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Slowing Down Fast Fashion

Do you walk out of stores with a $7 t-shirt and $30 pair of jeans, without having planned to spend any money that day? Do you get embarrassed at the idea of being caught in the same striped shirt in all your photos on instagram? (I have more shirts, I swear!) When you do consider where your clothes are made, is it the cost that holds you back?

Same.

What if I told you buying cheap tank tops and shorts had serious social impacts on humans all over the world. What if I also told you that understanding a little bit about sale psychology could help you to afford socially responsible clothing and take a stand against climate change. Read this next part carefully.

 

As consumers, we don’t have the power to control or manage the actions of companies, but we have the power to choose where we want to shop as a reflection of the values of a company. Yet our powerful choices depend on us being knowledgeable enough to make informed buying decisions. We can’t “elect” the best company candidates if we haven’t done our homework. 

 

So, let’s get knowledgeable, shall we.

If you don’t have time, or don’t feel like this applies to you, then at least watch this video of Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, that killed over 1,134 people. Fast fashion is taking the lives of human beings, and our appetites for cheap clothes are responsible.

Have you ever heard of Fast Fashion? Slow Fashion?

Let’s talk about fast fashion, as comparable to fast food.

We buy fast food because we’re hungry, lack time and energy and most importantly, it’s cheap. The same rules and motivations are responsible for fast fashion. We are hungry for the latest clothing trends off the runway, we certainly don’t make our own clothes, and most of us aren’t willing to fork out a small fortune for a $60 t-shirt. Businesses know that we want clothes today, not tomorrow, but we are not willing to spend a lot of money. So naturally, they find lower market costs in developing countries, so that they can keep the cost down for us consumers and they can keep making money.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL IMPACTS

Donated Clothing

Americans donate such a large amount of clothes to charities, that more than half is actually not needed and sold to textile recyclers. From there, they’re sold to overseas entrepreneurs for repurposing as used clothing. Most of this then goes to African countries, not as donations but as direct sales. And it’s not just the United States. In 2015, over $17.8 million of used clothing from Canada ended up in Kenya alone.

Donating clothes feels pretty good when we’re dropping a big ol’ bag of sweaters in the bin near the local church, but it’s only a good idea in theory. The social impact is that it takes away from already struggling economies by harming local retailers and businessesThe environmental impact is even greater because of the waste used clothing creates. Developing nations are not prepared to handle the overabundance of discarded clothing items from Western countries, and so they are left to decompose in soil and waterways. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

Clothing Waste

In the United States, one person throws away about 70lbs (32kg) of textile every year.  In ten years, that’s 700lbs (320kg), of fabric from a single person! A single person in a very large country, on a very small planet… And it’s ending up in already overflowing landfills. Plastic isn’t our only problem *cue Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie sounds*.

Water use and toxic contamination

Did you know 200 tonnes of water are used for every tonne of textile madeThe used water is full of poisons like chemical compounds, metals and toxic substances. The World Bank identifies 72 toxic elements emitted during textile manufacturing. Only 42 of 72 toxic elements can go through a partial purification process, where levels are reduced but not eliminated, leaving 30 toxins behind.

Toxic elements travel partially treated or untreated from the textile plants into groundwater systems of large areas. This affects the health of the entire ecosystem, not just the safety of humans! The bad news is, each country is free to establish its own rules around discharge levels, implement oversight and enforcement measures. As you can imagine, developing countries don’t enforce their regulations, and countries like China, are allowed to release chemicals above the legal limit. The Citarum River, in Indonesia, is the most polluted river in the world, due to the hundreds of textile factories along its banks. 

Carbon footprint

You may not be able to guess, but transporting the garments across the world generates the largest carbon footprint, as it’s done by commercial shipping. An H&M crop top has probably travelled more than you have in your entire  lifetime, and has caused more damage than good.


Terrible working conditions for workers

Noise pollution – In a textile plant, the health hazards workers face are usually noise pollution, which often leads to eventual hearing loss. I personally did not see that fact coming.

Toxic chemicals  – During the dyeing process, workers are exposed to toxic chemicals that continue to lead to poisoning and multiple types of cancer.

Ergonomic problems In sewing plants, the overcrowded, overworked and overheated conditions of workers that caused the factory collapse and thousands of deaths and injuries in Bangladesh in 2013, still exist everywhere. This includes unsuitable furniture, lack of ventilation, lack of adequate lighting and no emergency exits. Don’t take those work stairs for granted, my friends.

Workers may develop musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome, forearm tendinitis, bicipital tendinitis, lower back pain, epicondylitis, neck pain, shoulder pain, and osteoarthritis, and the list goes on. Basically all the same conditions people can get at any job, but the difference is that these workers can’t afford a fancy desk chair or a physio appointment. 

SLOW FASHION

Is that a sigh of relief I hear?

Slow fashion is the conscious choice to buy better quality items, less often. It is ethically and environmentally conscious, instead of trend-driven. It has a focus on producing clothes that are durable and designed to be easily mended, not disposed of, and is often handmade by artians. Slow fashion is transparent: where consumers actually know where their clothes came from.

I repeat, slow fashion is conscious, ethical, durable, easily mended, handmade, and transparent. I personally appreciate slow fashion companies, like MATTER, because they fieldtest their products with real people. Real messy humans like me, can live real messy human lives and not worry about a tear or hole that can’t be fixed, unlike cheap, quickly made clothing.

Fast fashion: 5 reasons why we can’t get enough

Let’s continue our road to consumer nirvana by examining the psychology behind why we seem unable to resist cheap clothes, even when we weren’t planning on buying them. Specifically, let’s look at why we love a sale

I bet your heart sped up reading that word… Sale. I strongly believe the same logic used to explain why we can’t resist clearances, is the same logic to explain why most of us aren’t investing in socially responsible clothing. Kit Yarrow, an award-winning consumer psychologist, explains the psychology behind why we can’t stop buying those poor quality, dirt cheap clothes in her article in Times Magazine:

1) FOMO

Aha, the powerful fear of missing out. You may not understand why you want to buy the discounted acid wash jeans, and you may not even realize that you didn’t even like acid wash jeans before they were on sale. It’s the power of FOMO that convinces you that you need to buy them before their gone. It is especially lethal when it comes to online shopping. There, you can see products selling out right in front of you. Goodbye savings.

2) COMPETITION

The fear of missing out is enhanced by knowing you’re competing with other people. For some people, beating others to buy the last sale item is winning, even if you don’t know what you’re buying. And if you think about it, a massive crowd of people, acting like vultures in a tiny store over a few sales bins, certainly isn’t a space to think clearly about what we’re buying. Being highly competitive myself, I understand the feeling of leaving a store, thinking I beat others to the things they wanted. But did I actually want them?

3) ASSUMED VALUE

We rely on prices to tell us about the quality, style and worth. In Kit Yarrow’s example, she compares a pair of shoes, one at $80 and one at $400. If we see the $400 pair is now on sale for $150 , we may consider it a much better purchase than the $80 pair at full price. We buy those $150 shoes and they stay in our closet for years, because we never actually considered whether we were truly excited by the shoes or the price.

4) FOCUS ON “SAVINGS”

Store signs and other marketing tools constantly shift our gaze away from what we’re spending to what we’re saving. Sales and store receipts highlight our savings after we make a purchase. But the strategy works… we spent the money.

5) INVESTMENT

Watching for sales is a time consuming and emotionally consuming process. As Kit Yarrow put it, “Many shoppers feel pressure to make good on that investment by not leaving a store empty-handed when a sale pops up. Finding something—anything—to buy can feel like winning a scavenger hunt.”

In summary,

The low price of fast fashion turns us into monsters. We experience FOMO, become over competitive, hold a distorted view of a product’s value, believe lies about saving money, and buy clothes just for the sake of… buying clothes.

SO HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO

Social responsibility can be defined as when all human interaction in the clothing supply chain work are in good working conditions and paid a fair living wage. Creating a socially responsible fashion industry isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

1) Use your power for good

We need to stop shopping at places that we can’t trust to be socially responsible. People’s’ lives are endangered and the Earth is being poisoned. Once you get over how Hippie-Dippy that sounds, realize that it’s truly up to the power of our choices to create change. H&M, Forever21, Uniqlo, Zara are just a few stores to avoid…  It hurts me too. A quick search of “socially responsible brands” comes up with hundreds of alternatives, including Matter Prints, Patagonia and Everlane to name a few.

2) Suck it up

We’re adults now, or at least we’re trying our best shot at ‘adulting’. With adulting comes responsibility, and we are all responsible for the planet. We cannot keep buying clothes like they’re disposable. It means getting creative and finding different ways to wear the same clothing item in multiple seasons. Tip: Accessorize, people.

3) Plan a clothing swap

Let’s face it, you’re still going to get bored of your clothes, and FOMO isn’t going anywhere. Plan a clothing swap with your friends (you too, boys) and voila! You have a whole new wardrobe, didn’t pay a cent, and saved clothes from the landfill.

4) Realize that socially responsible shopping will save you money

Wait, what?

Socially responsibly made clothing is expensive… that’s the point. Refer to Slow Fashion paragraph if you can’t remember why. If you can check your FOMO, stop shopping at big-name no-good stores, and start attending clothing swaps, you’ll actually see your bank account increase. It’s kind of like my mom reminding me how much money I’d have if I stopped buying coffee at cafés… same idea! Imagine knowing exactly where your shirt and pants came from, and trusting that the hands that laboured over each dye job and thread count were actually cared for. If you start buying clothes from socially responsible brands, you’ll start to connect with your clothing, and yes, start saving money!

5) Keep learning and share!

Fast fashion is causing a very large and unfolded pile of social and environmental problems, and most people have no idea. What would it looked like if the fashion supply chain was transparent? If social responsibility was what we strove for? You, me, our friends and families? It’s possible but it will take work.

The power of any decision is stronger when we all decide together. Read, watch, write, learn and share about with what you know!  

6) If you’re not ready to change

If you’re not ready to start buying socially responsible clothing, then at least take some advice to reduce the amount of clothing going to waste (literally). If you’re a list person, make a list of what you’re shopping for, before you enter a store. If you’ve already found yourself face deep in the clearance bin, no problem. 

Just ask yourself 3 questions: Do I need this? Did I want this before I saw it on sale? Why am I buying this?

Save the planet, and your wallet.


If you want MORE: Watch Sweatshop Deadly Fashion, where three young Norweigian fashion bloggers spend a month living the life of Cambodian sweatshop workers in Phnom Penh.


Sarah is a lover of photosynthesizing beings and all things outdoors. She started her blog when she realized that people haven’t been making personal changes to improve the environment, because the information available is overwhelming and doesn’t feel relevant to most people in her life. It is a call to action to all of us to take responsibility for our actions, visit her blog to find out how you can make your life and future travels more eco-friendly. There’s something for everyone.