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It can be hard to let go of “fast fashion” — clothing that is disposable, produced quickly and made and sold cheaply. After all, who wants to give up a great deal like a trendy $10 t-shirt or fancy dress for $19.99? Unfortunately, there are also many downsides like shoddy workmanship, negative environmental impact, and the devastating effects on the workers — usually women and children — who make it. However, the good news is that there are a number of ways to help combat fast fashion and make a difference without overhauling your entire wardrobe or making huge changes to your shopping habits!
If your clothing budget is on the high end, one of the easiest (though most expensive!) ways to counter fast fashion is to buy “slower,” more sustainably created clothing. These clothes are pricier than ones produced by typical fast fashion companies. However, you can be reassured that the workers who made them are paid a fair wage, and that the company does what it can to reduce its environmental footprint.
Look for companies that label themselves “fair trade,” “green,” “ethical” or “sustainable.” These companies range from ones that produce all of their clothes in the US — either in factories or artisan settings — to utilizing overseas factories that have high safety standards and treat their employees well and pay them fairly.
For comparison, fast fashion companies (which includes popular brands like Zara, ASOS, and Forever 21) tend to use factories like Rana Plaza in Bangladesh that was known to be structurally unsafe and ended up collapsing in April 2013, killing over 1,100 garment workers and injuring over 2,000.
Instead of frequenting companies like Walmart or The Children’s Place (both fast fashion companies who used workers at Rana Plaza), look for companies who care about their workers. Everlane is great for modern basics, Patagonia is an excellent source for athletic and outdoor clothing and gear, and AAGATI has some fun, fashion-forward and sustainable looks for women looking to dress up. Also, make sure to check out sites like Etsy to find hand-crafted clothes in a range of prices.
Give Your Clothes a Second Chance
Can’t afford (or want!) a full-on wardrobe makeover? There’s still plenty of things you can do. Instead of buy new clothes “new,” consider extending the life of other people’s clothing by looking for fabulous fashion finds at tag sales, estate sales, or second hand stores. While they can be hit or miss, you never know what gems might pop up at a tag sale. Estate sales can sometimes be even better jackpots for low cost, high-end clothing.
Those secondhand shops are sure to be hiding some real surprises — a friend of mine who seems to have a knack for this sort of thing scored a stunning pair of Louboutin booties for less than the cost of two drinks at Starbucks! Either way, you’ll give the clothes, shoes and accessories you find while scouring these sales a second life for the same cost (if not less) than if you shopped at a fast fashion store.
Host a Clothing Swap
One of the most fun ways to help reduce your use of fast fashion and it requires no money, just friends! Put out a call to your nearest and dearest that you’ll be going through your wardrobe to thin it of clothes you haven’t worn in a while. Invite friends to do the same. Pick a date, put some drinks and snacks out, have friends over and “shop” away. I like to host swaps during a seasonal change — winter into spring for instance. While I’m going through all my winter clothes, trying to store them for the following year, I’ll pull out things I haven’t worn or are no longer my size.
When friends come over with their bags of clothes, we place items around a room by category, so everything has its place. My friends and I have been doing swaps for so long that it’s second nature for us, but you might want to make some ground rules if it’s your first time. Any clothes that are left over after the swap end up going to a local charity shop, and you can look around for places that accept donations in your neighborhood. Not only will you get rid of things you no longer wear and score some new threads for your closet, but you’ll be able to help folks in need out as well.
Send it Back
Since the negative impact of fast fashion is fairly well known, a lot of companies who have been complicit in the past have been doing what they can to help offset their actions. For instance, did you know that H&M will take back your old and worn clothes you purchased there? Not only do they give you a % off for bringing them in, but they’ll take tattered clothes and repurpose the fabric in a sustainable way. In addition, the company offers a list of ways you can make your fashion choices more sustainable.
Fast fashion is a large, global problem with multiple negative impacts on both the environment and people, and it may be daunting to try and take it all on, but when everyone does little steps, it can add up to big change!