Once upon a time, I was one of the many fast fashion aficionados, turning an important part of my monthly entry salary into mountains of polyester clothing piled up casually on the floor of the so-called ‘utility room’ in my apartment. I belonged to a huge chunk of humanity that has a knack for hoarding fashion. One night I was charming the world with my new sequinned dress; the other night, you could find it in these piles of questionable re-wears. Every now and then, I had to get rid of those not eligible for another such ‘night,’ making room for more incoming one-offs. Donating or passing them down to somebody else had crossed my mind, yet most of them were made to last only a few other nights, no more than that. The piles were coming and going, making up today, along with everybody else’s non-biodegradable wardrobe leftovers 5% of the global landfill space. As I was becoming more of a fashion insider, I was also getting to see the tricky truth about my trends-driven behavior. These things were affordable, and I could show up in the latest looks every day. So why not? Yet what I was hooked into, along with billions of fellow consumers, had a toll on the planet and people’s lives. I was a beginner in everything, and as such, I made a common mistake. A decade well into this sort of buy-and-ditch pattern, I started seeing clearly the dirty trail of fast fashion. So much so that I decided to improve. I’m still a work in progress, but feeling proud of myself!
The beginning of everything
It all started way before I was born, during the Industrial Revolution, when mass production became possible. Then during the 60s – Mary Quant’s mini-skirts are not the only to be blamed for – demand for low-priced trendy clothes increased, followed by a supply explosion in the 90s. People craved high street fashion; high-end was always too posh and unattainable for the masses! Today, improved logistics, AI, and data analysis, along with globalization, are mostly credited for the ‘triumph’ of fast fashion, aiming at a mind-boggling turnaround of short-lived trends created by influencers on the social media. People are almost ashamed of wearing the same thing twice. If Kim or Paris or Cardi isn’t wearing it anymore, what’s the purpose of keeping it in one’s closet? This is how fast fashion brands fed their profit-making model.
That was all pre-pandemic when we were all struggling to catch up with 52 micro-seasons per year and hundreds of new product deliveries per week. The rest of the fashion brands – luxury ones included – were also caught into this frenzy, increasing the number of collections, each one with a 4-6 week shelf-life. They were producing like crazy, and we were buying like there is no tomorrow! Believe it or not, it was that freaking virus a thing that made us reevaluate our speedy lives and overconsumption. As this scary ‘new normal’ unfolds, we all come to appreciate the quality of living. Designers across the industry support the idea of slowing down, producing less, and people are already consuming less. Fashion’s fast-pacers are either in trouble or ready to embrace change.
The toll we pay
Our cool, fashionable habits already have a toll, but hopefully, we can reverse the process. Did you know that this industry is the No2 polluter on earth after oil? Topped by agriculture, it also contributes 20% of global wastewater. Clothes made with toxic chemicals, dyes, and synthetic fabrics end up in the oceans suffocating or trapping living creatures. They are not healthy for the wearer either. Our skin can’t breathe at all, our allergies reaching new heights. These instantly-gratifying wardrobe ‘parachuters’ seem to be rather dangerous. Their majority is produced in sweatshops, the type of factories that rarely provide for the health and safety of their underpaid workers in developing countries. I can’t wear one of these clothes anymore; it feels so uncomfortable and unfair! I’m sure you are now with me; we can definitely do better!
Those who try
As Stella McCartney, one of the earliest leaders in fashion sustainability, once said in a Vogue interview, “we’re trying our best—we aren’t perfect, but we’re opening up a conversation that hasn’t really been had in the history of fashion.” Sustainable brands are focusing on research and experimentation. They take into consideration the environmental impact. It’s not easy. You might improve one thing, but have a negative effect somewhere else. At least you try. Intentions matter so much at this point. Does X retail giant place bins for disposables to promote recycling or further disposability? As they honest? You cannot always tell, but as a consumer, you can care more. Brands such as Reformation, Lemlem, Mother of Pearl, Maggie Marilyn, Gabriela Hearst, Rejina Pyo, Casasola, Mara Hoffman, Kotn, Eileen Fisher, and Ninety Percent are working to reduce their environmental footprint as much as possible. They want to put a message across, and this is also what Evio Beauty does along the way, as an advocate of change. Its statement signature sweater is crafted from durable airlume combed and ring-spun cotton that is ethically sourced as well as produced – no sweatshops involved!
We now know the problem, and although we cannot magically fix it, we can come up with ideas. Let’s start with buying fewer and higher-quality things. The temptation is always there, but we all know that impulse purchases never bring that boyfriend back or solve an argument with your boss! Our new mission is to create a meaningful mix & match multi-purpose wardrobe that transcends seasons. Well-made garments are heirlooms. That gorgeous dress I might need only for one party, I’ll rent it from an online platform, borrow it from a friend, or get it from a second-hand store. Apps like Tulerie facilitate closet shareability (borrowing and lending). I’ll go for made-to-order pieces when I can afford it because it reduces waste in the industry, and for the same reason, I’ll shop from resale and deadstock platforms such as Vestiaire Collective, Etsy, and eBay. My new motto is to ‘recycle, upcycle (create something of greater value from an older piece), and reuse’ more than before. I recently also learned how to mend clothes and extend their life span! For new items, I try to support brands that reduce their water consumption and use of chemicals and work with traditional, local communities of artisans. Before buying anything, I do my research through brand profiles on social and websites. I mostly go for those who are explaining their sustainable and ethical practices. Some designers make clothes that are reversible or transformable so that you are wearing them more than one way. That’s good too! We need to know about all these genius ideas, hashtag the champions of sustainability, and prefer those recognized and even certified for their contribution. We can ask the brands directly about their sources and process. We deserve to know! I’m positive that consumers can shift habits and ‘disrupt’ fashion themselves!