Ethical Alternatives to Fast Fashion
As an environmental advocate, I know the terms “eco-friendly,” “green” and “sustainability” are used quite often. We hear those terms in regard to everything from recycling to removing the harmful chemicals in our homes, but what about environmentally friendly fashion?
You may have noticed that the fashion industry has made some significant changes in the process of clothing production. The term “fast fashion” refers to this evolution where trendy clothing is now available to a much wider clientele, at a much quicker rate, and is also much more affordable.
The issue with fast fashion, however, is that it tends to operate on a business model that provides low-quality products, made from low-quality materials and at a higher volume in order to make these products more affordable for consumers. Not only that, but there are ethical concerns regarding the workers who make this clothing.
As consumers, it’s important to realize both our power to effect change as well as our responsibility to make a positive difference. It may be difficult to find ethical alternatives to fast fashion products, but there are certainly ways to make eco-friendly fashion choices and reduce our carbon footprints.
Here are some ways you can help:
1. Look for Organic Clothing
The conventionally grown cotton used in creating clothing involves the heavy use of dangerous chemicals. According to Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), non-organic cotton is grown using nearly 25% of the insecticides and 10% of the pesticides used throughout the world, making the production of cotton a significant factor in the pollution of our environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 7 of the top 15 pesticides used on conventionally grown cotton in the U.S. to be carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to these pesticides can cause symptoms such as blurred vision, headaches, nausea, weakness, tearing, sweating and tremors in humans and, in high doses, can result in death.
What should you do?
Check labels and look for clothing that’s made with materials that are organically grown, naturally dyed and produced with minimal environmental impact. Even just a few pieces of high-quality clothing can make a difference (think t-shirts, pajamas—even underwear). By purchasing eco-friendly clothing, you are supporting organic farming and processes that are more natural while also helping to minimize negative effects of toxic pesticides on our health and the planet.
2. Look for Fair Trade Clothing
Issues like child labor, low wages and poor working conditions are common in garment factories and shops, and according to a report by the New York Times, “The inspections are often so superficial that they omit the most fundamental workplace safeguards like fire escapes. And even when inspectors are tough, factory managers find ways to trick them and hide serious violations, like child labor or locked exit doors.”
Without Fair Trade regulations, garment factory workers are often subjected to dangerous and unsanitary working conditions, and for very little pay.
What should you do?
When purchasing clothing, search for garment labels with “Fair Trade” on them and make sure to ask stores if they sell Fair Trade clothing. Check online and look for companies who promote Fair Trade practices, such as providing fair wages to their workers and giving them a safe and healthy environment to work in.
3. Avoid “Fast Fashion”
Long gone are the days of traditional biannual fashion cycles, as they have been replaced with weekly fashion trends that leave consumers quickly out of style and eager to buy as many new garments as possible.
Bloomberg Business has reported that Zara, a major clothing retailer, “can take a design from drawing board to store shelf in just two weeks. That lets Zara introduce new items every week, which keeps customers coming back again and again to check out the latest styles.”
Fast fashion has created lower-priced, lower-quality clothing that falls apart more easily and ends up polluting our environment, as that disposable waste adds up in our closets and in our landfills.
According to the Huffington Post, “The average American throws away over 68 pounds of textiles per year. We’re not talking about clothing being donated to charity shops or sold to consignment stores; that 68 pounds of clothing is going directly into landfills.”
What should you do?
Invest in classic, well-made garments that are more timeless and durable instead of purchasing several articles of low-quality clothing for bargain prices. You can also visit secondhand clothing shops and purchase recycled clothing to update your wardrobe instead of purchasing new garments regularly. Another great option is to buy locally made clothing from companies and stores such as small boutiques and local designers, which will also help you promote your local economy. And when you no longer need or want an article of clothing that is still in good shape, be sure to donate it rather than throwing it away. And if they are not in great shape anymore, consider moving items like old t-shirts, towels, etc. to the garage to keep on-hand for one-time uses like cleaning up spilled oil or paint. Even single socks that have lost their mates can be repurposed.
Overall, it is important to buy clothing, eco-friendly or not, in moderation. By paying attention to what you buy and how much of it you buy, you can find a balance between being fashionable and supporting the world around you.
Can you think of any other ways to be fashionably eco-friendly? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Healthy Child Healthy World: Choose Organic Cotton For Cleaner, Eco-friendly Clothing
EcoMarket: Eco Friendly Fabrics
Cognoscenti: The Hidden Costs Of Fast Fashion
Huffington Post: 5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know
Huffington Post: The Truth About the Clothes We Wear: How Fashion Impacts Health and the Environment
Postconsumers: Is Eco-Fashion Really Eco-Friendly?
New York Times: Fast and Flawed Inspections of Factories Abroad
Bloomberg:Taking the Lead in Fast-Fashion
Business Insider: 62 things you can do with your old mismatched socks
Pesticides Action Network: Pesticides 101
EPA: In Case of Pesticide Poisoning
Have you ever purchased an article of clothing for the sole reason that it was in style at the time?