Growing up, at the end of every summer, my mother would take me and my siblings to the mall to get new clothes for the school year, and it was one of my favorite annual rituals. She would specifically take us to the renowned J.C. Penney, and we would spend all afternoon scouring the clothing racks and trying on items in the changing room.
What we didn’t know then was that we were participating in fast fashion.
Fast fashion is how consumers are able to buy more items, more often, for cheaper. But people are wearing what they buy less often and instead purchase clothes that they want, rather than need, in order to keep up with what is trendy.
While this is great for the consumer, that means fashion empires are manufacturing more clothing items to keep up with the demands. 80 billion items are manufactured every year, and it is estimated that global clothing sales could triple by 2050, according to a video segment by The Economist.
As businesses create more and more items, consumers throw out items just as quickly as they buy them. This has created a trend called throwaway culture.
This also means that the quality of clothing has gone down in order to manufacture for cheaper.
“More than 60% of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill (about 85% of textile waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated), it will not decay,” said Tatiana Schlossberg in her article for The New York Times.
Fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 are especially responsible for endorsing fast fashion trends in order to keep their businesses afloat.
Not only is fast fashion terrible for the environment, but also for the people making clothing. These fashion giants will manufacture overseas, especially in third-world countries, for cheaper labor sources. Most often these workers are getting paid very little to work in dangerous conditions. In 2013, the Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh that housed several clothing facilities, collapsed and killed more than 1,100 garment workers, according to The New York Times.
So how can we, as consumers, battle this global crisis?
In order to reverse the effects of throwaway culture, consumers and businesses need to readjust their behaviors in the industry, more specifically; the consumer.
Businesses shape themselves around the wants and behaviors of their targeted audience, so if the consumer begins to change how they spend their dollars, then businesses will have no other option then to change, too. They may try to persuade consumers with cleverly crafted ad campaigns and tantalizing low-prices, but if we are self-aware of these practices, then we will eventually see change.
An example of this is how more businesses are claiming bankruptcy due to the increase of online shopping. Forever 21, a company that is not only a main influencer of fast fashion but also an example of the American Dream, recently claimed bankruptcy and announced they will be closing over 178 stores in the United States and 350 stores overall according to The New York Times.
Unfortunately, the American Dream only seems achievable at the expense of the environment.
While I still participate in my annual tradition of new school fashion, I have adjusted my practices by shopping second-hand. A majority of my favorite outfit pieces are from either Plato’s Closet or my local Goodwill. I love shopping second-hand because not only does it give a second life to items, but it is also much kinder to my wallet.
The stigma that thrift stores only have outdated clothes is untrue if you are creative enough and know where to shop. I recommend visiting thrift stores in wealthier parts of towns because you will find better quality items. For example, I found an H&M trench coat that was originally worth 70 dollars for only 12 dollars at a Goodwill. The tag was still on the sleeve.
There are also businesses like Rent the Runway, an online service created to provide in-style outfits for four or eight day rentals. Why buy a prom dress you will only wear once when you can rent it? Need a business outfit for a conference? Rent it.
There are also companies like Swedish Stockings, Palava, and Tonlé that are zero-waste brands using sustainable, organic fabrics, but for a college student on a budget, they are less reasonable. But, if we all began demanding more eco-friendly attire, then theoretically these items would become more affordable. So, if you do have the financial means to afford eco-friendly clothing, then start putting your money where the planet is.