Fast Fashion: the mad dash from production to store

Within the past two decades, global clothing production has ramped up and nearly doubled, stimulating the phenomenon of “fast fashion”. This concept refers to the business model that emerged as the production of textiles became more efficient, increasing the amount and variety of garments.

Fast fashion relies on ever-changing trends, recurring consumption, and low-priced items. Today, a consumer can buy new products practically every week, since retailers are constantly bringing in new designs and products to keep up with the ever-changing trends. This keeps consumers coming back for more and buying more frequently throughout the year.

Due to consumer demands, manufacturers are forced to keep their prices low while increasing the number of collections offered in a year. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the quality has also increased with the quantity. This decline in the quality of clothing means the garments don’t last as long and need to be replaced more frequently. Low costs also create a mentality of buying more clothing and discarding items after only being worn a handful of times. More clothing produced means, eventually, there will be more clothing wasted.

Textile Waste: the price of fast fashion

In 2017, the EPA estimated that there was roughly 16.9 million tons of textile waste generated in the U.S., and of that, only 15.2% was recycled. That translates to approximately 14.3 million tons of textiles that end up in either the landfills or combusted to use for energy, and only 2.6 million tons end up donated. Worldwide, there are about 92 million tons of textile waste generated each year.

Textiles also contribute 8-10% of CO2 emissions globally. The energy consumption for producing fabrics and shipping the final products is substantial since the textile industry relies heavily on fossil fuels. Fortunately, more and more companies are moving away from the dependence of fossil fuels and looking into sustainable alternatives for manufacturing fabrics.

While there is a whole host of problems concerning the production of clothing and materials, there are also issues during the “use” stage of an item’s lifetime. Approximately 60% of clothing produced worldwide is made with synthetic materials. When clothes with synthetic fibers are washed, the plastics in these materials break apart and are released into the waterways, contributing about 35% of the microplastics found in the oceans.

Solutions: out with the new, in with the used!

One of the easiest ways to move away from fast fashion, while still finding great deals, is to buy secondhand clothing! This is a great way to spend some time revamping your wardrobe at a low cost for both your wallet and the environment. Buying a used item can reduce its carbon footprint by 82%. Shopping for secondhand clothing also means there are less resources used and wasted, there is less pollution, and there are fewer items of clothing that end up in the landfills. While thrifting can take longer to sift through all of the products offered, it is a much more rewarding experience when you find that amazing steal!

Apps/Online Options

If you prefer to buy clothing online, there are some great secondhand options! Shopping online can also mean a lower carbon footprintopens PDF file in comparison to shopping at a brick-and-mortar store. However, it is important to note that buying less frequently, and purchasing more than one item at a time, is how shopping online can be more “eco-friendly”. Buying one item, every week, online, would contribute to a higher carbon footprint. There are a whole host of apps/online options out there, each with their own flair, that can be your guide to donating or thrifting via the internet.

  • ThredUp: On this resale marketplace, you can sell your items or shop secondhand. It’s very user-friendly, providing lots of filters to make it easier to sort through their thousands of items! If you’re shopping, ThredUp sells clothing, shoes, and accessories. If you’re donating, they accept all brands of women’s and children’s clothing, as long as the item has a size tag. They offer “clean out” bags for you to pack up your used or unwanted clothing and ship it to them. You have the option to sell your items or donate them, and they do the pricing, selling, and shipping to the next buyer. ThredUp also offers other unique services, such as “Goody Boxes” and “Rescues”.
    • Pros: user-friendly, cheaper shipping prices, promo codes, sales throughout the year, and Buy & Bundle option for shipping. This allows buyers to package items from multiple orders to ship together, you just pay the shipping rate once, and can continue shopping for 7 days, adding to this bundle. It saves you money and reduces extra waste from packaging!
    • Cons: payouts tend to be low when selling clothing, you will need to pay a return fee if you don’t like the item you ordered, they do not accept men’s clothing.
  • Poshmark: Another great platform where you have your own “closet” to sell your items from. You can sell almost anything; clothing, shoes, accessories, makeup, and even home goods. If you’re selling, you have to upload your own photos, price your items, and ship the package to the buyer. If you’re shopping, you can search and use filters to help you better sort through the thousands of items listed by other users. Once you find an item you like, you can make an offer or accept the price as-is, pay for shipping, and in a few days receive your new item!
    • Pros: you set your prices when selling, Poshmark provides a shipping label for you to send your clothing to the buyer, as a buyer you can suggest an offer for an article of clothing, a large selection of upscale fashion, buyer protection.
    • Cons: shipping can be expensive (especially when buying from 2 separate people), if selling clothing at a low price your payout is lower, rarely any promo codes offered.
  • Facebook Marketplace and eBay: These are also good options to sell your clothing online. These online marketplaces allow you, as a seller, to list various products and set your own price. When selling on eBay, you have the option to either accept bids on the item, or sell it at a fixed price. Buying from Facebook Marketplace, you can purchase items locally and pick them up, or buy from businesses and have these items shipped to you. When buying on eBay, items are shipped to you, and there are two options: bid on an item or purchase an item at its fixed price.
  • Find a Take-Back Store: Certain retailers, like Patagonia or Madewell, also offer their own take-back programs to either upcycle or repair clothing. Retailers collect used products through these programs to recycle them back into their manufacturing cycle. As an incentive, when you bring in an item to recycle, retailers typically offer a discount on your next purchase. For example, Levi’s offers 20% off a single item when you recycle denim in one of their stores.

Remember: reduce your clothing consumption first, then buy secondhand! When looking to discard clothing, donate or try to repair what can be repaired. Some people simply prefer buying new clothing and love the idea of buying new. Instead of thinking that you’re buying something “used”, think of it as buying something new to you.

There are a lot of other options out there! Spread the word to your friends and family (most of these platforms offer a referral bonus too) and help others hop on board the thrifting trend.

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Other Ideas

  • Take up sewing! This is a fun, hands-on past time and allows you to tailor your clothing to your own fit and style. Buying fabric and making clothing from scratch can be expensive, but you can upcycle thrifted clothes and alter them to your own preference. These skills are great to learn because you can fix any holes or defects before donating, or you can keep it as a wearable garment!
  • Repurpose tattered clothes into washable rags. This is a great way to reduce consumption of cleaning supplies, like paper towels, while keeping textiles out of the landfill.
  • If you have the means to buy new: take into consideration the cost per wear – how much an item costs divided by the number of times you wear the item. The more you wear an item, the better investment it will be.
    • You might look at a price tag on an article of clothing and think “there’s no way I’m going to spend $100 on this sweater”. However, take into account the quality of the material/stitches, what the fabric is made out of, and where the product was made. It’s usually worth the investment if something was made with 100% sustainable cotton, made in the U.S., feels/looks high quality, and is something you actually like and will wear multiple times!
    • Support “slow fashion” brands. The idea of slow fashion is to produce higher quality clothing made with sustainably sourced materials. These companies tend to work locally and create more durable clothing, while also taking into consideration their impact on the planet and people.

Other Resources

  • Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection offers a great resource for textile waste and recovery. Check out the Beyond the Bin Recycling Directory to find out where you can donate textile items (only in Massachusetts).
  • Recycle Smart in Massachusetts is a resource that raises awareness on how to properly recycle. Search for a specific item on their “Recyclopedia” to see if it can go into the recycling bin, or if there is an alternative method to dispose of the item.