The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
From the production of fabric to clothing disposal, this billion dollar industry has a devastating effect on the planet and it’s being fed by our need for cheap, convenient and trendy clothes. Everything you see in the malls is now called Fast Fashion. It’s opposite, Slow Fashion just might save us.
I don’t remember when I read the term Slow Fashion for the first time. It was probably on Pinterest. You see I was researching what to do with old jeans. We had about 10 pairs where 90% of the fabric was still good. I couldn’t give them to charity. They were unwearable. Every instinct in me told me not to throw out so much fabric. As a seamstress I had this feeling before. There are always ends or left over fabric from a project. Through my research I found tons of creative uses for left-over jean fabric on Pinterest. People are so creative. In the end I made a lovely quilt.
But the research led me down a very interesting path of recycled and re-worked clothing that inevitably led me to the world of sustainable or Slow Fashion.
I was instantly intrigued to know more. I have struggled with the fashion industry for some time as noted in this previous post. I have known for a while about the issue of cheap labour in Asia but I think things really started to come to the forefront of my mind with the tragic clothing factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013.
The problem with the Fast Fashion industry starts with the fabric. The production of cotton, one of the most widely used fibres, requires huge amounts of water and pesticides. For example, one pair of jeans requires 1600 gallons of water. Most clothes are made from cotton or a combination of cotton and polyester. Polyester (in its various forms) is made from oil and is completely non-biodegradable. In addition, the dyes used in clothing are also not biodegradable and are seldom disposed of properly.
To save costs on labour, clothing has been made in Asia for many years. Though the economists call this a win for globalization, the reality includes horrible conditions, un-livable wages and of course, terrible fires and loss of life. After the clothes are produced they are then shipped back to the west on boats that spew copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.
Finally, we have the fact that Fast Fashion is driven by the production of new styles of clothing every three months. We used to have 4 seasons or cycles of new clothing in stores. Now people are encouraged to change their wardrobe constantly. And with the advent of stores like Forever 21 and H&M the clothes are sold very cheaply. But they are also very low quality which means people throw out clothes after only a few washes. Estimates say that the average citizen throws away 80 lbs of clothing a year. Current US records show that only 15% of clothes are recycled which means 85% are thrown into landfills. The 15% that are reused are often given to thrift shops. But often the clothes that are not sold in North America are sent to developing countries “in need” and if not sold there will end up in their landfills.
So is nudity the answer? Should we just stop buying clothes completely?
Honestly, the more I learned about this industry and its environmental crimes, the more shocked and concerned I became. But what are the alternatives? We still need to clothe ourselves.
The good news is that there is an incredible growing movement of Slow Fashion designers. In the coming months I will be talking about them in more detail. There are also some big name designers who have been leading the way for some time such as Stella McCartney, and Eileen Fisher. And with the help of celebrities like Emma Watson who is known to sport sustainable fashion at very public events, the word is starting to get out.
But what can we do to make a difference?
- Buy less: First and foremost, really ask yourself if you need that new top or pair of jeans. Start to question why you want it. Be a practical shopper not an emotional one. Companies respond to demand so the less we buy, the less they make.
- Buy better: Do some research into the brands you normally buy from. Shop for sustainable and or ethical clothing. Look for clothes made of organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp. A few years ago it was hard to find this type of clothing and most of it is still online only. But things are starting to change.
- Fix your clothes. If you aren’t handy with a needle find someone who is. I mean really, they are selling jeans with huge rips in them. Surely you can go out and about with wearing something that has been repaired or altered. Be different! Define your own style.
- Have a swap party. Invite your friends over to swap the clothes you no longer want or never really fit well.
- Donate your clothes to charity. Many charities have clothing drives at special times of the year. If there is a special cause you want to support find out when their next drive is. Value Village is also a good place to donate your clothes. Find charities that explain what they do with clothing that is not sold.
- Look for textile recycling in your area. Some neighbourhoods have special clothing boxes at malls and gas stations but make sure they are legitimate companies. Clothing can be recycled, even your worn out socks. Create a bin or bag for your torn or worn out clothing. Polyester for example, unlike used cotton can be recycled (broken down and spun back into new fibres). Other fabric can be turned into rags and the rest can be used for carpets and car cushions.
- Cut up those old t-shirts for rags. I use these rags instead of paper towels to clean my windows. They work great and can be washed and reused.
Slow Fashion isn’t easy but then nothing of real value ever is. It also costs a bit more. That too is like most things of true value. If you can’t afford to buy new, shop at Thrift Stores as reusing clothing works just as well. We have become too accustomed to a disposable society. It is better to spend a little more and get something that lasts, something you will cherish, then to buy the latest trend that will fall apart after one wash.
Truly the message once again is be aware, buy only what you need and buy smarter.
To learn more about this and other unsustainable product cycles, watch The Story of Stuff on YouTube.