The fashion industry has been making headlines in the last few years, and not for the right reasons.
Calls for more inclusive sizing and scandalous exposés on working conditions have put the biggest brands in the spotlight. Even more disturbing is the recent news of how harmful the industry is to the environment. From the production line to the landfill, the desire for cheap clothes is almost as big of a danger to the planet as mass farming. Carbon Dioxide emissions, shrinking water supplies, and unprecedented cotton production are just a few of the concerns scientists have uncovered.
And it’s not just experts that have started to notice the pitfalls. The term “fast fashion” used to represent affordable brands that chased catwalk trends, but now it has come to mean something far more sinister. Some have blamed late-stage capitalism, whereas others have turned on online shopping giants. In any case, it is important to note that fast fashion cannot sustain itself, especially without demand. This means that, whether we like it or not, we do bear some responsibility for how we shop.
As with most things, this is much easier said than done. You might be thinking, what can I do that will actually help? You might not believe it, but every small change makes a difference. It can take practice and a lot of patience; at the end of the day, this is a lifestyle change. But don’t panic — here are four easy alternative ways to shop, without compromising on style and cost.
1. Shop Locally
Almost every piece of clothing is international, meaning even the smallest item has its own carbon footprint. With cotton likely sourced from China and production centered in countries like Bangladesh, your clothes will have already made quite the journey before they reach you.
Most people are aware of the lifetime of their clothes, but this does little to instill mindful shopping in consumers. The temptation to jump online is all-too-real. Stores like ASOS, H&M, and Forever 21 dominate the market with daily style drops and attractive prices. This means that when you are all curled up on the sofa on a Friday night, your first port of call may well be your laptop. It’s a helpful start to actively switch off from technology. This will also make it easier to make the transition to local stores. You don’t need to put a blanket ban on your all-time favorite sites, but you should shop at independent vendors whenever you can.
Such stores place a high value on crafting their goods by hand, using organic materials. You will also be doing your bit to help the community economy by promoting and shopping at ethical independents. It may be the more expensive option, but you can be sure that anything you buy will stand the test of time.
If it’s impossible to avoid shipping your new jeans from across the world, make sure you look out for Fairtrade certified brands. Popular examples of these include People Tree and PACT, who follow slow fashion principles, source sustainable materials and pay their workers a fair wage.
2. Don’t Shy Away From Second-Hand
For many people, the major attraction of fast fashion is how friendly it is to their bank account. Numerous ethical fashion brands may have beautiful clothing, but they aren’t accessible to the everyday person. When pioneer stores of mindful shopping aren’t as innovative with their prices, this leaves many consumers disillusioned by the ‘slow’ fashion industry. This creates a vicious cycle, where people are forced into the welcoming arms of fast fashion.
The answer to this seems somewhat obvious, but you’d be surprised at how few people do it. Shopping for second-hand goods has always been a sure-fire way to find stylish looks at a fraction of the price you would usually pay. With the outdated stigma slowly being chipped away, people are becoming less afraid to go rifling through thrift stores and yard sales to find hidden gems. When you know the right places to shop, the fashion possibilities are endless.
Second-hand shopping used to refer only to specialist thrift shops, but it now encompasses a variety of options. Whether you take to online markets like eBay, or head to local clothes recycling hubs, you’re likely to find unique items to complete your personal style. One of the best things about this type of shopping is that lots of finds will have never been worn, and sometimes come with their tags still attached.
3. Embrace Vintage Finds
Countless consumers look to thrift stores to find up-to-date clothing, but it is also a goldmine for those inspired by the fashion of the past. Seasoned vintage shoppers are always delighted by how many retro styles they can find hidden between the hangers. Although it may feel strange stepping into some boots from the nineties or slipping into a bold, shoulder-padded dress from the eighties, it allows you to have more fun with shopping than ever before.
It is no secret that fast fashion falls short of individuality; with everyone on a personal quest to let their own style shine through, shopping at vintage stores has become the perfect solution. It doesn’t matter if you stumble across an item in the back of your grandma’s closet, when browsing online shops like Depop, or by rummaging through boxes at vintage stores, it’s is impossible not to fall in love with statement pieces when they cost so little.
Arguably the biggest problem with vintage shopping is how to keep your look up-to-date, without falling into the fast fashion trap. You may be wondering how whether you can turn some mom jeans into a summer staple. Luckily, many stores use vintage fabrics to recreate modern styles, where jeans can be reborn as shorts in the store window. (Urban Outfitters actually has a great clothing line called Urban Renewal that upcycles old clothing). This means that timeless pieces are never far away, and you can always turn to Instagram for some vintage inspiration.
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4. Give Your Clothes a Longer Life
There is nothing more satisfying than clearing old clothes out of your closet. Before you open the trash can, consider where they might end up. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, in 2014 alone over 16 million tons of clothing in the United States was thrown away, with 10 million tons being sent straight to landfill. What may seem like a few pieces of fabric in the trash can adds up to a much more damaging figure. Fast fashion is undoubtedly to blame for this, but the idea that some items of clothing should be worn only once before being thrown away is an attitude that must be debunked. We may not feel as though we have a choice when societal pressures are so high, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Change begins at the checkout. Ask yourself if you really need another chunky knit. Another pair of sneakers. Another winter coat. There is nothing wrong with indulging every once in a while, but disposing of one item in favor of a near-identical one is as unhealthy to your bank balance as it is to the planet.
There are three very fun, and very easy ways to avoid this problem. The first is unleashing your inner artist by upcycling old clothing. Turning your old t-shirts into a patchwork quilt, transforming your dad’s shirt into a mini dress, and stringing together fabric scraps to knit a cozy scarf are only a few ideas that almost anyone can do. If you don’t trust yourself, it’s worth asking a nearby seamstress to see what magic they can work.
The second is to invest in a few items that can help you make your old clothes stay fresh. Pill shavers and sweater stones are a great (and inexpensive) way to make your old sweaters look like new again.
But perhaps a more touching way to give your clothes a longer life is by visiting your local homeless shelter. You might not be in need of that old sweatshirt anymore, but someone else certainly will be.
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