Just like fast food is unhealthy for the body, fast fashion is unhealthy for the environment. Both are highly popular and consumed by millions of people. Over consumption of anything is unhealthy. The challenge is educating the vast majority of the population on the negative environmental impacts of fast fashion and instant gratification consumerism. Changing addictive fast fashion consumer attitudes, behaviours and ingrained habits seems daunting. Most people aren’t curious about how their clothes are made, where their clothes are made, or what happens to them after they are discarded. As we know over time it eventually transpired that smoking, low fat diets and sugar are bad for your health, perhaps the broader societal revelation will eventually come that the clothes we carelessly buy are a slow death wish for the environment. I have always been conflicted between my love of fashion and love of the environment, especially when the clothes we buy turn into unwanted rubbish. Over the years I have made a conscious effort to reduce my impact on the environment with regards to fashion and my purchasing habits. Like many, I am guilty of buying clothes that I don’t need and sending garbage bags full of unwanted clothes to the charity shop. Like many, I have clothes in my closet that I hardly ever wear. In order to reduce my fashion rubbish footprint and play my part in helping protect the environment, I have consciously adopted the following strategies:
- Buy less. As women, we love to gather. Men hunt, women gather. Its in our DNA, passed down for millions of years. This type of gathering was for a good cause, finding the daily food source to feed the family and extended clan. However, the needless ‘gathering’ of clothes over the past few decades has increased at an unabated pace. Especially with the advent of the disposable consumer mentality and rise of fast fashion; which has conveniently attached itself to our inner gathering psyche. Type ‘fast fashion environmental impact’ into any search engine and feast your eyes on disturbing images of mountains upon mountains of clothes clogging up our landfill sites. If the images do not disturb you, they should. We have become a wasteful, instant gratification society whereby large global companies have socially engineered us to believe that more and cheaper is better. How much is enough? Do you really need 50+ pairs of jeans? Do you really need a closet full of 200+ shoes? Unless you are purchasing quality clothing items which can be passed down from generation to generation via the consignment and vintage highway, most clothes in your wardrobe will be carelessly discarded like a painful pair of high heels at the end of a night out. And if we only wear about 20% of our wardrobe, why waste money on the other 80%. Next time you are wandering down the high street or filling up an online shopping cart in pursuit of cheap bargains and feel yourself slipping into the fast fashion ‘gathering frenzy zone’, stop and ask yourself “Do I really need another (insert said item)? Do I already have something similar in my wardrobe? How long will my infatuation with this item last? Will this item become part of my 20% I-wear-more-often-than-not wardrobe?”
- Invest in quality. And therefore buy less. Quality doesn’t always mean expensive designer clothes. Find brands within your budget range that are at the higher quality end of the spectrum or save up to buy timeless, well-made items that will last longer than the cheaper version. Also waiting until sale time is a great way to purchase quality designer items at discounted prices. Resist the urge to buy piles and piles of cheap, shrink-after-one-wash fast fashion items. Remember all the clothes you buy have to go somewhere after you no longer love them. And due to the quality (or lack there of) of fast fashion items, most end up in the rubbish bin. Investing in quality also means you can on-sell these items once you no longer wear them.
- Buy vintage and/or consignment. My love vintage and consignment shopping is a recent phenomena. Over the past few years I have found its a perfect way to find something unique and still be fashionable, such as the continued fascination designers have with the 1970s era. Like the stunning 1970s vintage black and floral jersey Mac Tac dress which I bought last year (pictured above). Consignment shopping is also a fun way to repurpose other peoples unwanted items which are relatively ‘new’ into your own style and wardrobe. Earlier this year I purchased a fabulous Vera Wang Lavender Label black soft leather jacket from Uptown Consignment in Dallas for $98USD. The jacket fits seamlessly into my wardrobe and I won’t have to buy another leather jacket for a very long time. With the mountains upon mountains of fast fashion clothing manufactured and discarded every year, buying good quality vintage or consignment is an easy pathway towards creating a sustainable, environmentally friendly, fashion world. And also like investing in quality, investing in vintage means you can on-sell once you no longer wear them.
- Mix-and-match your wardrobe. Adopt a mix-and-match mindset towards your wardrobe. I love it when I style an outfit and someone who has already seen me in any one of the items I am wearing before, asks “is that new?” That is the beauty of a mix-and-match wardrobe. You can actually have less clothes but more styling options, especially if you buy quality, timeless items. I grew up in a (lower) middle class family, and whilst we were not poor, as a fashion conscious teenager I sometimes thought otherwise. During my pre-teen and early teen years we were only given a small amount of pocket money to purchase clothes. This forced me to adopt a mix-and-match approach to my wardrobe which has stayed with me ever since. I always mentally match any items I am purchasing with tops, jackets, jeans, skirts, shoes etc already hanging in my wardrobe. And the item I am intending to buy must mix with at least with two existing outfits or items in my wardrobe, otherwise it stays in the shop.
- Purchase natural fibres and materials. Recent research has discovered that microplastic and microfibres from synthetic man-made clothes (nylon, polyester, acrylic) are ending up in the fish food chain*. Thats right, never mind mercury poisoning, the fish are ingesting tiny plastics and fibres which are ending up in the ocean by way of something we do almost every day – turning on the washing machine. Today, it is estimated that around two thirds of clothes purchased are made of synthetic man-made fibres. Think about your own wardrobe? What percentage is man-made or natural? Natural fibres and materials also have environmental impacts such as the excessive amount of water required to grow cotton crops and the chemicals used to dye cotton, wool, leather. However, I would much rather buy natural fibres and my body (and hopefully the fish) agree too. My wardrobe isn’t completely synthetic free as I do wear things like trainers and flip flops, however, most of my choices are driven towards natural fibres and materials.
- Take responsibly. Get curious and take personal responsibility for understanding the hidden costs of the clothes you wear on the environment. Especially fast fashion. This is a tricky challenge. Most people don’t care about how, where and what their clothes are made from. We cannot wait for governments to implement fashion industry environmentally friendly policies or expect fashion retail companies to stop chasing higher profits. Responsibility and accountability for the way we consume starts with us. Just imagine for each and every individual on the planet, all their clothes, shoes and accessories that will eventually end up in landfill. Starting today, each and every one of us can individually make a difference in reducing the negative impact of fast fashion and over consumption has on the environment. Because if we add up all our individual sustainable fashion actions they turn into tens, hundreds, thousands, millions and billions of actions to which the environment, mother nature and our future generation will be thankful for.
Mac Tac 1970s Vintage Dress
*Catalyst Program on Micro-Plastics http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4424996.htm