When's the last time you repeated an outfit? Do you pay attention to where your clothes are made? Do you keep an item of clothing until you've outgrown it, or do you switch closets every season? These questions may feel exhausting, but they are becoming more common as Global Citizens everywhere pay attention to how they can shop more sustainably.
The fashion industry is pumping out and selling more clothes than ever before. As fashion brands like ASOS, Fashion Nova, and Zara introduce new items online and in-store every week, the chances of you owning something that could be described as “fast fashion” are high. But why does it matter?
The term fast fashion is used as a catchy way to describe the ultra-quick and cheap processes employed by the fashion industry that can have harmful effects on the environment. Trending styles are designed, manufactured, transported, and sold by retail stores just in time for a new trend to come along to repeat the cycle. Meanwhile, a study published by Labfresh found that 57.1% of fashion waste from 15 countries across the EU ends up in landfills.
While we can see the prevalence of fast fashion in our lives — on social media and in our closets — it’s difficult to know exactly how damaging the fashion industry is to the environment, making it harder for the industry to become sustainable. According to Vox, we have few statistics about the fashion industry’s connection to climate change that are rooted in science, but we know there are issues.
Polyester, which is the most commonly used fiber in clothing, is made from plastic and will never fully decompose. Instead, it acts like other forms of plastic, which are rarely recycled and will break down into microplastics for years to come, harming wildlife and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The carbon emissions don’t stop there: From transporting clothing between manufacturing facilities and storefronts around the world, it’s no wonder that a 2021 report from the World Economic Forum estimates the fashion industry generates 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, taking into account materials, manufacturing, and freight operations.
And sure, sustainability is on the rise, with more brands popping up to meet consumers’ demands for environmentally conscious clothing. But we can’t ensure sustainability without transparency, and, according to the Fashion Transparency Index, fast fashion retailers are seriously lacking when it comes to disclosing their practices relating to human rights and environmental policies.
Change needs to happen at the macro level of the fashion industry, which can start with retailers sourcing sustainable materials and decarbonizing their supply chain. But Global Citizens everywhere can avoid the damaging effects of fast fashion through their choices as consumers.
To get started, here are seven ways you can fight fast fashion at home and take action to defend the planet.
1. Shop from sustainable and ethical fashion brands.
One of the best ways to ensure your clothing choices are not harming the environment or people is by paying attention to where you shop. Not only will this ensure that your carbon footprint is low, but it will also help promote fair working practices for people around the world.
A 2019 report from Oxfam — which was based on interviews with more than 470 garment workers across Bangladesh and Vietnam — found that less than 1% of people interviewed reported adequate working conditions and living wages.
Sustainable brands pay attention to every step of the supply chain when producing and selling their products, from sourcing recycled materials to ensuring garment workers are paid fair wages. Before making a purchase, check out your favorite brand’s mission and values to see if they share their social and environmental policies or see how they rank on the Fashion Transparency Index.
2. Buy less often and buy high quality.
Fast fashion retailers have convinced us that we need to have the newest style in our closets to be happy, but these styles are usually crafted from cheap materials that don’t hold up, requiring us to buy more. To fight fast fashion, be picky about what you wear.
Do you really need three black t-shirts made out of thin fabric? What if you bought one, made from 100% cotton sourced from sustainable practices? Not only will you dress better, but you’ll feel better about what you wear, too.
3. Donate or sell gently used clothing.
When you’ve outgrown your favorite pair of jeans or moved away from a cold climate and have more sweaters than you need, give your clothes a chance at a second life. From donation centers and shelters to resale boutiques, there are countless ways to redistribute the clothes you no longer need without harming the environment. Just make sure they are washed and in good condition before you send them on their way.
4. Host a clothing swap.
If you’re not ready to donate the clothes that no longer inspire you, try sharing your closet with friends. Clothing swaps can be a great way to get access to new clothes without putting in the money or effort it takes to buy new items.
Maybe you’ve worn the same denim jacket every day for a week and want to borrow your friend’s sweatshirt, or they’ve had their eye on a pair of shoes you haven’t touched for months. The best part is that it doesn’t have to last forever — you can always swap back!
5. Buy or rent secondhand clothes.
If you enjoy shopping often to refresh your wardrobe, embrace used clothing. Thrift stores around the world offer unique and vintage styles, but more retailers are embracing the second hand model to fight fast fashion.
A 2021 study published by the Finnish scientific journal Environmental Research Letters suggested that renting clothing is more harmful to the environment than throwing them away, taking into account the impacts of transportation and dry cleaning. But members of the rental fashion industry have challenged the findings, stating that renting clothes can slow down customer consumption and extend the life of garments that would otherwise be sent to the landfill, thus reducing carbon emissions.
There is no one option that will make the fashion industry sustainable, but rather a combination of several possibilities that can reduce its harmful effects on the environment. The creation of online thrift stores and renting retailers makes it easy for consumers to take a stand against overproduction and lower their personal carbon footprints.
6. Recycle textiles and garments.
Some fashion retailers recognize their harmful impact on the environment and are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints, too. Madewell, Levi’s, and H&M are just a few examples of brands that offer consumers the opportunity to recycle textiles.
Once collected, your old socks or torn jeans can be reused as material for new clothes or be turned into insulation for houses. Check out clothing recycling centers near you or contact your favorite retailers to see if they collect textile donations.
7. Repurpose old clothing.
When was the last time you made something from scratch? If you can’t find a recycling program for garments that are too damaged to be donated, take the matter into your own hands and create something new!
Old t-shirts can become cleaning cloths, helping you end your reliance on paper towels. You can also try making stuffed animals or dolls, t-shirt quilts, and scarves from items you already have at home.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.