Each month, Kait Spielmaker takes us through her journey to live a more eco-conscious life. Here, part seven of her journey.
By Kait Spielmaker
Down With Fast Fashion
We are programmed to love shopping and love the thrill of buying new things. It’s a feeling of comfort and sometimes therapy. When you’re going through a break-up, go shopping. You got fired? Go shopping. Going on vacation? Buy a whole new wardrobe for the trip. Like most people my age, I spent much of my adolescence shopping at the local mall and buying fashionable things from Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, among others.
Exploitation of resources and humanities are just a couple of the tradeoffs that come with the fast fashion industry (where the fashion industry produces items quickly to get trends from the runway to the consumer, at a low cost). We are so accustomed to disposal, especially in the United States—and this contributes to climate change. Single-use plastic, food waste, wearing a dress one time and then getting rid of it… waste is a part of our lives.
The Daunting Facts
According to MSNBC, “10% of the planet’s carbon footprint comes from the fast fashion industry.” Furthermore, globally we consume 400% more new pieces of clothing than we did 20 years ago, leaving us with 80 million new pieces produced annually (The True Cost movie).
The United States leads in new textile consumption, followed closely by Australia.
Fast fashion is the second-largest polluter of freshwater, and much of the toxic wastewater from textile plants will make its way into waterways before ever being treated. Producing cotton and dying fabric uses obscene amounts of water (on average about 200 tons of freshwater is used to dye one ton of fabric).
Social media has had a big influence on consumers, targeting them with enticing ads and paying social media influencers to give discount codes to their followers or post sponsored content.
Buy second hand. You truly won’t find better stuff than you will at a secondhand store. Buying second hand is like treasure hunting, you never know what you’re going to find. I have found some of my favorite staple pieces at Goodwill, Savers, or a cool consignment shop in Wicker Park, Chicago. Cheap, one-of-a-kind pieces? That’s a win-win.
Second hand shop online. There are a lot of online “thrift stores.” Vinted is the website I have been using pretty consistently since 2014. The best part? You can purchase cool items, but you can also sell or swap unwanted items as well! Similar to Vinted are Depop, ThredUp, Poshmark, and there are now plenty of thrifty finds shops on Instagram. My favorite one is @rosegirlsvintage because it is curated to perfection.
Find sustainable brands that use sustainable material, practice fair trade, pay livable wages, and have safe working conditions; brands that embrace slow fashion.
“Slow fashion” is a term coined in the fashion world as clothing made by demand and not in excess. KS Garner is a fun clothing brand based right here in Phoenix. She hand-stitches everything and doesn’t overproduce; therefore, her pieces are made to order, saving a lot of textile waste. As her brand grows, she will continue to incorporate more and more sustainably sourced textile material.
While sourcing sustainable or organic fabric along with ethically producing apparel tends to yield a higher price tag, you’re supporting brands that acknowledge their corporate social responsibility and the responsibility to protect workers and the environment. Brands like KS Garner, Dazey LA, or Solstice Intimates (two other female-run slow fashion clothing companies) are changing the way clothes are made and using better materials and working conditions to make them.
Avoid polyester and other synthetic fibers. Avoid these in clothing as much as possible. Synthetic fibers such as polyester or nylon are part of the plastic epidemic polluting our oceans. Most people think of plastic straws and other single-use plastics, but much of our clothing contains bits of microplastic that makes its way off our clothes when washed and into our waterways.
Support brands that are diverting plastic from the environment. Brands like Girlfriend Collective, Rothy’s or Adidas are now making apparel and shoes from plastic that would otherwise end up in the ocean.
Stay away from brands that give little transparency to their supply chain and working conditions. Brands like Patagonia have an entire section on their website that is devoted to transparency and their efforts to uphold their corporate social responsibility. Violating human rights or not following environmental impact policies is unacceptable and unfortunately all too common when working in fast fashion.
Do clothing swaps with your friends! Clothing swaps are a fun way to get new items without spending any money. Invite some friends over and have them bring any unwanted clothing, shoes, accessories, etc. You’ll spend your evening having snacks and getting a couple of new additions to your closet without having to donate everything.
What About the Cost?
Hey, I totally get not having $200 to drop on a dress made from organic/upcycled material from a local or eco-conscious brand. As a grad student, like most millennials, I can’t justify spending that kind of money on one piece of clothing, even if I really, really want to. I have student loans, rent, and other responsibilities that are accustomed in millennial culture.
Take a few minutes to assess your closet. Instead of focusing on whatever is trending in the fashion world (we all know it will be something different in five minutes), decide what it is that you like to wear. Find pieces of clothing that can be dressed up or down and that are timeless. From there, make a mental note and go out hunting for those things. I promise it works out in your favor most of the time, as it is something I have been doing for the last few years.
Then, whenever you find yourself with a few extra bucks, hop on one of those slow fashion sites and get something that may be a little more than you want to spend; you’ll get your money’s worth and it will last longer than the $10 see-through dress from Forever 21. Fashion should be about quality over quantity.
Previous articles from this series
Kait Spielmaker is a Michigan native who relocated to Phoenix, and is the digital content coordinator at Green Living Magazine. She is an avid hiker and is working on her master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.
Photos by KS Garner and Alyssa Jane