Mis à jour : 16 août 2019
When you want to have a greener lifestyle, you need to think about fashion. Indeed, fast fashion is the second dirtiest industry in the world, next to big oil.
Fast fashion defines the fashion retailers such as Zara, Mango and H&M who want to capture as quick as possible the current fashion trends from the catwalk. This means that they have several new collections a month, sometimes twice a week.
Everything with fast fashion is wrong in terms of sustainability. Clothes are produced with toxic chemicals and dyeing, polluting the water used by local communities. They are made in poor countries, for wages than can barely be called that way. The suppliers, and thus, the garment workers, are under extreme pressure to deliver under very tight deadline the latest trend at the cheapest cost.
When we buy a t-shirt that costs 10 EUR, we have to ask ourselves how this is even possible. If you include the retailer/shop cost (5 EUR), the label/brand (2.25 EUR) the taxes and distribution (0.7 EUR), the cost of the material (1.75 EUR) and what the cotton farmer earns (0.27), the workers' wages are 0.3 EUR. Not only do they earn almost nothing but they work in very poor conditions, putting their life at risk, as we have seen in the Rana Plaza catastrophe. Now, look at the material used: it is not sustainable at all. For example, the cotton used is not organic, which means that it has been produced using pesticides and chemicals. Synthetic fibers contain microplastics that are released when washing the clothes. The fibers are dyed with toxic chemicals that end up in the rivers.
Moreover, when fast fashion is disposed of, it has no value and is at best given for recycling or to charity and in the worst case, ends up in landfill. However, even recycling needs a lot of energy and not all materials can be recycled. It is an illusion to think that recycling clothes is the solution for keeping on consuming fast fashion. It is not. Fast fashion is NOT sustainable and we - the consumers - should stop buying it.
But what can we do instead? what are the alternatives? how to buy sustainable fashion?
The good news is that there are great alternatives to fast fashion:
1. Always think "Who Made my Clothes?". A simple question, that will help you oriented yourself in the fashion world. Only go for fair-trade labels and, whenever possible, local production. Fair-trade labels guarantee that the garment workers were paid a decent wage and were working under decent conditions. Ethical brands such as Veja for the shoes or People Tree, Armed Angels and Reformation for the clothes produce fair fashion. By using organic material and producing under fair trade conditions, they support a more sustainable fashion. Important to mention is that they are not necessarily more expensive than traditional fashion retailers.
2. Go for 2nd Hand Stores. As mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as recycling clothes and the only way to consume fashion sustainably is to buy clothes that are already existing and are available in second hand stores. In this way, you don't use additional resources to produce new clothes and by re-using existing clothes you prevent them from ending up in the landfill . There are plenty of second hand great options, offline and online, ranging from super cheap clothes (cheaper than fast fashion) to luxury items. Buying at thrift stores is the most sustainable way to consume fashion, more than ethical brands as this means that existing clothes are used longer and thus, the environmental impact is reduced.
3. Natural fibers and organic cotton. By selecting natural fibers, you avoid micro plastic and chemical hidden in synthetic fibers that will be washed out in the laundry and end up in the water. Organic materials are produced without the use of pesticide, in a sustainable manner. Organic material are often produced fair-trade.
4. Repair, repair, repair. Last but not least, if your clothes are damaged or your shoes need a new sole, invest in them. Clothes worth wearing are worth repairing. They will last you longer and this will prevent the consumption of new clothes. You don't need to be an expert in sewing, you can also bring them to someone who is.
I hope this article convinced you to stop buying fast fashion and look into the sustainable alternatives. If you want to learn more about it, watch the documentary "The True Cost" (2015, available on Netflix) and the recent BBC report from Stacey Dooley "Fashion's Dirty Secrets". After watching these documentaries, you will never look at a fast fashion "bargain" the same way.