Every day in our culture we are bombarded with the pressure to buy the newest and trendiest clothing and participate in constantly shifting seasonal fads. Whether it’s the most recent iteration of a classic tee, the must-have pair of distressed high-rise jeans, or the newest season of a handbag or brand-name dress, we have been taught throughout our entire lives to covet only the most on-trend fashions. Thus we've established a culture that screams “we must always have something new and different” lest we be relegated to “unfashionable” or “boring.” Over the years, this increasing demand for a constant parade of new clothing has created a significant problem - fast fashion - of which we are still unpacking the damage.
Fast fashion is a response for a societal shift in which clothing is manufactured at more and more alarming rates to keep up with consumer demand created by large corporations. After all, the mega brands pump millions every year into advertising that tells us that what we have in our closets simply doesn't cut it. Let’s take a look at the systemic problems this has catalyzed - and why we've got to change.
Workers’ Rights and Value
Through increasing pressure to create higher and higher volumes of clothing, companies are cutting corners wherever possible to increase profit margins. This reduction in costs is reflected in labor equity and safety worldwide. Labor is often outsourced to countries with fewer workers' rights laws, where workers are often subjected to long hours in sweatshops with few safety regulations and minimal pay. The cheaper the piece of clothing is sold for, the more these conditions are often amplified. That $3 tank top that seems like such a steal online? While it may be cute, it was likely produced through worker exploitation. Meanwhile, CEOs at the parent corporations are taking massive profits for the clothing sold to consumers worldwide. It’s created not only unsafe working conditions, but a startling disparity between the people at the top of major clothing companies and their employees producing the textiles.
Where Does All That Fabric Come From?
In the effort to satiate our consumer culture, the fast fashion industry needs to produce fabrics quickly and efficiently. Thus, many fabrics used in fast fashion products are either produced with immense amounts of pesticides or with synthetic fibers that are inexpensive to manufacture but not designed to withstand multiple wears. Many of these synthetic fibers contain microplastics, which shed from clothing with each wear and wash. These microplastics then end up in our rivers, lakes, drinking water, and even food. The result? Cheaply designed clothing that contains chemicals unsafe for human exposure that doesn’t last long and pollutes our waters. Not a great combination, in our opinion.
The Landfill Problem
What happens when people are finished wearing their garments? Most of that clothing ends up directly in landfills, and the stats for tossed clothing annually are distressing. According to The Ethical Consumer, the average clothing item is only worn about 14 times in the course of its life, and each year an additional 92 million tons of textile waste is added to landfills. Let’s sit with that number for a moment - 92 million tons! This statistic demonstrates how out of control the fast fashion industry has become, and points to the dramatic over-consumption we as a culture have been engaging in. Our landfills - and our earth - simply cannot withstand this level of waste production year after year.
So What Can We Do?
Good news - we have SO many ways to combat fast fashion!
The first and easiest solution is to wear your current clothing as long as possible. Once they start showing their wear, get creative with reinventing your clothing or break out the sewing needle and some thread and fix them up. When a pair of my favorite jeans recently developed a huge tear in the knee, rather than throw them out I cut off the torn parts and turned them into shorts! Similarly, I’ve repaired unraveled hems and broken seams on multiple shirts and jackets over the years. There’s a level of agency and pride in being able to fix your own clothing, and it gives them unique character! Not to mention, it saves you a few dollars along the way.
When you do need to purchase new clothing, instead of heading straight to the shopping mall or clicking to your favorite online retailer, look for small businesses and micro manufacturers who produce clothing at a smaller scale. Check for high quality and organic fabrics when possible, and keep an eye out for green certifications on clothing, like USDA organic textiles, GOTS or OEKO-TEX. Or you can simply keep an eye out for brand transparency about worker rights, clothing manufacturing practices, and waste production. Shopping at vintage and second-hand shops that give garments an additional life is another great way to address fast fashion. And the absolute bottom line - as a society, we need to refrain from buying as much clothing.
We realize that the environmental movement operates from a privileged place, and not everyone can afford more expensive clothing items or green-certified brands. That’s okay! We encourage you to identify where you can make an impact, however that best fits into your lifestyle. The fast fashion industry is one with a growing concern for human and environmental rights, but together we can make informed decisions to combat it, even from our own closets.
Who Are We?
We are so glad you asked! Summit Sustainable Goods is a zero waste and refill shop offering a curated selection of household care and personal care products to folks just like you, looking to make a difference. We focus on providing education surrounding environmental topics so that you can become a more conscientious consumer and human. Where can you find our selection of high quality and sustainable products? You know we’ve got you covered! Check out our website at www.summitsustainablegoods.eco or visit us at a local pop-up around town. (Info available through our website or socials.) Want to follow our journey and learn about future zero waste events and happenings? Adventure with us by signing up for our monthly email subscription or follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up-to-date on all things Summit.
Carrie Martin-Haley, founder