- Fast fashion uses cheap materials to churn out clothing quickly at stores like H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara.
- Buying fast fashion often ends up costing consumers more in the long run, and the practice also has consequences for workers and for the environment.
- I quit fast fashion a year ago and haven’t looked back, and I compiled the nine biggest reasons why.
Fast fashion is a business model that uses cheap materials and labour to churn out clothing collections at a rapid pace.
But although fast fashion leads to great prices for consumers at stores like H&M or Uniqlo, there are some serious drawbacks to it.
For one, fast fashion might not be such a great deal after all.According to McKinsey and Company, the average consumer purchased 60% more items of clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment for half as long, whether because the garment fell apart, went out of style, or was simply viewed as disposable. That number is only growing.
Luckily, we have many options outside of fast fashion, and it’s possible to find stylish, affordable, and ethical clothing if you just know where to look.
So last April, I decided to kick my fast fashion addition for good. I stopped going to H&M, Uniqlo, Zara, Forever 21, and Target altogether. I’ve leaned heavily on second-hand stores and borrowing. And I’ve started questioning why I feel the need to buy so much in the first place.
Nearly a year into this experiment, I know I’m never going back. Here’s why.
There are plenty of options out there for sustainable clothing
The options for sustainable clothing are vast and diverse.
In addition to thrifting, I’ve taken advantage of the share economy by renting through Rent the Runway and through swapping items with friends and roommates. I also fully embrace hand-me-downs, both as a giver and recipient. A new crop of retailers selling clothing made from recycled materials in green facilities has also recently emerged, but more on that later.
I got to indulge in one of my favourite hobbies: thrifting
If the word “thrifting” brings to mind a hipster wearing an ironic sweater or endless racks of worn, colour-coded camisoles, I have good news. Between consignment stores, vintage shops and online retailers, you’ll be able to find the right store to fit your budget and style.
Thrift stores typically refer to nonprofits like Goodwill or Salvation Army, which sell donations and exist to strengthen the community through job training and other services. If you don’t mind sifting, you can find great clothing for as low as a dollar.
For a more curated experience, however, try consignment. Consignment stores buy used items and resell them. They will often carry designer labels in mint condition, but at a fraction of the price and environmental cost.
Vintage refers to clothing with a little more history. Here, you can find digs from just about every era of the 20th century. Vintage stores tend to curate an atmosphere that matches the vibe of their wares. The owners and shop keepers also tend to share my enthusiasm for ’60s work apparel and can be a great resource for not only style tips, but also cool places and shows to check out in the city.
My biggest fear — finding underwear, swimwear and fitness apparel — turned out to be a non-issue.
I think it’s fair to not want underwear or a sports bra that someone has previously sweat in.
That’s why when shopping for swimwear, intimates and fitness apparel, I looked to retailers dedicated to using recycled materials, green manufacturing, and the humane treatment of workers. Though a bit pricey, Reformation,Outdoor Voices and TomboyX are all great options.
I’ve also found when shopping online at places like Thredup or REI’s used gear section, I could simply add the filter “new with tags.” This way, you’re saving something from hitting a landfill and you’re still saving money.
My clothes have greater staying power
Under fast fashion, trends cycle at an unprecedented rate. Instead of two seasons a year, the industry undergoes 52 “micro-seasons.”
From mustard yellow to bell sleeves to flamingo prints, it seems like trends appear quickly, oversaturate immediately and then go out, perhaps before the items even ships.
By nature, vintage and consignment clothing aren’t current. This makes it easier to snag timeless pieces. Since older clothing tends to be higher quality, the materials themselves last longer, too.
I’ve learned new skills like stitching and iron-patching to make my clothes last even longer
When my favourite cardigan ripped, I had an idea. Why not stitch it back together? The rip was in the back and close to the neckline, so even if the job didn’t look professional, my hair would at least hide it. I felt so accomplished after fixing it that I started looking into a new hobby: embroidery.
After noticing that many artists in Detroit make their own clothing by taking thrift finds and sprucing them up, my boyfriend and I have started a new hobby of finding thrift items with potential and enhancing them with an iron-on patch, some stitching, or other fun deviations from the original product. It’s fun and a nice reminder not to take what we wear too seriously.
I take better care of what I already own
The dryer shrinks. Red wine and bleach stain. Clothing is never impervious to damage.
Through this project, however, I’ve become more conscientious, and therefore far more guilty, when I need to toss something.
Hanging my clothes to dry and washing them less often has not only increased the lifespan of each garment, but it also has reduced my electricity and water use considerably.
As I mentioned, I’ll also try to mend clothing or shoes before giving up on them. What I can’t fix, my local tailor usually can. When items truly are beyond repair, I’ve been adding them to a craft box I’ve started so I can upcycle them when I’m feeling creative.
Last-minute events are less stressful
A few days into a work trip, I found out we had a fancy event I needed to attend. I didn’t pack a dress. This news would normally have me headed for the mall, where I would have to scramble around for something appropriate and in my size under the glare of fluorescent lighting.
Instead, I asked around to see if anyone had a spare before ordering from Rent the Runway.
Another time, I realised I was a bikini top short a few days before a trip to the beach. My roommate lent me one that matched my bottoms, no problem.
By simply evaluating all my options, I saved myself from splurging on an item I would only wear once. Since I didn’t have to wait in a long line somewhere, I could attend to other last-minute tasks, like confirming I had a pet sitter or polishing a presentation for work.
When I feel like I have nothing to wear, I reorganise my closet
Whenever I feel like I have nothing to wear, I reorganise my closet. I tend to have a few items on heavy rotation, so I’m always pleasantly surprised to find forgotten favourites hiding behind a thick sweater or the unflattering jeans I’ve been avoiding.
When it comes to the items I’m bored of or tired, I don’t donate them right away. Instead, I add them to my “items on probation” box. The next time winter rolls around, I feel like I’m opening a subscription box from myself. For the odd shirt or scarf I still don’t feel into, I’ll check in with friends or my younger cousins to see if they’d like it or try and sell it.
Shopping is less convenient, which isn’t a bad thing
Small business have small business hours. You can’t always go and buy something on a whim.
Before limiting my habits, I hadn’t realised how much I used the act of shopping as an emotional crutch. If I had a hard day at work or felt down about myself, the feel-good playlists and mood lighting of shops like Anthropologie would set my mind at ease.
This has given me a good excuse to self-reflect. Since I was little, magazines and movie montages have presented makeovers as the solution to any problem in a girl’s life.
But do I really need a new look? Maybe I just need some time with friends. Or a snack. Or a nap. Or self-improvements that don’t relate to my appearance, like being a good listener or being more confident.
I found that I’ve become much happier, and I buy much less.