Fast Fashion: What You Need to Know and Why and How You Can Affect Change

Fast Fashion. Every day I get hundreds of e-mails advertising “up to 80% off” and “order early” for the holidays this year, all communications targeted at trying to get me to buy, buy, buy. And many of the e-mails advertise inexpensive clothing and goods that are massed produced, which is one description of fast fashion. (The official Merriam-Webster definition is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”)

One of the big problems with fast fashion is that it has an enormous environmental footprint, both in its production and its disposal. According to the World Bank, the fashion industry produces one-tenth of the world’s carbon emissions (more than international flights and shipping, combined), and most textiles use tons of water, many chemicals and dyes, and resources. For example, the United Nationals Environment Programme (UNEP) says that it “takes 3,781 liters of water to make a pair of jeans, from the production of the cotton to the delivery of the final project to the store. That equates to the emission of around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent.”

And that’s just a single pair of jeans. How many pairs do you have in your closet? And how much other clothing? If you are like me, you have a lot.

pile of jeans rolled up and stacked


But what can we do to create change, especially if you love fashion?

Some organizations, such as the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion and the World Bank’s Connect4Climate program are calling for a new textile economy where new, sustainable materials would be used to make clothing more durable. And technology and research is stepping up to find ways to use ocean plastic and turn it into athlete shoes and attire, to replace chemicals with fish skins and natural dyes and to substitute fruit skins for fur. Some companies have also figured out how to make backpacks and purses from discarded canvas (such as boat sails), and some companies have return policies that encourage consumers to turn back in garments after they have been worn out so they can be recycled. Some companies who do this include Reformation, Levi’s, Madewell, H&M Group, Zara and The North Face.

So one of the things you can do is to buy from and return clothing to these companies that recycle their worn-out products. (You may be thinking or I’ll just donate to Goodwill or another thrift store, but that isn’t always an option because some of these stores are too overwhelmed with merchandise.)

Woman wearing recycled fleece from The North Face

Another option is to buy from companies that create items from things that have been repurposed. For example, British-based Batoko’s tagline is “We’re Rubbish. Literally” because their swimwear is made from recycled plastic. Patagonia is another company that makes things from recycled plastic (polyester) and that repurposes vintage fabrics to create new merchandise.

You can also buy items from companies that use only organic and natural materials, such as Rapanui. This company is unique because they make everything in real-time as soon as your order is placed as opposed to creating a back inventory and pulling something off a shelf. (This means you can order custom-made organic tees.) They also ship using plastic-free packaging and they use sun and wind energy to power their factories.

Or A Day is a direct-to-consumer company that manufactures clothing and accessories from 100% responsibly sourced cotton (and recycled fishing nets) and they promote minimalism, meaning all of their items can be worn in a variety of ways and for almost any occasion. Their website explains the company’s philosophy: “The world around us is engineered for more consumption, more hustle and less thoughtfulness. We choose to pursue a different path.”

You could also buy vintage from a company like Re/Done, who has since its launch “diverted over 225,850 garments from landfills and reconstructed them into coveted luxury collectables,” according to their website. Re/Done has partnerships with Levi’s and Hanes to repurpose/re-engineer products and fabrics from these brands. And of course, you can buy vintage clothing from resale shops, thrift stores, antique stores, yard sales, eBay, and a number of other places too.

And if you have a brand you really love that practices fast fashion, contact them and use your voice to say you’d like them to change their practices. You are concerned about human rights and the environment and the affect the fashion industry is having on the world. If enough people speak up (and speak with their purchases or lack thereof) change will happen.

sleeves of dress shirts


Consciously choosing to avoid fast fashion is clearly better for the planet, but may also be better for you and your pocketbook too. Seeking out slow fashion and sustainable brands makes you more mindful; it slows you and your consumption down. You may buy less and more thoughtfully.

Slow fashion also lasts longer, offers a unique style, creates less pollution and less impact on society (think fair-trade and sustainable employment as opposed to sweatshops cranking things out). It also uses less water and protects the oceans since many products are made from waste that has no business being the water.

In avoiding fast fashion and spending your money elsewhere, you will be supporting brand with humanitarian and ecological purpose, so you can buy things with a clear conscience while still flaunting your style and enjoying fashion.

A Whole Person Makes the Whole World Better

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