Fast Fashion makes it easier than ever for trends to rise and fall. Big name brands like Zara, Forever 21 and H&M have done away with the traditional four-season releases to yield a more flexible supply chain that caters to the low predictability and high volatility of the fashion market. The clothing produced by these brands is designed to be made quickly and to wear out quickly, perpetuating high consumer demand. This method of production and consumption has caused a steep rise in clothing expenditure beginning in the early 21st century.
Since 2000, consumers are making 60 percent more clothing purchases and keeping them for half as long. Not only is that a significant increase in waste, it is a significant increase in spending. This cycle has prompted environmentalists and consumers alike to turn to the rising trend of purchasing goods that are manufactured, marketed and used in a manner that is both conscious of environmental and socio-economic impacts.
According to a 2017 report published by the Environmental Protection Agency, the textile industry generated approximately 16 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2015. This includes goods such as furniture, footwear, sheets, clothing and other non-durables. The report does not account for the 651,110 tons of carbon emissions or the 79 billion cubic meters of water waste.
To put these figures into perspective, the fashion industry produces enough solid waste to weigh the equivalent of 800,000 Frost Towers, enough water to fill Barton Springs 652,175 times and enough carbon dioxide to power the average Austinite’s car for approximately 130,222 years.
Additionally, Public Radio International investigated 21 countries that are major exporters of clothing and found that the average garment factory worker made only $536 USD per month, or $6,442 per year. Furthermore, most workers report dismal working conditions such as harassment, overtime without compensation and inadequate and unsafe work environments. These conditions came under scrutiny in 2012 after the collapse of a Bangladeshi garment factory in which over 1,100 lives were lost, and several workers were injured.
Companies and labor unions proposed measures to establish safer work environments over a five-year period, beginning at the end of 2012. As that agreement ended and the UN released their Annual Climate Report, the fashion industry has, once more, been thrust into the spotlight. But this time, the headlines ask consumers how they are playing a role in the fashion industries’ negligent behavior. This leads the consumer to wonder: How could I not?
The answer: quality over quantity. Environmentalists are urging consumers to consider the questions “where is it made,” “how is it made” and “what is it made of?” Purchasing clothing that is ethically produced, made of natural materials and fashionably “timeless” may initially be more expensive, but will ostensibly save the consumer time and money. Sustainable shopping also means choosing to support the environment and humane working conditions.
Many retail stores are making efforts to create a more sustainable line of clothing. Even clothing stores in Austin like Raven & Lily or Esty are taking strides to be completely sustainable in their clothing production.
Just like with containers, another way to eliminate clothing waste is by recycling — shopping at resale stores like Top Drawer or Buffalo Exchange. Donating old clothing to thrift stores or places like Goodwill and Salvation Army can also be a way to reduce the “fashion footprint.”
Think twice next time before you go shopping. You may be getting more bang for your buck by shopping sustainably.