Fast Fashion

I consider myself to be pretty eco-minded, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never really considered the negative effects that the fashion industry has on the environment. Amanda wrote a great comment on the “My Vacation 6” post that inspired me to do a little research into sustainable fashion. Here’s what I found:

Clothing—fast fashion in particular—is a huge source of the carbon emissions that are contributing to global warming. This is due not only to how these clothes are produced, but also how they’re cared for (think: washing frequently in super hot water and drying at a high heat).

“Fast Fashion” is a term that refers to cheaply made clothing that rips off designer styles. The intent behind it is to produce clothing that reflects the latest fashion trends rather than creating pieces that are timeless and durable. These clothes are so affordable that you can dispose of them after only a few wears. Examples: Target, H&M, Forever 21 (3 of my favorites, gulp).

$1 trillion a year is spent on clothing worldwide and the average consumer consigns 66 pounds of clothing a year. Clothing makes up an estimated 30% of landfill waste.

Polyester, the most common synthetic material, requires huge amounts of energy and crude oil to produce, which leads to emissions that are harmful to the environment.

While cotton, a natural fiber, has less of an environmental impact than polyester, it’s also responsible for a quarter of all pesticide use in the US, and it requires more laundering than synthetic fabric. This constant washing has a massive environmental cost, and a Cambridge University study found that “buying a 250 g cotton t-shirt was equivalent to buying 1,700 g of fossil fuel, depositing 450 g of waste to landfill and emitting 4 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

Then there’s the cheap labor, the shipping across the world—ahhhh, like we need something else to feel bad about! What are we supposed to do here, wear the same clothes until we’re 90? We don’t need to go that far, but what we can do is limit our consumption of fast fashion, wear clothes until the end of their natural cycle, buy sustainable and eco-friendly when we can (H&M actually just launched a new line of 100% sustainable clothing, horray!), and just not consume as much as we have been. I’ll tell you firsthand too that limiting my wardrobe to only 6 pieces has really made me think about how unnecessary it is to have all those clothes in the first place.

The Cambridge University study that I mentioned before also made a few interesting suggestions to the clothing industry for improving their sustainability. Who knows if they’ll ever catch on, but I really liked these 2 in particular:

1. Stores could lease out clothing much like a library book, for a short period of time or for an entire season.

2. Retailers could offer to buy back clothing from customers at a discount for recycling.

What I’m hoping is that sustainable clothing will catch on like reusable shopping bags did a few years ago and that eco-friendly clothing will soon become the norm. Until then, we need to make the personal effort to buy less and to be more conscious of what we do buy.

A Few Related References and Links
Can Polyester Save the World, New York Times, 2007
What to Wear, The Rise of Sustainable Fashion, Climate Action, 2011
H&M’s Conscious Collection

5 thoughts on “Fast Fashion

  1. Thanks for looking into this, Danne! It's a total bummer that the fashionable stores we can afford go against so many of our moral standards. I heard a while ago (and I may have told you?) that H&M staff cut up leftover clothing – stuff that doesn't sell, returns – and throw the scraps in dumpsters. I do not understand why they do this. It makes no sense from a business standpoint (as Justin kindly pointed out to me while I was ranting about the wastefulness of it). There are clothing recycling programs! That fabric can be reused for something else! And my sister told me last night that Victoria's Secret does the same exact thing with returns. What?? I seriously don't even want to buy anything new ever again.

  2. Wow, i hope that isn't true about H&M and Victoria's Secret cutting up clothing, what a massive waste. My co-worker's boyfriend works for Barnerys and was telling me that she has a collection of $40 candles (or some ridiculous price) because if they get dusty in the store they just throw them out. I also read another fact the other day that 40% of the food in America goes to waste, but that's a whole different story…

  3. Ahhh that's awful! I didn't think about the whole reselling issue though. My co-worker also said that Barneys saves the clothes that they don't sell and ships them to their Manhattan store for a crazy huge annual sale. Sounds like a much more reasonable option than destroying them.

  4. i was so ignorant about this until your post. i have NEVER heard of such a thing and i am completely disgusted. (btw you look so cute in your recent 6's outfits.)

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