Sustainability is a hot topic in 2016. We hear about the push towards eco-friendly commuting, packaging, and energy sources all the time. Every day, I think about what bin my trash should go in and walk to school instead of drive. I know that drinking disposable water bottles is wasteful, that plastic never disintegrates, and that putting needless carbon emissions into the environment is harmful.
What I didn’t know was how wasteful the fast fashion industry is. I didn’t know that shopping for another t-shirt I don’t really need contributes to water waste and pollution. I never thought that the constant stream of cheap, new clothing entering my closet was necessarily eco-friendly, but it certainly never crossed my mind as something that’s hugely wasteful.
Investopedia defines fast fashion as referring to “a phenomenon in the fashion industry whereby production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible”. It’s advantageous to retailers because the constant cycle of new product releases entices shoppers to always have the new trend.
Most of us shopping junkies are fast fashionistas, as most major retail chains participate in the fast fashion phenomenon. However, the quick and cheap production of clothing is extremely polluting.
Sloppy manufacturing and dying practices pollute our waters, waste fossil fuels for transportation and exploit cheap laborers. — Zahara Hill, Huffington Post
This Huffington Post video shows the ecological impact of constant shopping.
Most fast fashion garments are made out of cotton or polyester, the latter material composed of thin strands of plastic. This means that your $6 shirt that you wore twice can take over 200 years to break down in a landfill!
This National Geographic video shows some of the negative effects of consuming excessive amounts of cotton. Watch for the statistic that says that one cotton t-shirt takes 2,700 liters of water to make – enough drinking water for one person for 900 days! What?!
Cue me feeling guilty about the new cotton t-shirt that I’m wearing for the first time right now. Sorry, planet Earth!
What You Can Do
It’s hard to quantify the full ecological impact of the fashion industry as waste sources come from so many different places. With the crazy amount of resources needed to produce even one t-shirt and American consumers’ insatiable demand for low-cost clothing perpetuating the cycle, it’s not hard to imagine that the fashion industry is doing some serious damage.
We, as demanding American consumers, can still look awesome while reducing our unnecessary use of the world’s resources. Among the internet, there’s this phenomenon called the capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is a collection of 15-25 current pieces that can be mixed and matched to make 15-30 outfits. If you plan it out well, you’ll only need those 15-25 pieces and you won’t repeat an outfit for an entire month. This reduces waste by ensuring that we actually put our clothing to use.
You might be thinking, “15-25 pieces of clothing is all I get?” That’s what I thought, too. And then I searched Pinterest and Youtube for inspiration and found that mixing and matching is totally possible to get several different looks out of the same pieces!
This video shows several mix/match looks with some core basics.
There’s also endless inspiration for every style on Pinterest, from business casual to classic and pretty to stay-at-home mom.
I’m going to start making an effort to being more mindful about the purchases I make at the mall. Next time I want to buy a mediocrely cute$9 shirt, I’ll make sure to think about the water, cotton, and fuel that went in to producing it. Maybe it’s not so worth it, after all.