Fast fashion. It’s a huge problem, and one I will fight with all my passion because it is such an all-encompassing injustice.
Environmentally, it takes a lot of water to grow cotton, GMO or not (though organic requires significantly less); textile dyes and factory runoff pollute water sources; 50% of donated clothes are sent to landfills. Shockingly, fast fashion is one of the dirtiest industries in the world, second only to big oil.
Socially, the people (yes, real people) working in the apparel industry are almost always paid incredibly low wages, if they’re paid at all. Many factories use child labor. People are trafficked to work in garment factories. The buildings they work in are not well-maintained and often have poor air circulation. This is true in fast fashion factories across the world, but hardly anyone seems to care until something like the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh draws attention to the problem. Certainly, there are advocates and allies in for the long-haul, but I’m afraid most people just buy a Fair Trade product every few months in addition to their $2 T-shirts and $5 jeans.
I wish this didn’t have to be something we thought about. I wish I could go to any store and purchase anything and know that everyone was treated fairly along the way. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And while it’s not bad to buy the occasional Fair Trade product, or even participate in Fashion Revolution Week, what we need are lifetime warriors. This world needs people who go out of their way to care, even though it’s inconvenient for them. Because, honestly, if you’re not willing to do that, you’re saying that your comfort is more important than that garment worker’s life.
Make fast fashion alternatives your way of life.
Let me reiterate this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying occasional Fair Trade products, participating in Fashion Revolution Week, shopping at thrift stores, or reading ethical blogs. Just like I said about avoiding waste, it’s about progress, not perfection. However, in the case of finding fast fashion alternatives and in the case of avoiding waste, there’s not really a good stopping point. There’s always more to learn, always ways to be more ethical and sustainable, always a way to progress. And in both cases, it’s much more effective as a lifestyle than as a feel-good moment.
That’s why I’m posting this the day after Fashion Revolution Week 2017. Fashion Revolution is one of those groups that’s in it for the long-haul, and they host this awesome advocacy campaign every year during the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, from April 24-30. Their goal is to call “for a fairer, safer, cleaner, more transparent fashion industry.” The campaign asks participants to ask brands, “Who made my clothes?” While this campaign can have an amazing effect on getting brands to become more transparent about their business practices, or at least raising awareness that the question of ethics needs to be asked, it in itself won’t change much. Fashion Revolution knows that, as their website states, “We are a global movement that runs all year long.” Advocate extra hard for that one week, but don’t be silent for the rest of the year.
The world of fast fashion alternatives is at your fingertips.
The first step to a lifestyle of ethical fashion is breaking the fast fashion mindset our society promotes in us. Quit fast fashion cold turkey or you’ll always find an excuse for buying something you don’t need. I loved what this blogger said after giving up shopping for a year: “Many feel obligated to buy something new for so-and-so’s wedding or a New Year’s Eve party, etc. If you don’t normally find yourself on the cover of Us Weekly, then why sweat it? If your friends judge you for wearing the same cocktail dress twice, then they are shitty, shitty friends.” Do whatever you think is going to be most helpful in breaking that mindset. Follow her lead and give up shopping completely for a set time period. Clean out your closet with Project 333. Learn how to mend clothes so you don’t have to throw something away next time it rips. Take a minimalism challenge and have a garage sale with everything you declutter from your life. Just do something. It won’t be easy, but I promise your life will be less stressful when you don’t have to bring clothes to Goodwill every 2 months.
Once you’ve broken that consumerist mindset, you’ll be able to determine better between wants and needs. Honestly, I’m much worse at this when it comes to my daughter than myself. I’m convinced she needs 8 (thrifted) pairs of teeny tiny baby shoes, even though she can’t walk and doesn’t like to wear them. (Progress, not perfection, right?) And once a genuine need comes up, tons of information is available for fast fashion alternatives, either online or (if you’re lucky!) in a store near you. I love this graphic by Sarah Lazarovic:
For an ethical lifestyle, buying new is the last choice.
You are the boss of your money.
Do I sound like Dave Ramsey? I’m serious, though. Fast fashion alternatives can be pricey, but they don’t have to be. Even for someone on a strict budget (points at myself), ethical goods are totally doable. Obviously there are some higher-end ethical products that you or I may not be able to purchase, but there are dozens of more reasonably-priced goods that don’t forfeit high standards of production. You – a consumer – have much more power than you might think. Those fast fashion products are produced based on consumer demand (e.g. headbands are in style right now, so we’ll make a million). Demand ethical products, and they will be produced. We live in this crazy age where you can tweet at a company and get a response. Ask them #whomademyclothes and tell them to #GoTransparent. Applaud them for any ethical strides made, but don’t let them get complacent. You vote with your money: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” (Anna Lappé)
Finding fast fashion alternatives can be overwhelming. Let me help you.
Look, greenwashing is huge right now, which actually can be a downside to asking for ethical products. Companies offer goods that seem ethical, sustainable, and healthy – but a lot of them really aren’t that great for you or the world. Take, for example, the “Organic Doritos” I saw at the grocery store the other day. They seem like a healthier alternative to regular Doritos, and in reality, they are. But that does not mean they’re good for you. Other brands seem like a cool, hipster alternative to unhealthy, unethical products, but when you dig a little deeper, it turns out they have the same parent company. Kellogg’s and General Mills are still getting all your money.
Fortunately, the Internet is full of information. You can research brands you are familiar with and see what their ethical standards are. Then, if you find out they’re not actually that ethical after all, you can do a little more research and find a company that is. Read reviews. Join the Fair + Frugal Facebook group. Ask people you know who have tried different things. Like I said before, fast fashion alternatives are at your fingertips, just waiting for you to discover them.
To get you started, here’s a list from The Goodtrade of 35 Fair Trade & Ethical Clothing Brands Betting Against Fast Fashion.
And I’m going to leave you with a list of ethical companies I know and love. As I usually only thrift shop for budget reasons, I’ve only tried a few ethical companies, but I would recommend them to anyone.
PACT – organic cotton, Fair Trade; products for men, women, and babies (with a children’s line launching this summer!)
Patagonia – Fair Trade collection, donates 1% of profits to grassroots environmental organizations, promotes minimalism, recycling program to keep older products out of the landfill; products for men, women, babies, and kids
The Root Collective – artisan-made products from Guatemala, training program helps keep teenagers out of gangs in La Limonada, Guatemala; products for women
prAna – Fair Trade collection, organic cotton, hemp, recycled wool and polyester, responsible down; products for men and women
Tea – globally-inspired designs, Fair Trade act with manufacturers; products for babies and kids
Etsy – various handmade and vintage products; many Fair Trade, organic, and recycled products available; products for men, women, babies, kids, and home
This is a big deal.
I hope you feel more encouraged than overwhelmed, and more impassioned than scolded. For even more information on the fast fashion industry and fast fashion alternatives, there’s a wonderful documentary available on Netflix called The True Cost – watch the trailer here.
“Will we continue to search for happiness in the consumption of things? Will we be satisfied with a system that makes us feel rich while leaving our world so desperately poor? Will we continue to turn a blind eye to the lives of those behind our clothes? Or will this be a turning point, a new chapter in our story, when together, we begin to make a real change, as we remember that everything we wear was touched by human hands? In the midst of all the challenges facing us today, for all the problems that feel bigger than us and beyond our control, maybe we could start here, with clothing.” (The True Cost)