In recent decades, the fashion sector has managed to become one of the most damaging industries in the world on both a social and environmental level. Clothing companies turn over stock at rapid speeds and low prices in what is known as ‘fast fashion’ in order to attract large volumes of business and make the high profits they desire. This tactic results in vast quantities of clothing ending up in landfills.
In order for companies to maintain the low prices that western consumers demand, they outsource manufacturing to the global south to employ workers who earn meager wages and work in dangerous conditions. While many are aware of these injustices, it often feels overwhelming for those of us embedded in fast fashion and consumer culture to address this issue.
Here is a compilation of tips to help you promote a more ethical and sustainable clothing industry through your daily habits, thereby making the process of instigating change a less daunting task.
Care for your closet
The more you put your clothing in the washer and drier, the faster it becomes worn out. Instead of wearing a sweater once and then tossing it in the wash, try hanging it up to air out, then folding it and putting it back in your dresser.
Unless you wore them to a hot yoga class, your clothes can handle being worn more than once before washing. This will help to extend the life of your pieces, and who has time to be doing all that laundry, anyway? Not only is air-drying better for your clothes, it’s much easier on the environment.
By purchasing a simple sewing kit, you can repair small tears and fallen buttons, and by bringing broken shoes, bags, and clothing to a tailor or repair shop, you will get more use out of your items. Overall, if your clothes last longer, you will be less inclined to purchase more — as a result, you’ll waste less, avoid fast fashion outlets, and even save money, which is always a plus, especially for students!
If my mother had taken better care of her clothes from the nineties, I wouldn’t need to scour thrift shops to find the perfect vintage overalls and espadrilles. I definitely wouldn’t be browsing Urban Outfitters for high-waisted Levi’s.
Fashion is cyclical, and any trend in fast fashion stores like H&M and Forever 21 today can be found, if not in our parents’ closets, in thrift stores and consignment shops. Second-hand shopping is like a recycling treasure hunt.
Luckily for U of T students, Toronto has some amazing thrift and vintage shops just steps from campus in areas like Kensington Market and Queen West. Purchasing clothing second-hand is cheaper in most cases and also reduces clothing waste. So the next time you need an outfit for a night out, pop some tags. You’ll be able to find more unique pieces and will have a ton of fun searching through racks of one-of-a-kind clothing.
Money talks. If consumers begin to make ethically produced and eco-friendly products a priority, clothing companies will follow. With a quick Google search, you can find any number of clothing retailers that advocate for sustainability, including ARC Apparel and Everlane. These companies value the importance of transparency in supply chains and the importance of utilizing sustainable materials for their clothing.
Unfortunately, the clothing these companies produce can be substantially more expensive than the clothing from places like Zara, but purchasing from these outlets means supporting their initiative and sending the message that these issues matter to consumers.
The perfectly ethical closet is a challenge to maintain, and with our strict budgets and busy lives, it can feel next to impossible. If all else fails, and you find yourself in a situation where you need to visit the mall for some clothes, think ‘quality over quantity.’ You’re shopping for items that will last, will keep you from buying the same thing again, and won’t end up in a landfill within a year.
Although the $7 t-shirt from Forever 21 is the easiest on your wallet, you’ll be lucky to get anywhere near 21 wears out of it. It’s better to spend a few extra dollars on quality material that will last in your closet for years to come. More importantly, it is crucial that the items you buy are not only good quality but also sustainable for you.
Avoid impulse buys like the pleather mini skirt that you know you’re not comfortable in but want to get anyway because it makes you feel like Bad Sandy from Grease. Before purchasing an item, ask yourself if you can imagine three to five different occasions on which you could wear it, or three to five different outfits you could create with it. This way you avoid making purchases that you’ll regret, and you waste less.
Make sure to visit the website Project JUST, a non-profit organization that researches clothing companies’ transparency and environmental practices then puts all the information in one spot. You can examine the efforts stores at your local mall are making with regard to sustainability, and you can see which ones fall short. Being an informed consumer is important and allows us to understand the kinds of products we buy and their effects on both the workers who produce them and the environment.