Alternatives to fast fashion - Glass half full approach

Nowadays, consumers care about the sustainability in the manufacturing process of all products more than ever. Throughout the past few decades, sustainability in fashion has become a large factor in consumer preference as well. However, this doesn’t mean that fast fashion is going to decline any time soon. High-end legacy brands are attempting to copy the business model of fast fashion so that they too can produce in mass volumes in a short amount of time. It is not clear whether sustainable options could ever exceed fast fashion, but it is important to also note that no fashion is truly sustainable.

The closest thing to sustainability that can be reached in fashion is biodegradability and better waste management. With the amount of fast fashion-related waste the world accumulates, it is equivalent to one garbage truck full of trash every single second. Though there is no single fabric or option that can rid the world of fashion-related waste, it is important that awareness is raised amongst the general population, and that people know the true cost of fashion before choosing to buy that trendy Zara shirt you saw on retail. 


Knock-offs and copies

As opposed to copies of name brand garments, and bags, knock-offs are completely legal as they imitate the appearance, not make a copy of the item. Fast fashion retailers operate by quick response manufacturing and dynamic assortment. This means that they carry out the design, manufacturing, and distribution of clothing items at an exponential rate. Retailers such as H&M, Forever21, and Uniqlo are among the largest fast-fashion retailers in the world that depend on real-time data to regulate the supply and demand of specific types of fashion items. A large portion of this includes scouring social media and the latest runway trends. 


For a high fashion legacy brand, it takes them about two years for the manufacturing of their items and their price range is reflective of these.

For the knock-off quick response manufacturers, it takes them just about four months to produce and if consumer feedback comes in positive, they make more of the item and sell it. Over the past few years, the world has been bombarded with reports on the devastating ecological footprints that fast fashion leaves behind. Yet, sales have not dropped and they continue to dominate the fashion industry. 


Around 40 years ago, the average American bought 12 new clothing items every year. Now, this figure has risen to 68. This has largely to do with the resurgence of social media and how readily available and affordable these knock-offs are. What's worse, American women throw away half of the trendy items they bought after wearing them a few times, further worsening the unsustainable cycle of fast fashion. Likewise, fast fashion is the only segment of the fashion industry that has grown over the last 15 years. 


Fast fashion is fashion now

Hasan Minaj iconically said “Fast fashion is fashion now” on his show, The Patriot Act. This episode was one of the most popular segments the world has ever done on fast fashion, and the comedian has revealed excruciating facts about the industry with a comedic twist such as stating that the clothes in your suitcase damage the planet more than the flights you put them on. It was said in a shocking report that in 2015, textile production created more greenhouse gasses than international flights, and maritime shipping combined. 


A BBC report also showed that growing cotton to make a jacket takes 10,220 liters of water, which is equivalent to 24 years of drinking water for one person. Another common resource that is used in the production of clothing textiles is crude oil which 342 barrels are used per year towards synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and spandex. The list goes on and on, and more shocking and horrifying facts after one another can be said about the ugliness of the industry, but more concern should be put on extending the lifespan of the clothing you already own. 


Sustainability or greenwashing?

As a result of a change in consumer behavior, many fast-fashion retailers have begun to market themselves as sustainable producers. However, much of this can be very misleading and the average person is not going to delve into all the facts when purchasing a garment. Therefore, the concept of greenwashing must be understood by the general population.

The retailers want to sell the feeling of sustainability and responsibility to their consumers without significant changes to their production line. 


A popular retail brand could release denim pants and label them as sustainable. On the label, they would say that they used the newest technology to decrease water consumption in the dyeing process of the denim pants. In reality, denim is one of the materials that waste the most water and only one percent of all the water that is wasted in producing the pair of pants goes to the dying process. The wastewater is then still going to be dumped in the developing countries that run the sweatshops where the latest fast fashion items are produced. 



Furthermore, retailers love to play around with the word sustainability. The fast-fashion brands have also initiated programs where people could bring in their old clothes, and receive a discount on the next clothing item they purchase. Though a clever marketing scheme, this does not initiate any change. For most, the used clothing items they take back as a recycling campaign ultimately end up in the same landfills. It just means someone else is taking out the trash. This has proven to be true on multiple occasions where retailers have buried key information in lengthy reports where they would initially claim that the clothing waste is all recycled, and hundreds of pages later, state that this does not include factory waste. 


The Alternative choices

It is said that when you donate clothes to proper recycling and reusing organizations such as Salvation Army, it is still going to end up in a landfill. One Salvation Army Center in New York creates 18 tons of unwanted clothes every three days. If the donated clothes are not sold by the end of the month, it is sold to developing countries to be burned or used. When hearing information as such, people start to feel as though there is no winning. Whether you donate or trash them, at the end of the day 87 percent of garments end up in landfills anyway, so one may begin to wonder what the least harmful options are. 


On average 80 percent of the climate impact from garments takes place in the production phase. The consumer can decrease the ecological footprints of their clothing by simply extending the amount of time they keep the item for. Additionally, if more people consumed second-hand clothing, the positive ecological impacts can be huge and it saves money. Day to day clothing can be managed this way ,and their life cycles can be increased. 


Prolonging the active life cycle of clothing can decrease the climate impacts by up to 78 percent.


Nonetheless, people are still more likely to get a new piece of garment for special events or important days. They then purchase the clothing and wear them only once or twice, as well. A possible solution to this that is taking place all over the world is clothing rentals where you can return them after a few days. After each rental, the clothing item is properly dry cleaned and sanitized. 


Even after considering all these, and being aware, people would still purchase new garments now and then. This is okay and as long as the buyer is a little bit mindful when it comes to fast fashion, even fighting your shopaholic urges once matters big time. Even a polyester shirt you buy can be sustainable if you wear it for a long time after you buy it. As more and more people grow aware and more concerned about the ecological impacts of their clothing, more research will go into less harmful materials, more ecologically friendly chains would open up, and this would all increase the accessibility of sustainable garments. 


Until then, everyone should be aware of how a little bit of change goes a long way, and take a glass half full approach. Almost all of humanity truly does care about the environment and would want to make an impact for the better. Yet despite being aware, they still buy fast fashion in large volumes because their minds subconsciously filter out the negative information. It is the same process as how graphic pictures of mutated body parts do not work on cigarette smokers because, over time, their brain filters the information out. Therefore, it is important to also not shame those who consume fast fashion with disturbing statistics but inform them of alternatives to fast fashion that they can implement into their lives even on a small scale. 


“The most sustainable garment is the one that is already in your closet” - Malin Viola Wennberg