This past week, I delved into a new aspect of sustainability, clothing! The slow fashion movement was uncharted territories for me. However, I just finished reading Elizabeth Cline’s book, “Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” and was blown away by the information about our current fashion industry.
Before a few weeks ago, I had a general understanding of the difference in fast and slow fashion. I was pretty sure it was mostly about preventing sweat shops in other countries. This is definitely an important aspect of it, but it encompasses so much more than that, including fashion’s environmental impact.
Fast Fashion Mindset
To explain it in the most simplest of terms, let’s talk about this new pair of pajamas I bought just before reading “Over-Dressed.” I totally fell into the fast fashion mindset and didn’t even realize it. Yikes!
I’m not paying more than $50 for clothing. I saw these cute little romper pajamas in a shop while on vacation and loved them. I liked the style and the softness of the fabric. The pjs cost $60, and so I immediately changed my mind about the clothes. That’s the fast fashion mindset kicking in right there. We are used to very cheaply priced fashion, and feel like we’re getting cheated if the price tag is high. Rather than appreciating high quality clothing, we are accustomed to cheap, trendy and stylish clothing.
Those pjs were on my mind all afternoon, so I decided to look them up online. I found the exact same romper for half the price online and gladly bought it without a second thought.
I have no idea where my clothes were made. As I’m reading “Over-Dressed,” the author continues to talk about where our clothing was made. She speaks of factories in various countries around the world where employees are not paid enough to provide basic necessities for their families like food, shelter, and healthcare. She mentions unsafe working conditions and common accidents occurring in these poor countries, and all because we demand cheaper and cheaper clothing. I pulled out that new set of pajamas, because of course I had no idea where it was made. And guess what? Made in China.
I have no idea what kind of fabric my clothing is made of. A very large majority of our fast fashion clothing is made predominantly of plastic. That’s because it’s a cheap and easy to blend alternative. There’s constant high demand for cheap fashion, so companies tend to use these synthetic fabrics for efficiency. Unfortunately, these fabrics are not good for the environment and can also be difficult to recycle. “Over-Dressed” mentions the importance of knowing more about high quality fabrics. Clothing made with high quality fabrics is made to last, not to be thrown away after a few uses like common fast fashion styles. Let’s go back to those pjs I bought online. They are made of 96% Modal and 4% Spandex. These are synthetics… However, modal is well-known as one of the more environmentally friendly fiber choices since it’s made from renewable cellulosic plants and is biodegradable.
I’m going to use this piece of clothing up and then throw it away. A common way of thinking in the U.S. is considering clothing to be disposable. We can buy a new outfit for less than lunch at a restaurant. When there’s such a low price, people don’t seem to appreciate their clothing as much. With the first signs of wear, we toss it. With a higher quality outfit, we would be more likely to maintain our clothing rather than treating it poorly and getting rid of it after a few short uses.
A More Eco-Conscious Wardrobe
Let’s be a part of the solution, rather than falling for fast fashion! Here are some ideas in how you can maintain a more eco-conscious wardrobe:
Mend and Repair Your Clothing. Rather than following the disposable fashion industry, let’s learn to repair our clothing. The art of sewing has totally been erased from our generation. We need to learn at least the most basic of mending skills: sewing on buttons, patching holes, hemming clothing, etc.
Reinvent Your Wardrobe. For the creative types, learn to reinvent your wardrobe. You can find all sorts of cool DIY tips to alter older pieces of clothing on the internet. Be sure to head over to Pinterest for some interesting ideas. Learn to add some flair to a piece or change the length of a dress or even naturally dye shirts to change things up in your wardrobe.
Shop Secondhand. The inter workings of secondhand shops, charity and consignments shops are fascinating. Definitely, check out Elizabeth Cline’s book to delve more into the behind the scenes look at this aspect of the fashion industry. But in short, you can shop at secondhand shops to help the environment! I’d also recommend being choosy when shopping secondhand and really hunting for high quality pieces made with good fabrics. This will mean that your secondhand finds will last and last.
Shop Slow Fashion Companies. There are many smaller, ethical slow fashion companies out there based right here in the good ole U.S. of A. Shop quality made products by local sellers. I know the price tag will be something to get accustomed to, but these pieces will last a lifetime. Rather than shopping trendy, start looking for a classic capsule wardrobe that will never go out of style.
Fast Facts from “Over-Dressed” by Elizabeth Cline
Here’s just a few facts that really stood out to me while reading the book!
- Every year Americans throw away 12.7 million tons or 68 lbs of textiles per person according to the EPA.
- 1.6 million of these textiles could be recycled or reused.
- The average clothing factory worker in the Dominican Republic earns less than $150 per month. The average clothing factory worker in Bangladesh earns $43 per month. These are not living wages in these poor countries.
- A $300 pair of jeans could cost $40 if manufactured in China. Cheap labor and fabric = cheap fashion. Let’s raise our standards on fashion!
- Raising wages in clothing factories abroad would be good for the U.S. economy, because it would give our own fashion industry a chance to compete.
What do you think about slow fashion!? And do you know of any ethical U.S. based brands to support??