are dressing in the imprint of these practices and human rights violations. When we buy fast fashion, we contribute to the suffering of others, which impacts the whole planet.
Speaking of the planet, Mama Earth is suffering, too. The fashion industry makes up roughly 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. Washing cheaply made clothing, particularly polyester, releases enough microfibers into the oceans to create 50 billion plastic bottles, most of which will never biodegrade. And while humans are now consuming 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, we are keeping them for half as long as we were in 2000. In total, up to 85% of textiles end up in landfills each year. That's a lot.
Fast fashion is not made to last. These items are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible to send the consumer a hit of dopamine when purchased and then to be discarded when the next trend comes rushing in. Big brands often steal designs from smaller artists and businesses without ever giving credit or compensation to their sources. If you've ever kept clothing from stores like H&M or Forever21, you know how quickly they fade, rip, and fall apart.
So what can we do about it?
Enter the rise of s l o w f a s h i o n. According to The Good Trade, "slow fashion is a movement towards mindful manufacturing, fair labor rights, natural materials, and lasting garments." We vote with our dollar and when we purchase items that check these boxes, we are signaling to producers that these are our values and that we won't put up with their bullshit. Fast fashion still absolutely exists, but the rise in demand for sustainable clothing has resulted in better practices from many businesses and the founding of many new business built on sustainable models. Just watch out for greenwashing.
Clothing made using sustainable, ecofriendly, fair trade practices can be a bit pricey, though, so let's talk about some budget-friendly sustainable habits.
To minimize or not to minimize?
Many go the route of minimalism. As a lifestyle, consuming less can be great for the environment, great for the mind, and great for the wallet. The simplicity of owning only what you need can be a welcome respite in this chaotic world and can redirect your focus toward what is truly important. By not hyperconsuming, you can save money and invest in high quality items that will last. For many, it is a lifestyle adjustment that proves to be extremely freeing.
But if you know me, you know that I am definitely not a minimalist. No shade, I think we can learn a lot from implementing aspects of minimalist philosophy into our lives, but on a whole, and particularly as an aesthetic, its just not my thing. I love beauty, luxury, textures, colors, sounds, culture. I love to adorn myself and my space. The things I own are not me, but they help tell my story and I love that. By creating a vibrant, colorful space and wardrobe I am constantly reminded of the vibrancy of life and its many possibilities. That being said, I am working on being more intentional and conscious about what I buy and the impact I make. That's why I LOVE thrifting! Buying second hand gives old clothes a new life. I can find cheap, unique pieces and create a style entirely my own, not dictated by celebrities and trends, at a price I really dig. Learning basic sewing skills, I can alter pieces I find to make them fit my body and my style. Finding vintage clothing not only promotes sustainability, but brings pieces to my closet from a time when clothes were made well and made to last.
I am nowhere near perfect, and I do succumb to my impulses and buy fast fashion here and there, but the more I learn the more of an effort I make to resist those temptations. When I do buy first hand (is that the opposite of second hand?), I try to focus on BIPOC creators and small business owners. My advice to you when you want to buy something that you know is not ethically made, is to give yourself a week, or even a few days to think about it. Chances are, the impulse will pass or you'll be able to find something just as groovy second hand or from a small, more sustainable business. If not, that's okay. None of us are perfect, but making an effort and taking steps to be more intentional about where we put our money and what practices we support is what counts. We are stuck in a capitalist society for the time being so we might as well make it work for us in whatever ways we can.
Now that you know absolutely everything about fast fashion (because I can totally cover that in a 5 minute blog post), I have a challenge for you. I know we're already a few days in, but according to the internet, this month is #SecondHandSeptember! For the entire month, I challenge you to only buy second hand. You can decide whether that means clothing, books, kitchenware, decor, stamps, or whatever. Just try to shift your thinking and your actions to be more loving toward the earth and her inhabitants. Oh and the next time you go through your closet for a Spring cleaning, consider donating those clothes or consigning them so they are less likely to end up in a landfill!
Rumaging through thrift stores and vintage shops may not be as possible right now as it was pre-corona, so here are some great places to shop second hand online!
Thrilling (ships internationally)
ThredUp (ships to US and Canada)
DePop (some items ship internationally
Two Big Blondes (ships internationally)
*All of the above carry plus sized clothing, if you would like to learn more about size inclusive thrifting, this article is a great resource!
**If you are based in Europe and shipping items from the above shops is too pricey, here is an awesome list of EU-based online shops
Everything But the House (this one is dangerous, guard your wallets...)
Put together an outfit of thrifted, hand-me-down, or vintage clothes and tag me on instagram!
The beret was inherited from my Granny, the shirt was thrifted, and the pants are from DePop. My jewelry is the only aspect not second hand, but both pieces are from POC artists. The earrings are from a street vendor in New Orleans and this rad necklace was made by one of my favorite creators, Friditas Jewels.
Once November rolls around and you want to buy from good people doing good things, here's an awesome list of 50+ Sustainable Black Owned Businesses to Shop.
*This post is not sponsored. Any business or brand mentioned is my own recommendation.