HOW THE FAST FASHION INDUSTRY IS RUINING THE PLANET - AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

A version of this article written by Chloe Cotter, writer and co-founder of The Kitten Life, originally appeared on Elephant Journal. It has been edited for readers of this blog.

  Writer,  Chloe Cotter , wearing an outfit of thrift store finds, sitting with a week's worth of garbage.

Writer, Chloe Cotter, wearing an outfit of thrift store finds, sitting with a week's worth of garbage.

As yet another bill from the holiday season hits my bank statement this morning, I have no choice but to face the briefly avoided consequences of my buying habits this past holiday season.

Around 30% of annual profits made by retailers happen during the two month stretch between American Thanksgiving (mid November) and Boxing Day (late December).

Do you make 30% of your purchases at this time of year?

It’s often understandable: in the Northern Hemisphere temperatures can drop below zero and if we find that our current wardrobe is lacking in warmth, the easiest thing to do is replace the things that are no longer up to snuff with newer, warmer alternatives.

There’s also the togetherness we feel this time of year, wanting to hold our loved ones a little tighter and expand outwards where we can to help out those in need. The act of giving is an important and beautiful tradition, one that we would do well to teach our children and further generations to continue.

And then there’s the whole Treat Yo’ Self! mentality that’s as easy to feed as punching a few numbers into your computer or swiping a card.

But when we see envy-inducing Instagram models rocking the latest Oh-my-God-I-gotta-have-it trend, watch heart-warming commercials of gift giving, see these breathtakingly beautiful Vogue editorials, these storeys-high ads of lingerie-clad models in Santa hats in Times Square or your local metro station, we rarely consider the fact that what we’re viewing is a highly-curated snapshots of an ideal; a feeling encapsulated in a single moment frozen in time. A moment that is staged and very much outside of what your or my day to day reality looks like, or what the actual needs of those with less involve.

We do not see the garment being worn in various climates (let alone -30), being cleaned, fading in the wash. We don’t see the girl in the heels walking to the bar or the un-photoshopped version of the model. We don't see the factory worker in Bangladesh stitching the seams together, nor the chemicals dumped into the water supply during production. We don’t see the teachers in our community’s true reaction to unwrapping yet another mug or box of artisanal cocoa mix, nor hear from our loved ones who are too polite to tell us they’re maybe, probably, definitely, not going to wear the sweater you bought them.

In a world that’s progressing at breakneck speed, jumping from one fad to the next almost faster than it takes to create it, fast fashion dominates the market and our buying trends.

And it doesn’t have time to consider the more practical matters that exist when it comes to dressing ourselves or gift-giving to others.

Fast fashion: the speedy, speedy, quick, quick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, type.

As a society we’ve created a non-renewable, impossible to recycle, steam-rolling industry of garbage clothing. 

And we’re throwing out this clothing at such a rate that “84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.”

We live in a time where it’s normal and understood, even expected, that the clothing we buy isn’t going to last us. Maybe we already know that we’re buying garbage but we turn a blind eye because we have a neon-themed party coming up or we think our niece would look just adorable in the kitten-eared headband that caught our eye in the window at the Baby Gap.

We don't think about the “cost per wear” (CPW), we instead think about the piece itself and the cost to us in the moment we see it.

Re-wearing outfits doesn’t align with how we’re supposed to appear in a world where the power of social media blinds us to the karmic implications our choices have on the planet.

It makes our lives more difficult than easy to actually apply our knowledge of sustainability to our buying habits. 

But with any issue of environmentalism or mindfulness, the solution is not made easy. 

It’s hard to resist reckless indulgence when there are gorgeous suede mini dresses at Forever 21 that are literally so cheap it makes you forget about the five year old Filipino kid who sewed the damn thing by hand. It’s even harder when you’re not aware in the first place that a five year old was the one who made it in absolutely deplorable conditions.

You have high standards for yourself, why not for the clothing you wear?

When we know that every penny we spend is a vote towards what we want our future to look like it’s somewhat easier to turn to thrift stores, local slow fashion designers, clothing swaps with our friends and community. 

Here are The Kitten Life's top 5 suggestions for how you can avoid purchasing fast fashion:

1. Dress classically/timelessly

This is the most sustainable way to approach dressing yourself; timeless meaning you choose styles, cuts, prints and accessories that are not fad driven, can be worn over many seasons and are well enough made that they last years of wear.

When you build a wardrobe over a lifetime that is timeless in style and built to last, your shopping habits contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry. This may mean splurging at vintage stores or even at high-fashion houses, but when you’ll wear the piece weekly for ten years, the CPW far outweighs the initial cost to both your wallet and the environment.

Interestingly, if you agree with and ascribe to this philosophy of dressing yourself, gift giving clothing and accessories for others becomes relatively more expensive. More likely you’re prompted to move away entirely from the purchasing of clothing for others, instead opting for quality time spent together, possibly enjoyed over a delicious meal.

When you do find yourself in need of a new timeless piece, or want to treat a friend or lover to a new jacket or watch, look to slow fashion brands to do it.

Slow Fashion is “the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity.” Slow fashion retailers place higher importance on the significance of a single article of clothing, seeing the value of its production as interconnected to both the environment and to the wearer. These brands use recycled or locally-sourced fibres and operate on longer season cycles... making them an excellent choice for your wardrobe and the future of our planet!

2. Thrift

Research the 3-5 thrift stores closest to you and start frequenting them. In my experience it takes semi-regular, hour long trips to really sift through the contents of these places to find the gems. That means vintage Louboutins, brand new J.Brand jeans, full-length MiuMiu trench coats, Zara dresses that are still on the racks in the store, are all possible scores (and examples of things I’ve personally found!). 

However, this doesn’t give you carte-blanche to purchase frivolously just because you find something awesome. Always consider whether or not it already fits into your wardrobe, or if you’re buying it just because it’s a great score. There’s enough to go around!

Bonus points? Only shop at thrift stores that support not-for-profit organizations, meaning that the profit they make from your purchases go to back into good causes, such as the Salvation Army, or one of my favourites, Talize.

3. Swap with your friends/community

Organizing a swap between your friends on a seasonal basis is a great way to re-vamp your wardrobe, save money and, let’s face it, have an excuse to drink a delicious beverage and get together. This is a great way to re-gift items that you never wear and take similar items off the hands of your friends as new gifts for yourself!

Community-wide swaps are happening already on Facebook (search for “clothing swap + your city name” and look at the groups that come up) and most likely in your city. 

The great thing about these events is that a lot of the times the organizers collect all the unclaimed clothing and donate it to charities that can actually use it.

4. Repair

Favourite jeans ripped? Repair them instead of throwing them out. Same goes for holes in sleeves, undone hems, de-soled shoes. Think about long-term CPW instead of buying a new pair every couple months. 

Don’t know where to look? Often your local dry-cleaner will offer tailoring and repair services, or will be able to recommend you something close by. Stop in at a high-end shoe store and ask for their suggestions on great shoe repair services in the area.

5. Educate yourself

The more you know about the clothing you wear (three out of four pieces of clothing made this year will end up in the landfill), the food you eat (we waste 40% of the food we buy every year!), your daily impact on the environment (the ocean is full of un-recyclable plastic that’s killing marine life!), the less you’ll want to buy of anything let alone fast fashion.

The future is in sharing and really enjoying the resources we already have, not in creating more.

It takes a little foresight and consciousness, but, as you’ll find with all the best things in life, they all do.

Are you a slow fashion brand in Montreal? Or, are you part of a movement that promotes slow fashion, conscious buying choices, mindfulness, etc.? Hit us up and maybe we can work together on a feature!