“Fast fashion” is a term coined by the New York Times in the 1990s when Zara first opened in New York. It was to describe Zara's ambitious mission of bringing clothes from design to stores in 15 days. Since then, fast fashion has created a throwaway culture that has completely changed the way consumers purchase clothing. Today, thousands of styles are produced at the cost of millions of tons of textile waste discarded, the oceans filled with micro-plastics, and the air polluted by dangerous chemicals. Decades of over-producing clothing have left a widespread and detrimental impact on the environment, with the industry accounting for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. It’s also the second most polluting industry, ranked just behind the oil industry.
Among the many problems with fast fashion - hazardous working conditions, underpaid workers, depletion of natural resources - the one underlying issue driving the success of the industry is our social acceptance of this reality. At some point, we began to value not the quality and materials of clothing we purchase, but rather the quantity of clothing we have in our shopping carts and the speed at which we are staying “on trend”. Entire business models are built and profiting off of this linear model of fashion: buying, wearing and discarding. As consumers, we have the power to reduce our environmental impact by changing our lifestyles. In this article, we have a few tips to live a more sustainable and realistic way of life.
1. Buy less clothing
With the rise of fast fashion and e-commerce, we’ve seen a drastic drop in clothing prices over the last 20 years. We bought 10 clothing items while our grandparents bought 2. In other words, we now own 5 times more clothes than our grandparents had. Have you ever stopped to think, do I really need all this clothing? A study done by Movinga discovered that Canadians never wear 79% of their wardrobes. Clearly, it might be time to rethink our lifestyles and purchasing decisions. To quote Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer Lisa Williams,
“The most environmentally sustainable jacket is the one that’s already in your closet”
So, try to make more conscious decisions with your purchases, and try to appreciate the clothes you already own rather than flooding your wardrobe with the latest trends!
Image: Patagonia’s Black Friday campaign
2. Support sustainable brands
Sustainable fashion is a buzzword we hear a lot these days, but it’s quite a complex concept with no single definition. It looks at the entire supply chain as well as the life cycle of a clothing item. The goal of sustainable fashion is to minimize any harmful environmental effects through careful considerations of the use of natural resources, selecting fair trade practices, addressing issues such as water waste and chemical use, employing local craftsmen, and so on. By shopping from sustainable brands whose mission is built on sustainability, we can shift the fashion industry into one that truly respects people, animals, and the planet.
3. Invest in better quality clothes
Even though quality clothing is often more expensive, it’s worth the investment. You may have heard about the concept of “cost per wear”, which looks at the amount you are really spending per wear relative to how long you will own the item. Higher quality clothing, with better quality materials and stitching, will definitely have a more beneficial cost per wear in the long run. Furthermore, quality pieces are often made from better fabric, making them more comfortable and breathable.
4. Buy second hand, or rent clothing
Thrift stores are great not only for your wallet but also for the environment. Buying from thrift stores, second-hand shops, or vintage online marketplaces means that fewer clothes ending up in landfills. At the same time, you can often find higher-quality clothing at more affordable prices.
5. Repurpose old clothes
Clothes that are thrown out end up in landfills. Consider these options instead: repairing or redesigning the clothing item, donating your clothes, or putting them in the textile recycling bin to be made into new clothing. For some ideas, check out this article.
6. Reduce laundry environmental impact
An average household does 400 laundry loads in a year, which translates to about 60,000 litres of water (“How can we reduce our fashion environmental impact”, n.d.). Combined with the energy used for the drying cycle, the way we wash our clothes has an enormous environmental impact. Here are a few simple tips to reduce our laundry environmental impact.
Use an efficient washing machine: This saves energy and up to 30,000 litres of water annually.
Wash full loads: This saves water, energy, and money.
Use cold water: 90% of the energy used in washing machines is used to heat the water.
Avoid tumble dryers: This saves a significant amount of energy. Line drying also extends the life of your clothes.
We hope that you will implement some of the tips mentioned in this article. Living a sustainable lifestyle starts from making small changes. Simply gaining a deeper understanding of the fast fashion industry and its detrimental environmental impact is crucial to increasing awareness around this topic. With our collective action, we can hopefully accelerate the fashion industry's shift towards a more sustainable one.
Thank you for reading this article, and feel free to check out our blog for more!