In this zero waste journey, I have grown a greater appreciation for where things come from. This mostly related to food, and buying from local growers. But I’ve started to investigate more into the origin of my clothes, and shopping sustainably. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share what I’ve found!
What is fast fashion
The term ‘fast fashion’ is one I’ve only come to hear in recent years. It basically means cheap clothes that are produced quickly in response to fashion trends. So when you walk into stores like Zara or Cotton On, you’ll find cheaper versions of fashionable clothes. The benefit of fast fashion is that it makes trendy clothes more accessible for people who can’t afford the big ticket items. But the catch is, you’ll likely burn through these clothes quickly due to the poor quality, and end up going back for more.
‘Clothing is now considered the second biggest polluter on earth’
According to Friends of the Earth, many of our clothes contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide (the most common fabrics used). In fact up to 64% of new fabrics are made up of plastic. So when we wash our clothes made from these materials, they shed tiny little microfibres. Microfibres might not sound dangerous, but they are actually a plastic-based thread that is thinner than human hair. Our water treatment systems are not fine enough to catch these tiny plastic threads, therefore they end up in the ocean.
On their journey to the ocean however, these tiny plastic threads are soaking up harmful chemicals. These toxins pose a threat to aquatic life. The most worrying fact, is that sea life have started ingesting these plastic parts, and they are making their way up the food chain, to the point where they are showing up in the seafood that people eat!
Even further, according to the University of Queensland, we send around 85% of textiles we buy straight to landfill every year. Because most clothing is made from plastic, it takes upwards of 1000 years to break down.
Get out of the habit
After habitually shopping with fast fashion chains since being a wee teenager, I had to make an active decision in my brain to stop buying from them. To my suprise, I’ve found this transition very simple and am less attached to the concept of buying new clothes. So here are my top tips for avoiding fast fashion.
1. Buy investment pieces
An investment piece is a clothing item that serves a hefty purpose, and it’s purchase can be justified. An investment piece should be made from good quality material, that prevents the clothing breakdown that comes with cheap clothes. An investment piece should also be flexible, so that it can be worn with multiple ‘outfits’ perhaps across all the seasons, but most importantly it should serve a purpose. For example, a good quality winter coat to last through many winters.
The only downside? An investment piece will straight up cost more than it’s fast-fashion alternative, primarily due to the quality. Thinking forward, it will perhaps spare you a penny as it should last for quite some time, instead of a yearly replacement from fast-fashion that quickly shows it wear and tear. My most recent investment piece was a really nice pair of jeans. They have lived on my legs for around 2 years, show no signs of wear and tear, and are an all year round pair of pants.
2. Be an outfit repeater
The phrase that circulated my high school was ‘no one wants to be an outfit repeater’, and this is fast-fashions best friend. Pop culture has instilled into us that for every event we go too, it is integral we wear something new. This notion of newness is frankly stupid, because no one on earth could give a shit if you wear something twice (at least I don’t). Jane Fonda recycled a red dress for the Oscars this year, that she had once worn a few years ago, and it made the news?! Fonda actively went against this non-recycle culture, and I think she looked fabulous both times she wore it.
Tying into ‘investment pieces’, consider having a couple of good quality, nice dresses/skirts/pants (whatever) that you can rotate between events. My party piece? This fabulous Gorman (great quality) linen dress. She was bought for my university graduation a few years ago, but has re-appeared for my brothers school graduation, birthday dinners, and anything else that requires a bit of frill.
3. Buy second hand
Op-shopping is straight up the most obvious way to avoid stimulating the fast-fashion market. Although it would be nice to never buy any new clothes ever again, sometimes our garments do come to their end. Sometimes we grow out of things, sometimes you might need an extra tank top for your holiday, or perhaps you have a baby growing in you that requires your pants to have extra room. Buying clothes is not a sin, but buying second-hand is such a fantastic way to do it.
Every town has it’s op-shops, some good & some bad, but thats not the only place to find second-hand clothes. The internet is an amazing way to buy, swap & sell practically anything. There are ‘clothing exchange groups’ on facebook for different popular brands like Gorman, Lorna Jane & Lululemon. I’ve both bought, and sold plenty of clothes over these facebook groups, and have never had any problems!
4. Learn to sew
Although a more difficult option than just heading to the local op-shop, learning to sew doesn’t just mean starting from scratch. Sure, if you’re a talented sewer (or keen to learn), there are plenty of resources on the internet to teach you how to sew your own clothes. But simply learning to sew can save you from throwing out beloved clothes when the natural wear and tear seeps in.
From a humble button, to patching pants, learning to sew has spared many of my loved clothes. My favourite (and most dodgy) repair job I’ve attempted has been my be-loved spotted pants. One night I burnt a hole in the leg (drunkenly leaning against a fire pit) and was determined not to say goodbye. So, I found some similar (not identical) fabric and attempted to cover it up. It’s certainly not perfectly blended, but I’ve always loved them since.
5. Commit to a goal
I’ve made a commitment to buying no new clothes this year, unless they’re second-hand or made with sustainable/compostable fabrics. There are a couple of things I can’t ignore, like needing a new work shirt, but overall I’m planning to save a bucket load of cash by avoiding the stores. Having a year long goal makes it easier to keep my commitment, and already going beautifully! Consider doing the same, even if it’s on a slightly smaller scale just try and eliminate something from your shopping urges.
Clothing is essential, but as I’ve grown and learnt, I’ve slowly detached myself from the idea of buying new clothes. This involved a serious amount of self-reflection about my own personal vanity, and what I thought I needed to be considered fashionable, now I couldn’t give two shits about fashion! Even if I’m an outfit repeater, or looking like a total dag, at least I have something to wear.
For Friends of the Earth article on plastic in our clothes, head to https://friendsoftheearth.uk/plastics/microfibres-plastic-in-our-clothes
For University of Queensland article on environmental impacts of fast fashion, head to https://sustainability.uq.edu.au/projects/recycling-and-waste-minimisation/fast-fashion-quick-cause-environmental-havoc
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