Ever since finding out just how wasteful and harmful the effects of fast fashion are on our planet, I’ve been on a mission to shop more consciously and sustainably, to make sustainable fashion more accessible, and to shed some light on why this mission is so important- not just for me, but for all of us.
Did you know that the fast fashion industry is one of the top polluters in the world, responsible for approximately 5% of all global emissions? That’s even more than air travel AND international combined! Over the past two decades, the amount of clothes the average person purchases has doubled, leading textiles to become one of the top rising sources of global waste, with 85% of our unwanted clothing winding up in landfills- that’s approximately 25 billion tons per year in North America alone! On top of that, many fabrics and dyes commonly used today do not biodegrade, and end up leaching into and contaminating water and soil. And then there’s the humanitarian impact of fast fashion production- many of the factories where this clothing is produced have poor working conditions and pay low wages to the people who produce these items. Even when we donate clothing, the items don’t always end up where we think. Many of our items are sold to second-hand retailers in developing countries who often have issues reselling them. These unsold items end up in landfills in the developing countries, which may lack the means necessary to properly deal with the growing amounts of waste (https://7billionfor7seas.com/fast-fashion-facts/).
Bottom line: The rate at which our current society produces, purchases, and throws away clothing comes at high social and environmental costs, which are not sustainable without serious, irreparable consequences.
BUT there are ways we can help. I think Emma Watson put it best when she said, “As consumers, we have so much power to change the world just being careful in what we buy.” When we choose to buy fast fashion, we continue the cycle. But when we start to develop more conscious shopping habits we can break the cycle and lessen our footprint on the planet. Here’s how: shop second-hand instead!
The reasons for buying second-hand clothing go beyond reducing textile waste and slowing down fast fashion. A second-hand item is much more likely to be unique, and there is very little chance of ending up with the same clothes as everyone else. It’s a great way to stand out from the crowd and create your own fashion identity that is distinctive to you. Not only that, but chances are if an item of clothing has made it to it’s second (or third, or fourth) life, then it is a well-made, high quality item. Fast fashion is produced with planned obsolescence- which be definition is “a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials” (oxford dictionary).
These clothes are literally designed to be thrown away after a short amount of time, which is extremely wasteful. Instead, try opting for high quality, durable pieces in timeless styles. Second-hand or vintage styles are a great example because not only has the fabric stood the test of time, but the style has as well.
If the price factor of fast fashion is what appeals to you about it- try swapping clothes with your friends or members of your community! Organize a swap by asking some friends to get together and bring a number of gently used items they no longer wear to swap out for items from each others closets. Friends not your size? Here in Toronto we have some great resources including online swapping communities such as Bunz (a downloadable phone app) and Palz (a local Facebook group) as well as my own initiative, Swap for a Cause which hosts large scale clothing swaps open to anyone and everyone (to resume post-COVID).
If you don’t mind spending a little money, Toronto is ripe with tons of amazing options for second-hand and vintage clothing shops, with several in Kensington Market, Queen Street West, or Dundas Street West. Prefer to shop online? Try searching on Instagram- many of these stores also sell through their Instagram accounts. Etsy is another great resource with so many different shops, both local and abroad, all on one website. I was even inspired to start my own- visit me at etsy.com/shops/dejavintage goods or on Instagram- @shop_dejavintage.
By Lauren Youssiem
Ex-fast fashion designer turned sustainable fashion enthusiast