I’m still shopping (second hand) but I’m not buying anything brand new.
Very much like with food, it has become too easy for us to distance ourselves from the origins of the clothing that we buy. Much like how we go to a grocery store to purchase meat that has already been processed then packaged for us (no slaughter house in sight), we go to a store or website to purchase clothing that has already been produced then packaged for us (no production factory in sight).
It has become dangerously easy for us to turn a blind eye to how and where these items are created and ignore the fact that
sometimes oftentimes the clothing that we purchase on a regular basis is sourced irresponsibly in order to cut costs to consumers and beat out competitors.
About a year ago, I watched the documentary The True Cost and my eyes were forced wide open to the negative impacts that too many of the biggest fashion brands have on our world.
In our consumer society, “Fast Fashion” companies have become extremely popular among average consumers. They have taken what used to be only 4 fashion seasons and multiplied that into upwards of 11-15 mini seasons (NPR). These brands usually mimic high fashion designs but use less expensive, less durable (and usually less ethically/sustainably sourced) fabrics and materials that are cheap to produce.
So these companies manage to create, sell and distribute 15 seasons of trendy clothing at a very low cost to end consumers.
The unfortunate side effect of this is twofold – it negatively impacts the factory workers creating these clothing items and it negatively impacts our global environment.
Because fast fashion companies compete with one another for the lowest possible costs to consumers, overseas factory owners are pressured to cut their production costs in order to meet the low price expectations of some of these large fashion companies. Fashion companies have a lot of leverage when working with these factories because if they decide to move their production away from a factory due to production costs, then hundreds or sometimes thousands of already struggling production factory workers end up without jobs. So it is sadly often in the best interest of factory owners to maintain good working relationships with fast fashion brands (i.e. find ways to minimize their production costs) to keep their town’s economy afloat.
The consequence is unsafe work conditions for factory workers. Factory owners cannot afford to pay their wages AND maintain the safety of the factory building AND meet the low cost demands of their accounts (fast fashion companies).
On top of the damage that this trend has on factory workers, it also leaves a negative impact on the environment. Producing 15 seasons of inexpensive new clothing trains consumers to get bored of old styles faster, buy the latest newly released styles more regularly, and toss old or worn down clothing that we don’t feel like wearing anymore without a lot of financial guilt.
That excess clothing too often ends up unused and in landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator (Newsweek). Additionally when there is increased factory production, there is increased factory pollution.
So what can we do?
We don’t all have to commit to no new clothes in 2017. There are certainly clothing brands committed to creating quality, long lasting, classic clothing that is ethically sourced.
For example, I encourage you to listen to the How I Built This podcast episode interviewing the founder of Patagonia and his retail philosophy.
Another way to reduce overall consumption is to buy less, higher quality clothing. High quality clothing is made to last, and because these high quality pieces are often investments, they are worth mending and saving over time.
For me, it makes the most sense for my values (and my wallet) to stop contributing to over-consumption entirely. It’s incredible how much great second hand inventory exists!