Let’s talk about CLOTHING! (A personal favorite of mine!)
First of all, we have to discuss “fast fashion”. As a former self-proclaimed shopaholic, giving up “fast fashion” was a difficult decision to make. Fast fashion is found in big stores that sell thousands of styles all at once at very cheap prices – think Forever 21, H&M, TopShop, and Fashion Nova. These kind of shops come out with new styles practically every month, pandering to a consumerist society.
As a culture, we begin to think we need to keep up with every new trend, and we turn to these cheap outlets as a source of these “necessary” style changes. However, the problem with fast fashion is that it is enormously wasteful. This consumerist mentality that fast fashion promotes means we are buying cheap clothes that wear out quickly and easily, meaning we need to buy new items often. I once bought a pair of jeans from Forever 21 that tore within two days!
This mentality puts a premium on quantity, not quality. We are convinced by this cultural attitude that we NEED fifteen pairs of jeans! However, over-consumption takes a huge toll on the planet. Let’s discuss how:
Cheap clothing is often made from polyester and conventional cotton. Polyester is made from fossil fuels – essentially the same as most plastics. Besides the pollution from the production of polyester, it is one of the main sources of microplastics, which we discuss in our laundry post.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are shed from synthetic materials like polyester and make their way into waterways. Microplastics make their way up the food chain and are often ingested by via salt and seafood! To prevent this, consider the Cora Ball or a guppy friend bag – see laundry post for more details.
Cotton is a natural fiber that completely biodegrades, but it still has its own environmental impact. It is a super thirsty crop, requiring over 1300 gallons of water to produce one pound. Additionally, it requires heavy pesticides, which leak into waterways and pollute natural resources. Cotton also uses a lot of land to grow on, leading to other environmental issues such as reduced biodiversity and reduced soil quality.
Poor Working Conditions
Fast fashion doesn’t just take a toll on the environment – it takes a toll on workers producing it as well. In order to keep up with the demand for constant new fashion trends, companies have to produce massive amounts of clothing, which necessitates cheap labor and poor quality working conditions.
Huge companies producing fast fashion exploit workers by paying them poor wages with little to no benefits. Poor working conditions lead to many accidents, injuries, and illnesses for the workers. To learn more about how fast fashion exploits workers, see the movie The True Cost.
What can we do about this?
First of all, we have to change our mindsets around clothing. I’m not accusing everyone of an consumerist mentality – but I know I certainly used to have one! I used to be nearly addicted to buying things just to buy them! It was a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety, an excuse to see friends, something I did every time I gained or lost weight, a reward for accomplishing something – the list goes on and on.
Not only is this this terrible for my already paltry wallet – but it is terrible for the environment and perpetuates a consumerist mindset. I’ve tried to change my mindset to a “slow fashion” or minimalist mindset. The basis of this mindset is quality over quantity.
Rather than owning five or six pairs of cheap jeans, invest in one or two quality pairs that you will regularly wear. Take your time finding them – try them on multiple times, take pictures in them, get opinions from friends, and don’t settle for less than a perfect fit. The same goes for any clothing – take your time finding it. It is worth investing in a closet of clothing that you feel confident in, both because it makes you feel good AND because it makes the environment feel good!
Fabrics to avoid (when possible) – polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, and non-organic cotton (although cotton, in general, is a better choice than synthetics). Polyester, acrylic, and nylon are all made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. Rayon and conventional cotton are both natural fibers, but like we discussed about cotton earlier, they both require lots of space and water to grow along with heavy pesticides.
Alternative fabrics – organic cotton, silk, hemp, linen, wool (check labels/sources), cashmere, tencel, recycled materials (i.e. recycled polyester – does not solve the problem of shedding microplastics but recycled material is much more sustainable than new polyester).
Does this mean I am going to get rid of everything in my closet that are not these materials and buy a whole new wardrobe? No, of course not! No need to get rid of what you already have! However, the future purchases you make can be more conscious!
When buying a product, think of its whole lifecycle. Where did it come from, and how was it made? Who made it? What is is made from? How long will it last, and what will I use it for? When I get rid of it, where will it go? Goodwill? Landfill? How will it eventually break down? Can it be repurposed later? Try to select products that will last a long time. The less often you buy new things, the less waste you will create.
Shopping ethically and sustainably can be a bit of a change to your lifestyle. First of all, it can be more expensive. A key component of fast fashion is low cost – meaning we are used to buying clothing at a cheap price. However, slow fashion is about quality. Buying one thing you really love and is ethically made may be more expensive, but in the long run it is cheaper. You don’t have to buy multiples of that thing over the years, and the earth thanks you for that.
However, I do understand being in a position where spending more on clothing is not feasible. Living paycheck to paycheck, paying for graduate school, supporting family, pets, and rent are realities that most of us have to put first. Shopping ethically for your clothing might be on the very bottom of your priority list. In this instance, there are some ways that you can shop more ethically without breaking the bank.
Steep and Cheap is a great website for high quality clothing overstock. Alternative Apparel is another great option for ethically made clothing basics that don’t break the bank. Some other brands that are reputable and versatile are: Patagonia ($$-$$$), Prana ($$), and Pact ($-$$).
A great way to easily access ratings for clothing companies is via the app Good on You. It has ratings for three different sectors of sustainability, labor, and animal welfare. It has thousands of companies listed, along with many informative articles about the sustainability of the fashion industry. Its as simple as downloading it onto your phone, and when making a new purchase, just type in the brand and find its rating!
Buy and Sell Used Clothes
First of all, the original method of sustainable clothing – thrifting! I will be the first to admit I hate thrifting and have never been good at it! However, with a little patience, you can find great things in thrift stores! Consignment stores are also great, as they are stores where people have sold high-quality clothing. Keeping your eye out for sales is also a great way to find high quality stuff.
Another way to reduce your impact is to rent clothing instead of buying it. If you’re only interested in wearing the item a few times, this can be a good alternative to letting it collect dust in your closet.
Donate Used Clothes
Used clothing can also be donated to charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a homeless shelter. You can send used clothes to Matthew:25 Ministries for distribution to disaster areas around the world.
If you have a gently used bra that no longer fits or isn’t your style, give it to the Bra Recyclers who will donate it to a woman in need. To recycle used footwear, regardless of the condition, you can send it to TerraCycle’s Shoes and Footwear Program.
Upcycle Old Textiles
With a little crafting and ingenuity, old sheets can be turned into shopping bags and old clothing can morph into new clothing. Check out these creative upcycling ideas on Pinterest!
Recycle Old Textiles
Many cities have curbside municipal textile recycling programs for clothes beyond saving. For example, here is a link to San Francisco’s textile recycling program.
Happy shopping everyone, enjoy building an eco-friendly, ethical wardrobe! For more eco-friendly shopping inspiration, check out our Clothing board on Pinterest!
Disclaimer: We receive no financial compensation for any of the products recommended or shared anywhere in this blog.