Do the words “fast fashion” make you think of Speedos? They should instead draw to mind t-shirts and dresses, shoes and socks, and all the other apparel that’s flying off clothing racks and out of online stores this holiday season
That’s because the warp speed at which people are buying and throwing away new clothes is driving pollution and carbon emissions through our planetary roof. So much clothing is being manufactured and trashed every year that fashion mogul Eileen Fisher calls fast fashion “the second dirtiest industry in the world, next to Big Oil.”
“When we think of pollution, we envision coal power plants, strip-mined mountaintops and raw sewage piped into our waterways. We don’t often think of the shirts on our backs. But the overall impact the apparel industry has on our planet is quite grim.”
- More than 150 billion new articles of clothing are produced annually. That’s enough to provide 20 new garments to every person on the planet every year. “Clothing… is no longer owned, it is just consumed,” reports FastCoExist.com.
- Manufacturing “Fast Fashion” garments – those we wear less than 5 times and keep for only 35 days – produces over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year. No wonder the apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, says Forbes.com. Producing cheap synthetic fibers also emits nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2.
- Over 70 million trees are logged every year and turned into fabrics like rayon, viscose, modal and lyocell. That’s 70 million trees that are cut down instead of left to filter carbon dioxide out of the air.
- Producing fast fashion pollutes our waterways, too, notes the Ethical Fashion Forum. An estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textiles, many of which will be released into freshwater sources. Dyes laden with heavy metals that can cause cancer and damage the human reproductive systems are released into the water, too.
What Can You Do?
- Resist the “look alike” culture fast fashion promotes. Instead of buying into the newest design trends, create and cultivate your own sense of style.
- Opt for fewer but better clothes. Clothing made from recycled or organic fibers and natural dyes in safe workrooms where people make a living wage will cost more than flimsy garments made in sweatshops that are the hallmark of fast fashion companies. And few clothes create less closet clutter.
- Share, borrow and swap. Borrow a fancy dress for a special occasion instead of buying one new. Loan a business suit for someone going for an important job interview. Swap a sweater you just never wear any more for a sweater your girlfriend doesn’t wear anymore, either. Organize a clothing swap in your neighborhood. Or swap and shop at threadUP an online thrift and consignment shop where you can sell your own clothes and shop for others’ gently used fashions.
- Create a line item in your annual budget for clothes. Want to keep a lid on how much new clothing you buy? You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to resist sales and shopping trends when you’ve already reached your spending limits.
- Keep track of what’s in your closet and drawers. Ironically, some people have so many clothes they can’t actually remember what they have. They end up buying the same type of apparel over and over again because they’ve “lost” something almost exactly like it – in their own house! One way to keep track of what you have is by doing a seasonal check. RecoveringShopaholic.com has some terrific suggestions of keeping track of your wardrobe here.
Think twice before you throw clothes away. Old t-shirts and cotton socks can be repurposed into cleaning rags. Old wool sweaters can be felted and sewn into mittens and hats. This Pinterest page offers dozens of ideas for turning old clothes into new styles.
Reuse and Recycle More
Instead of fighting the holiday crowds, let’s keep fast fashion out of our closets! (Tweet this)
Only 20% of textiles are recycled each year around the world. Americans throw away about 70 lbs of clothing per person every year. What can you do instead of tossing clothes you no longer want to wear or have no room for?
- Donate locally. Most homeless shelters need seasonal clothes for the clients they serve.
- Organize a clothing drive. Here’s one that I pulled together for Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, D.C. Look at the mountain of good clothes my friends and neighbors donated.
- Recycle your blue jeans. Old denim is in demand because it is being recycled into valuable commodities like insulation.
Take your clothes back to H&M, Patagonia and other stores. Patagonia set the standard for clothing recycling when it began accepting its used active wear clothes back from customers. H&M does the same thing with more fashionable apparel.
BOGO – I practice BOGO – buy one, give one. I really don’t need any more clothes or shoes or accessories. But of course, from time to time, I want something new. I’ve gotten into the habit of giving an old item away whenever I get a new one. It’s a great way to prevent clothing clutter and I feel better than I’m not throwing perfectly good clothes away.