Today I’d like to talk with you about how I decided to ditch fast fashion and why you should too. It’s a topic I’ve talked about many times before, yet I never came across to write everything down you need to know.
So here it is.
But before I start, I’d like t ask a couple of questions.
This morning, you’ve probably stood in front of your wardrobe and picked the clothes you’re wearing now. Maybe you just picked up the clothes that lied on a chair or on the floor. Or maybe your mom told you what to wear today. And even if you’re in pyjamas, that’s still a piece of clothing. Anyway, you’ve probably dressed up and that’s what I want to talk about.
I’d like to ask you, without looking at the label inside your clothes: do you know where it’s been produced? Do you know what material your shirt is made of? Do you know how many hands touched your jeans before ending up in your wardrobe? Do you know who made your clothes and under what circumstances?
Back then, I wouldn’t have an answer either.
Had you asked me those questions a couple of years ago, I could not have answered them. I’d probably be clueless. I did have some sort of interest in fashion, but it was not something I was aware of on a daily basis.
I once made a rule, when I was twelve or so, to never wear clothes for a couple of days in a row. So that I had to wear a new outfit every day. I’ve stick to that rule quite easily, but it also made me want to wear different clothes to different occasions. I could not wear the same gala or prom dress to different parties; it was impossible to repeat my outfits. I didn’t see myself as a fashionista or whatever you want to call it. However, I liked to impress people with the clothes I was wearing. I wanted to look good and I wanted people to remember that.
So I did what so many people did: I shopped.
Maybe not every Saturday, or every week, but every now and then I shopped. And I did not come home with huge bags full of new clothing. Well, I have to admit this has happened too sometimes. But overall, I was not a big spender. But even though, I thought I did not shop a lot, my wardrobe increased and increased and slowly it became bigger.
That was the moment I opened the doors of my wardrobe, had a critical look and asked myself: how is it possible that I have a closet full of clothes and still nothing to wear?! Why can’t I be satisfied with the things I own? Why are the clothes I have not making me happy and why do I always want more?
Addicted to fashion
I have a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear!– many people
So I told my boyfriend about my complaints and the next time I arrived home with a bag of new clothing he said: “Alexandra, you have to stop buying new clothes. The clothing industry is the most polluting industry in the world.” And I told him: “Dear boyfriend, why are you always complaining about what I do? I already eat vegetarian, I do take the bus to work, we have green energy in our house and we cycle to university. What do you want me to do?”
However, his words have stick into head and I became quite curious. And that’s why I’ve decided to dive into the world of “fast fashion”.
But what is fast fashion actually?
Fast fashion is a trillion dollar industry, working with cheap materials, cheap labour and under bad circumstances, to produce cheap clothing to wear just a couple of times. When you walk through average shopping areas, 99% of the stores can be considered as fast fashion, like for example: Mango, Zara, H&M and Monki. To be honest, all the stores where I shopped at were fast fashion.
It’s a huge industry, that is producing 150 billion garments annually. 150 billion. I do not even know how much that is, the only thing I know: it’s more than we all need. A garment is on an average basis only worn 4 times, before throwing it away. And when I thought of my wardrobe, I had to admit there were many items I’ve only worn once.
Some environmental problems of fast fashion
To produce these huge amounts of clothing, a lot of water waste and pollution is happening. We need 32.000 Olympic size swimming pools of fresh water to produce them. Think about it, these enormous pools, being polluted and harming your health and the environment.
Besides that, almost 2/3 of out clothes, 63% is made of fabrics based on plastic or oil. These are fabrics such as polyester, polyamide and even viscose. But cotton is not much better, as cotton needs a lot a water and pesticides.
85% of our clothing ends up in landfill, without being recycled. And the thing is: we need 12 years, to recycle all the garments fast fashion companies produce within 48 hours. That’s insane.
And then the un/ethical aspects in fast fashion…
Fast fashion focusses on an enormous demand of new clothes every week. In order to sell these huge amounts of pieces, people in countries like China, Vietnam and especially Bangladesh, need to work insane hours.
Considering this human aspect, we cannot ignore the Rana Plaza disaster. In 2013 in Bangladesh, one of the biggest fashion production countries, a factory collapsed. Almost 1200 people died and even 2000 more were injured. Those people live in indignity. They do not earn enough to pay the bills. They have to work 12 hours a day for 7 days a week. Sometimes children have to do the work too.
Only, so we can buy cheap clothes.
Fast fashion produces a new collection every month, every week or sometimes every day. That makes us hunger for more and that also makes us not loving the older items, as it’s not on trend anymore.
I was shocked by the facts, and I asked myself, do I really want to look good that badly? And then again: what is looking good, when it harms people, the environment and our world as a whole? The answer was easy: no I don’t want to look good on all costs.
That’s where my journey begun.
I had to find new ways of shopping. Or maybe not shopping at all. And the first weeks it was hard, of course. And I shopped from the conscious or organic collection from H&M, Mango or Weekday. But it did not feel right. And I decided to quit that as well. I told myself: I will never buy fast fashion again.
That caused some difficulties. Maybe you can relate, but when you meet people in the city for a coffee or whatsoever, you most of the time also make a quick walk through the shopping area. And every time I had to tell my friends and family, why I’m not buying anything. Why I do not want to support fast fashion.
But this also led to new opportunities
I had to find out new ways of dressing, consuming and interacting with fashion. As I didn’t allow myself to shop at the high street stores, I had to discover new stores and new places. This was actually a really interesting way of rediscovering my own town.
Slow fashion in town
I didn’t realise how many stores my hometown already had selling slow fashion and vintage. After I’ve discovered this, I’ve made a map about Groningen with all the hotspots. Besides that, I was able to discover new cities also totally differently. Rather than going to the huge shopping streets in Berlin for example, I went to many local and sustainable shops. These are also collected in a map of Berlin.
Mending and making my own clothes
Besides the new stores I’ve discovered, I’ve also discovered a passion for sewing and making my own clothes. It’s amazing to see fabric turn into something wearable. But it’s also very very time intensive and it made me even realise more, that the prices in the fast fashion industry, do not reflect the real price. Someone needs to pay, and if it’s not you, then it’s someone else, in the supply chain.
Second hand first
I also came to realise that second hand and vintage is a great alternative for fast fashion. The prices are even better and you will find something way more unique. Everyone wears the same sweater, same pants, same coat when you buy from Zara. Instead, try to look for it second hand and you will be the only one wearing it.
There’s already so much out there, you just need to know where to look. Therefore I’ve created a blog post about my tips when shopping second hand and my top 6 favourite second hand online shops.
Appreciate what you have
But the biggest thing I had to learn during my journey towards a more conscious wardrobe, was learning to appreciate what I already have. With the new seasons and new trends coming around every three months or more, we are triggered to always be on the hunt for the latest additions to our wardrobe. Yet, when we have a closer look, we will recognise that we already own enough. We don’t always need more, we have to learn how to become more creative with what we have instead.
We can learn to appreciate what we have by learning to live in the here and now, without the pressure to always strive for ‘more’ or ‘better’. For me it was super helpful to dive into the art of slow living. Where I try to focus on slowing down, rather than overworking and overconsuming. When you want to read more about this topic, I’d recommend this blog post.
Life’s better without fast fashion
When you decide to quit fast fashion, you will discover a new love for fashion. As slow fashion is a way more satisfactory approach to getting dressed. A more intentional approach, as it’s more eco friendly and ethical. When you need more information to educate yourself, check out this post.
Or do you still think, slow fashion is boring and for hippies only? Check out my Instagram or the latest monthly favourites, to realise that’s not true. Slow fashion is as sexy, as modern and even more beautiful than fast fashion.
Do you already know you will never buy fast fashion again? That’s awesome. Welcome to the club!
I’ve made an ethical brands directory and an ethical stores directory in which you will find all ethical and sustainable brands you need.
Great post – so much good information! At the start of this year, I made a pledge to myself to buy no new (ie first user) clothes, and I’ve managed to stick to that so far. It’s been a fun journey, and I’m happy to be making a small contribution to our planet. I’ve also been astonished at the quality of clothes in our local thrift stores – most look like they have only been worn once!!