ETHICAL ALTERNATIVES TO FAST FASHION
WORDS: ALISON ZNAMIEROWSKI
IMAGE: WILL SARDINSKY
Last week, I watched The True Cost (which is available now to view on Netflix). The True Cost is a documentary about the environmental and human exploitation and degradation that power our modern fashion industry. It poignantly documents the horrendous treatment and conditions of the factories and laborers that create clothing for large companies such as Forever 21, H&M and Uniqlo.
These “extremely harsh, slave-like labor conditions” are a result of the “fast fashion” industry. The fast fashion industry creates a “trend market” that is in constant flux, encouraging its consumers to buy new and buy frequently. Trends no longer change each season, but each week. The aim of the fast fashion industry is to make us, the consumers, always and perpetually dissatisfied and unhappy with our own appearance. It takes advantage of our insecurities. And they provide exactly one solution: buy more. That is the constant message of the consumer world: buy this, and then you will be happy.
Although buying new clothing may provide a momentary dopamine-induced happiness, it will never provide a long-term solution for our insecurities. And we have to confront the uncomfortable truth that, when we buy clothing from big-name companies, we are supporting exploitative, unethical factory labor.
So, what are some alternatives to participating in fast fashion consumerism?
1. BUY LESS
Buying less is such an important element of overcoming the fast fashion industry. Being a mindful consumer will lead you to only buy what you really need. A good way to start this habit is to actually go through your closet and get rid of things you don’t wear and don’t need. This will set a precedent for you to only have what you really need. And I’ll tell you a secret: it’s actually an amazing feeling to thin out, simplify and declutter your closet. (People write books on this phenomenon!) And you can send whatever you don’t need to a consignment store near you, and make some money in the process!
2. BUILD YOUR OWN STYLE
When you have a solid sense of your own style, you won’t fall into the traps that fast fashion sets; you won’t feel the need to follow and buy into each and every trend. Plus, building your own sense of style means that you get to delve into who you are and what you want to represent to the world. The way that we dress gives us the opportunity to communicate and express our unique selves! For me, I wear the same rings every day. They come from my grandmother, from my crystal-loving friends, from cross-country journeys with my girlfriends. They each have a story, and they have become small, precious representations of who I am—and I love that feeling!
3. UPCYCLE/REPAIR YOUR OWN CLOTHES
Society had deeply ingrained in me the notion that, as soon as a piece of clothing rips, tears or is stained, it should go in the trash bin or to Goodwill. It didn’t occur to me until this year that I could upcycle or repair my own clothing—and usually with a few simple stitches! There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing clever ways to upcycle your clothes, and some easy instructions on how to sew. So, don’t throw away your favorite tee just yet—get out the ol’ fashioned needle and thread!
4. BUY SECONDHAND
You’re probably going to need to buy new clothes eventually. But here’s the great thing: there are so many wonderful second-hand options! From your local consignment stores to Goodwill to thredUP (an amazing online thrift shop), there are so many options now. It is important to buy second-hand in order to extend the lifetime of manufactured clothing, and to take yourself out of the fast fashion consumerism loop. If you’re shopping on a budget, like I am, buying second-hand is an amazing option; used clothes tend to be very inexpensive compared to new clothes.
These stores have some amazing clothes and accessories. Yes—you might have to dig a little bit to find them. But you will find them. And because clothing at thrift stores comes from different decades and styles and places, there are many more, diverse options! Build your own brand—don’t let a store tell you who you are when it comes to personal style.
5. BUY FROM SUSTAINABLE, ETHICAL COMPANIES
When you do buy new clothes, there are responsible options! Stores like Zady, Reformation and People Tree are changing the game by participating in slow fashion, meaning their clothing is ethically sourced and produced. The higher prices tend to reflect the fair compensation and treatment of the people who produced the garments. But the good news for your bank account is that, if you practice buying less and buying second-hand, the costs should ultimately even out!