The Hidden Costs of Fast Fashion And 5 Ways to Become an Ethical Shopper
How notoriously unethical the fast fashion industry is has become pretty well-known.
Despite some small strides in improving labor and environmental practices, consumer demand for cheap clothing keeps the tragic impact of fashion very high.
To make large quantities of cheap clothing available, sweatshop and even child labor is used, usually in appalling conditions. We have seen the impact of this in disasters such as the collapsed factory in Bangladesh, to just name one of the most well-known.
This cheap clothing is usually made using extremely environmentally harmful production practices. High levels of chemical waste and enormous water use, particularly for cotton, makes the industry one of the top environmental polluters in the 21st century.
Too much clothing is being made and then discarded by consumers, due to quickly shifting trends and poor quality items that aren’t designed to last. As Kelly Dougher says in a 2015 article for Fashion Magazine,
“A century ago it was standard for someone to only own a handful of clothing, made well and repaired over and over again so that each item would last for years. Now the average person buys around 65 items of cheap clothes and discards more than 68 pounds of clothing in landfills every year. It’s not sustainable, so if you care about the earth and the people who live in it then you probably agree that it’s time to look for alternative ways to shop”
We can’t keep buying clothes built on the backs of women in the developing world, and at such a considerable burden to the planet. Although switching to more ethical clothing consumption practices can seem like a big undertaking, there are several great ways to start making the transition. Even if you only start increasing the percentage of your clothes bought through these options, you can start making an impact.
1) Get Educated
Do some research online. Seek out resources and support. Find the ethical clothing brands. If you don’t have an abundance in your area, there are plenty to choose from online. And learn about certifications! ‘Organic’ and ‘Fair Trade’ will mean that the labor is not exposed to harmful chemicals, and hopefully that sustainable production practices are used that reduce environmental and social impact.
2) Buy Pre-Loved Fashion
Thrift store shopping might not be something you’ve dabbled in, and the idea of sorting through piles and isles of clothes might seem daunting. Look at it as an adventure, where you’ll find a special treasure. Vintage stores are also all the rage, with beautiful pieces from every era and to meet varied budgets too. Online retailers in this department are plentiful, and tremendous fun. Ethical clothing doesn’t need to be expensive, or limiting.
3) Budget for Fewer, High Quality Items
Back to the budget. Aside from pre-loved fashion, buying ethical clothing can be expensive. You are paying for handiwork, natural dies, organic production, and great materials that will last a long time. This means you won’t need to replace things as often. So instead of buying those 50 items a year, buy 25, and consider it an investment. You will probably value and make use of these items even more, and consider with greater intention and thought before making purchases.
4) Shop Locally
Whenever possible, support the local craftsmen and businesses in your area. Not only will you be buying clothing that hasn’t travelled great distances (using fossil fuels), but it is much easier to know how they are made and by whom. And it benefits your community! Also, find a great tailor to mend, make or alter pieces for you! They still exist, and their beautiful trade is falling to the wayside as large factory production takes their place.
5) Put Pressure On Your Favorite Brands
If you have a favorite brand, and they aren’t using ethical practices, use your voice! The more people ‘vote with their dollars’, and use social media of big brands to put pressure on them to change their practices, the more potential for impact. We need to hold companies accountable, and so far, they know that they can get away with making clothes the way they do because we keep buying them. That has to change, and they have to know it’s time to do better. That being said, one of the most important aspects of ethical purchasing is that we need to buy less, and buy items that last, and those, for now, have been incompatible with big fashion business.