5 things you can do today to make your fast-fashion shopping more sustainable
So first things first, what is ethical or sustainable-fashion all about? It’s a balance between personal expression through fashion and honoring the people, skills, time and natural elements involved in the process of making clothes. It’s about creating the opportunity to express individuality through our choice of clothes – but without compromising on the rights of other humans and the balance of nature. It’s about maximizing the benefits to people while minimizing the impact on the environment.
Secondly, what is “fast fashion”? There’s no such thing as fast fashion, just increasingly accelerated consumption. It still takes six months for cotton to grow from seed to crop today, as it did 100 years ago. In some ways, fashion is still very slow. It is just part of the process, the making, buying and discarding of garments that is being increasingly accelerated at a worryingly fast pace. Most of the discarded clothes don’t then disappear, but continue to be present in various, mostly unvalued states, long into the future. This fashion model encourages people to buy more and more and abandon garments when they’re no longer in fashion- at the end of the month-long season.
Sadly, the situation is not as black & white as it appears to be. H&M employs over 100,000 people worldwide, and to stop making clothes would mean job loss on a huge scale. To simply say ‘no more fast fashion’ would mean the redundancy of millions of people, including those in the supply chain. Some people will find it difficult to afford well made, ethical, sustainable, long-lasting clothing when cheap, easy options permeate the market and sometimes these clothes are all that they can afford.
The single most effective thing we could do today to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the environment would be to buy a lot less. Every garment has an environmental footprint at every stage in its production. That is why there is an inherent contradiction between the fast fashion business model – a model driven by selling lots of stuff fast – and the concept of environmental sustainability.
So, back to the original question: “Can fast fashion ever be sustainable?”. And I believe that it can be… sometimes. Next time you are shopping in fast fashion chain-store pay attention to these things:
1. Try not to buy very trendy items, make sure you can enjoy each item for as long as possible and that it won’t fall out of fashion very soon. Develop your own style and be unique, don’t just follow trends.
2. Pay attention to the seams, fabric and quality of the garment. Some clothes are better made than others. I have a few tops from a well-known chain store that are still with me after 5 years.
3. Buy only the clothes you “fall in love with”. Even if you are shopping in a chain-store, it’s all about the quality and not quantity. As Marie Kondo says: “it must spark joy in your heart”.
4. Try not to wash the clothes very often. Clothes that smell and have stains on them obviously must be washed, but you shouldn’t wash each item after one wear. Examine your garment and decide if it can be worn again or if it has to be washed. Excessive washing ruins your clothes and shortens their life span. Check out www.clevercare.info for some useful information on how to take care of your clothes better.
5. Fast-fashion companies are trying to respond and make their processes more sustainable. In 2013, H&M launched a worldwide garment-collecting initiative encouraging consumers to reuse and recycle their clothes. The chain also sells a “conscious collection,” a clothing line created entirely from sustainable materials. Zara launched its first sustainable line, Join Life, in September 2016. The collection consists of simpler designs and clothing made from recycled wool, organic cotton and Tencel – a fabric that includes regenerated wood. If you must shop at a chain-store check if there’s a more sustainable option available there. And never ever throw your textiles in the trash, make sure you look for an appropriate place in your town to dispose of them so they don’t end up in a landfill.