5 Ways To Cut Fast Fashion Out Of Your Life

We all love to buy clothes. Who isn’t guilty of having a closet that is bursting at the seams but still finding room to cram in the season’s latest trends after a successful mall outing? We never feel better than when we’re rocking a trendy outfit, and as a college student it’s super important to find cost effective options that don’t break the bank. Some of our favorite places to shop are known for having cheap clothes that are always updated to match the current trends. But these stores like this are part of what is known as the fast fashion industry, and they are having some seriously detrimental effects on our environment. 

What is fast fashion

A term coined in the 90s, fast fashion is the replication of current trends quickly and cheaply, resulting in an excess of essentially disposable clothes. Though inexpensive, the clothes tend to be low quality and not well-made, and they are usually very specific to current, changing trends. As a result, people end up purchasing these low-quality pieces that will likely either fall apart or go out of style fairly quickly, and then are thrown away.

Fast fashion has become an epidemic in recent years, partly because it’s just so easy. There are so many retailers with so many different kinds of clothes, and when they’re so cheap you are more likely to buy something you feel kind of meh about because you can easily just replace it with something else. It’s something most of us probably don’t even think about, but it has some serious consequences.

Unfortunately, some of your favorite stores are likely contributing to the fast fashion problem. We talked to Elizabeth Stilwell, the woman behind The Note Passer, a sustainable living and fashion blog, and she told us to look out for “brands that disregard labor ethics, fair trade practices, and the sustainability of materials, and accelerate the chum of trends.” It’s most likely that your go-to places to shop are some of the worst offenders when it comes to fast fashion.  

Why it's bad

Fast fashion creates huge amounts of waste, which has some pretty serious effects on the environment. According to Forbes, here in the US we send almost 13 millions tons of clothing to landfills every year. They it sit in those landfills for about 200 years, while the chemicals and dyes in the clothes contaminate the soil and groundwater. This is so bad for the planet, and these trends are only increasing as consumers continue to buy more and more goods. Whether it’s consumers buying clothes that they don’t really like and then throwing them away or companies producing excess stock that they can’t sell, there are simply too many clothes out there in circulation.

The manufacturing process also places a huge burden on energy resources. A lot of the clothes in the fast fashion industry are made outside of the US and use considerable resources to get to us in stores. This means water energy, gas and oil, and unsafe and unfair working conditions for pieces that come from outside of the US.

Finally, fast fashion can just be expensive, even for consumers. It may seem great in the moment when you are able to buy a shirt for $8, but these clothes are not designed to last. The fabric is low quality, prone to rips and holes, and will likely change after being washed. As a result, you’ll just go back to the store and buy something new, but these repeated trips and continuously buying of cheap clothes will add up quickly. By continuing to invest in stores that specialize in fast fashion we inadvertently make it possible for them to continue to produce large amounts of garments. The fashion industry relies on supply and demand, and as long as the demand remains for fast fashion the industry will only grow.

What you can do

Making a lifestyle change can seem really overwhelming and scary, especially when that change could affect your finances. But it’s so doable if you do your research and take the time to invest in sustainable, quality pieces.

1. Buy less stuff

Stillwell says her number one piece of advice is simply to shop less. We know it’s hard, but it’s true that many girls have way more clothes than they need. Even though we all mean well and try to donate clothes we don’t want anymore, according to Forbes only 10 percent of clothes donated in the US get resold, and the rest are simply sent to landfills with the rest of excess products. Buying less stuff is a much better way for you shrink your own carbon footprint a little bit and will maybe help you get a little more creative with the clothes you already have

2. Invest in better pieces

This goes hand in hand with shopping less. Buy less clothing allows you to invest in more expensive, better quality pieces that will last so much longer. One of Stilwell’s favorite brands is Kowtow, which is a bit on the expensive side but is great store to try if you want to splurge on something nice. Some other eco-friendly brands are Everlane, Reformation, Amur, Stella McCartney, and Maiyet, though some of these are a bit pricey. “When I’m tempted to buy something cheap but stylish, I think about the fact that while it might look cute online it probably won’t look as good in person,” says Tygre Patchell-Evans, a rising junior at Loyola Marymount University. “Even if it does, it will probably wear out pretty quick, so it's probably a better use of my money to buy something that will last.” Choosing some more expensive but eco-friendly brands is a great investment. You can also check out the "Better World Shopping Guide" to see which of your favorite brands are sustainable. Invest in some basic, classic pieces that are well-made and fit you right. It will save you money in the long run and help the planet.

3. Shop secondhand

If you do need something new, shopping second hand is a great alternative to fast fashion. You can get some awesome pieces that are heavily discounted. Going to thrift shops and secondhand stores can be a lot of fun, because you never know what funky and unique pieces you are going to find. There are also a ton of online resale stores that carry your favorite brands. ThredUp has a great return policy and a ton of variety, and you can also find some really high-quality stuff on sites like eBay and Poshmark.

4. Get things tailored or mended

Going to the tailor is a way to get a longer life out of your clothes, says Stilwell. If something rips or gets a hole, bring it to get mended instead of just throwing it away. If you buy something that doesn’t quite fit right, bring it to the tailor to get it resized. It costs a bit more, but it will make your clothes last so much longer and can help you hold on to pieces that you love that have had their share of wear and tear.

5. Do your research

There are so many Instagram accounts, blogs, and YouTube channels dedicated to sustainable fashion and living. Stilwell’s blog The Note Passer is a great example of one, and if you spend some time doing research you can definitely find some that match your style and personality.

Find people whose style you like and try brands they love and recommend. For example, the blog Selva Beat just released this great article about sustainable fashion on a budget with some great tips and brands. Pay attention to the news; there’s a lot more research and media coverage about fast fashion, helping to make the issue more well-known. Finally, do research about the clothes you buy before you buy them. Figure out which of your favorite brands are sustainable and eco-friendly, and purchase things from them!

Fast fashion may have become an epidemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to stop it. Make small changes wherever you can and talk to your friends and family about changes they can make, too. Show the brands you love that you're excited about sustainable fashion and willing to make an investment, and maybe we can begin to discourage the growth of fast fashion.

Meghan is a junior English and history major at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. She hopes to one day write a novel and is constantly on the search for her next cup of a coffee, a good book, and a dog that she can pet.

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