How to Be a Responsible Consumer in the Age of Fast Fashion

Bright tones, hot pink, geometric and floral patterns, monochrome sets. The Spring collection of Zara is one that is both captivating and a breath of fresh air as we all transition from wearing base layers and meeting friends for fika to wearing shorts and sipping aperol spritz on a terrace. To celebrate this transition, the fashion industry sells us new clothes. The marketing behind buying new clothing items as seasons and trends change is incredibly hard to resist. Especially in the era of mass social media use. Companies like Zara expert at identifying trends, rapidly creating pieces and marketing them collection after collection keeping customers hungry for more. Defined as “clothes that move quickly from to retail stores”, fast fashion has taken the consumer world by storm as it provides access to low-middle class individuals to replicate the styles of their favorite influencer or celebrity. This system has increased accessibility as it allows us to try new trendy clothes in an economically efficient way. However, it has created a challenge in helping society halt the negative impacts of climate change and reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

UN SDG Goal #12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Fast fashion is a direct threat to achieving this goal as it is a direct counter by encouraging irresponsible consumption. A whopping 300,000 tonnes of clothes are thrown out every year. Moreover, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the environmental impacts, clothing production facilities are known for their unfriendly labor practices in developing countries.

For most of us this is not news. We are well aware of the societal and environmental consequences of mass production. As individuals we need to take greater responsibility for our purchases. Consumer awareness and action is one of the most viable paths of hope in the fashion industry.

All of this is easier said than done. For those of us who are interested in fashion and style, how do we avoid falling into the toxic cycle of buying new clothes at the sight of a new enticing collection?

To help with this dilemma, here are some recommendations based on level of impact:

High Impact:

  • Challenge yourself to a “buy nothing” year (or season, whichever is more feasible). A “buy nothing” challenge is essentially eliminating all shopping of extraneous things.
  • Eliminate or drastically decrease your media consumption. Social media outlets are programmed to show personalized ads and images to convince you to purchase things you don’t need without you even realizing.

Medium Impact:

  • The 30 Wears Test. Ask yourself if you will wear the item a minimum of 30 times. If the answer is yes, then buy it. If it’s no, leave it on the rack.
  • Exclusively shop from brands that are sustainable and align to your personal values.
  • Consider renting pieces you’ll only wear a few times. This will save you from a closet full of unworn items.
  • Opt for quality over quantity. And invest in quality staples. You and the planet are better off with a few clothing items that can be worn for years than a closet full of low-quality pieces.
  • Unsubscribe from fast fashion emails.

Low Impact:

  • Shop from thrift shops and vintage stores. You can find hidden gems from secondhand stores.
  • Care for your clothes so that they last longer. Frej Lewenhaupt, the CEO of Steamery Stockholm advises people to steam their clothes instead of ironing. Steaming reduces bad smells, kills bacteria, and leaves your clothes wrinkle free.
  • Learn how to repair your clothing yourself or find a good tailor
  • Read the label. Opt for natural biodegradable fabrics such as organic cotton, Tencel, linen, recycled polyester & recycled nylon. Avoid polyester, nylon, spandex, and acrylic.

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