To be fair, my title is a bit of a misnomer; I purchase clothing for my children, both of whom seem to find growing like weeds particularly entertaining, and I would sooner make a new purchase than stroll about in the nude. I have, however, broken up with buying clothes outside of necessity, both for my family and myself, which might mean living in a state of limbo for a time, as my pre-pregnancy clothes are too small, and my post-pregnancy clothes are too big. This state of limbo still doesn’t warrant the purchase of an entirely new wardrobe. Instead, I can borrow from friends or family, or cinch and belt until my weight is no longer fluctuating, limiting waste and genuinely saving money.
Growing up, cleanliness wasn’t next to godliness—frugality was. My parents taught my sister and myself the value of money, the sense in shopping sales, and the joy of hand-me-down items. Although I’m grateful for all my parents taught me, as I grow older, I realize there may have been a missing component: the value of keeping.
Spending money on items you don’t need isn’t a bargain; it is still using unnecessary funds and creating waste. Even if I find an incredible sale on a shirt—a shirt that is normally $100 is on sale for $2, for instance—I am not saving by purchasing an unnecessary item. I am spending, and I am, potentially, wasting. This isn’t to say you can never make a purchase without a pressing need—instead, the goal here is to identify and evaluate the impulse to spend, spend, spend without thought to or consideration of the consequences of fast fashion.
Fast fashion is everywhere. Indeed, malls are veritable monuments to the onset and popularity of fast fashion, with dozens of windows loudly and brightly proclaiming why you need the next season’s newest clothing—clothing that seems to rotate in and out in a matter of weeks. This isn’t a phenomenon relegated entirely to youth, either; even large-scale department stores have a constant influx of new clothing items. Although trends and changing inventory are not terrible in and of themselves, they become a problem when others suffer in the process of bringing them to the shelves of the local department store or mall.
What exactly is fast fashion? “Fast fashion” is a term used to describe clothing brands that aim to bring upcoming trends to stores quickly and inexpensively. Sounds harmless enough, right? Not exactly.
The Problem With Fast Fashion
Although fast fashion seems to be perfectly reasonable, there are a few reasons this model of clothing production is unsustainable. The first is, predictably, the usual way in which it is produced. To keep costs low, manufacturers outsource to areas of the world in which safe working conditions are not enforced. This might mean literally working in crumbling buildings (as demonstrated in the Rana Plaza collapse), or it may mean working too-long hours, for too little money. Additionally, synthetic fibers are often used—fibers that do not readily biodegrade, leading to more trash and waste.
The second reason fast fashion is problematic is a little more abstract; changing clothing items every new season creates a culture around clothing that focuses on novelty—not quality, not long-term use, and not investment. Instead, clothes are regarded as throwaway items better suited for a few weeks of use than even a year of consistent use. The result? Constant shopping, wasting money, and contributing to a massive landfill problem.
Donation is Not Enough
Many proponents of fast fashion argue that purchasers can either resell or donate fast fashion items that are no longer wanted. While donation is an excellent way to pay forward your own abundance, donating clothing is becoming increasingly problematic; due to sheer donation numbers, most thrift and secondhand retailers cannot make use of all donated items, and wind up shipping unwanted clothing overseas…where it may be sold secondhand, or may be sent to overseas landfills, and left to rot. Cotton and other natural fibers will eventually biodegrade, but synthetic fibers will persist, resulting in literal mountains of trash.
Reuse, Recycle, and Avoid
There are several simple solutions. The first? Reuse what you can. If a beloved shirt of yours has a stain, do your utmost to remove it. If your fingers are itching for a trendy new clothing item, consider purchasing secondhand rather than running to the nearest mall.
If you have a clothing item that is stained, tattered, or otherwise destroyed, don’t donate; the donation bill is not tantamount to your garbage can. Save good-quality items for donation, and recycle your other items. A bleach-stained shirt can turn into a small collection of cleaning rags. A bedraggled sweater can become a pair of thick woolen socks or legwarmers. A tattered pair of jeans can be cut up and used to patch another tattered pair. Where recycling your own clothing is concerned, the possibilities are endless.
The final piece of the puzzle? Avoid. This requires several steps. The first: get offline! Don’t seek out clothing to cheer you up on a rough day—have a cup of tea and read a good book, instead. Clear out your inbox and unsubscribe from retailers’ daily mailers; nothing is quite as tempting as a loud banner proclaiming, “60% off! Today, online only!” If a straggler worms its way into your inbox, immediately delete it and move on. Avoid malls, avoid department stores, and avoid treating shopping like a therapist. Purchase when you need something, not when you feel bored, lonely, or insecure. A new shirt won’t change your life, but it does have the potential to contribute to a massive waste issue systematically eroding the planet we call home.
Consider a Break Up…Or At Least a Serious Talk
Blessedly, not everyone has a toxic relationship to clothing. Unfortunately, many men and women do. I, myself, would justify my purchases; after all, I purchased my clothes primarily secondhand, keeping costs and waste low. Once again, though, a simple evaluation of my habits revealed a tendency to accumulate, to hoard, to use clothing as a metaphorical bandage on a psychological wound. And so? Clothes shopping and I have broken up, in favor of a lasting relationship with more sustainable, considerate purchasing practices.