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Who of you has heard of the concept of fast fashion? Actually, every single one of us should raise their hand at this point because we all take part in this mode of producing and consuming clothes. This industry produces 1 billion pieces of clothing every year counting up to 3 trillion dollars of profit. Fast fashion also ranks second (after the oil industry) among the world’s largest polluters, also producing 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissionsevery year. However, it does not end there. However, the negative externalities of fast fashiongo beyond the impact on the environment. Namely, the labor-intensive industry has immense social costs. The horrors of Rana Plaza in 2013 first shed light on the poor working conditions and the lack of safety precautions within the garment factories. 1,135 workers lost their life that day, when the factory building collapsed and buried them alive.
How fast fashion works – and why it is so detrimental
What happened? Why did the factory workers (who were predominantly young girls) have to work under such poor working conditions? Why were they forced to enter the building even though cracks on the wall had been spotted a week prior to the incident? And why do garment workers in Bangladesh only earn 197$ a month?
There is a simple (yet cynical) answer to all these questions: because we pay for it. The fast fashion industry has fundamentally changed the way we consume clothing. Instead of four seasons, we can now find 52 mini-seasons in the giant stores of fashion brands. Since clothes are not meant to last anymore, they are made from the cheapest materials often contaminated with chemicals. Therefore, in the USA consumers throw away 31 kg of clothing every year! In fact, the fast fashion industry manipulates our consumer behavior this way, to sell even more clothes and make even higher profits.
The losers of this system, however, are the workers involved in the supply chain as well as our planet. In the battle of reducing production costs while producing ever more and faster, wages and expenses have to be cut in order to stay competitive.
From fast fashion to fair fashion
How can we break out of this vicious circle? How can we stop supporting the exploitation of our natural resources and the 40 million employees of the fashion industry? What power do individual consumers have to end child labor? This is a question I have asked myself for five years now. In 2015, I drastically changed my buying behavior after tearing up while watching The True Cost (a documentary available on Netlfix about the negative impact of fast fashion).
Since then, I have built a closet with ethically made, sustainable, recycled or secondhand clothing. However, this journey has not been easy. It was a time-consuming and partly frustrating process (involving a lot of trial and error) until I had finally figured out which brands to trust. Brands that should not just fulfil my ethical standards but also produce clothing that did not look like my hippie-grandma would wear, and that was affordable!
Nonetheless, there are some easier tips for smaller changes that will help you start off on your journey to a more sustainable clothing. On top of that, they will benefit your student’s budget too! So, if you are interested in making use of your superpower (#buyingisvoting) here is a non-extensive list of easy steps towards your fair closet. This is how I started.
Develop your own style, instead of following trends
According to my research (or Instyle and the British Vogue), this is what I am supposed to wear this year: neon colors, waist coats, leather all over, polka dots or my favorite crochet tops and dresses. However, I will probably wear none of these. Don’t get me wrong: I am not trying to argue here that you should never wear anything trendy anymore. Nonetheless, before you decide to buy this new it-piece ask yourself one question: Will I still like this in three years or am I only buying it because it is cool now? In 2020, oversized blazer and trench coats are also making a comeback (if they have ever really left) and I can’t wait to join this trend!
Find your own color palette
Who doesn’t know the issue? You are standing in front of a closet full of clothes and still have NOTHING TO WEAR! This is another side-effect of fast fashion. Because everything is so cheap, we mindlessly buy items that we never wear in the end because we don’t know how to combine them. Therefore, it helps to have a fixed color palette, so that everything looks good together.
That doesn’t mean of course that you can only buy one color from now on. For instance, I love all shades of blue because it goes really well with my pale skin and my eyes. Consequently, when I go shopping now and I find something in burgundy, grey, or even dusky pink I ask myself: What do I have to combine with this? As a rule of thumb, if you have at least five shirts you could combine with your new pants, or three pants or skirts for your new top, then by all means buy your new favorite item.
“Made in Europe” labels doesn’t mean fair
If you don’t want to support child labor, your initial thought might be to shop locally. After all, there are tight restrictions on laws against such cases in Europe. A t-shirt that is made in Germany or Italy has to be produced under fairer conditions, right? Sadly, in reality, this is not the case. Throughout the supply chain, every piece of clothing travels from country to country. Cotton farmers from India, dyed and weaved across another border, sewed together in Bangladesh, and the last button and details might be added in Italy. In the end, the label on your shirt says ‘Made in Italy’ even though only the smallest part of the work has been done there.
Due to this lack of transparency, the country of origin of your clothes often will not tell you under which conditions they have been produced. Instead, you should inform yourself about different eco-friendly and ethical labels.
Quality over quantity
People often ask: “But isn’t fair fashion way more expensive than if I buy something at Topshop or Zara?” If you look at the price tag of a single jeans, the answer would be yes. However, you should ask yourself how much time those pants actually last until their color fades, they lose fit or the fabric is almost gone around the seams. When will you buy the next pair of jeans? In half a year? Therefore, is it really cheaper to buy a new pair for 40€ every 6 months or one high-quality item for 80€ that lasts for years?
Go secondhand treasure hunting
Don’t we all love the 90s? The 80s? The 70s? The fashion world most certainly does, as trends from those decades return over and over again. So, why would you buy new turtleneck tops, mom jeans or lumberjack shirts when they have already been produced decades ago? Why would you waste our earth’s valuable resources to recreate the styles that are already hidden in our parent’s closets! Therefore, if you want to follow these trends, go to the next secondhand store and find original treasures (rather than just imitating) and save money as well.
Personally, I love going through my mom’s closet and frequently wear her favorite outfits from the 90s again, even though I sometimes do wonder why she had all these crop tops and leather pants!? In conclusion, never throw items that are not in vogue anymore away. Your daughter might thank you later! This advice also applies to all the future dads – there is nothing like restyling button-downs!
Don’t forget about our very own Swapshop (or share clothes with friends)!
This was one of the first events the CIROS Goodwill Committee has organized. Every month, you can visit our Swapshop at Wijnhaven to share and exchange old clothes with your fellow students. Even though you might not like this jacket anymore, somebody else could love it and reuse it. That way they don’t have to buy something new!
Sharing clothes is also a great way to save money when you are looking for a unique outfit for a special event. Instead, of buying the perfect dress and only wearing it once, you could ask a friend to lend you an outfit for that special night (and vice versa). So, better get yourself some friends with amazing taste!
Wash your clothes with care!
How you wash your clothes has a great impact on how long your clothes last. To be able to wear them as long as possible, you should not wash them with too much heat. On top of that, go easy on the washing detergent (or even bleach). Less is more. Are you afraid that your clothes won’t become clean anymore if they have a stain? Another thing you can do is carrying a stain removal pen with you so that you can rescue your white shirt from tomato sauce right away. Afterwards, just wash it on a lower temperature than usual with the other clothes.
Help, there is a hole in my t-shirt!
One of your favorite pieces of clothing has a hole? You don’t want to buy something new, but also have no sewing experience. We have got you covered. For t-shirts, pants, sweaters or dresses with small holes, you can watch this tutorial to learn how to fix it without a single stitch. Otherwise, if the fabric around the seam or the stitches themselves have ripped, there is another simple method of how to make the hole vanish in 5 minutes.
Share your first steps with us
Did we inspire you to change your consumer behavior? Feel free to share your first steps towards a more sustainable closet with us via email@example.com. We are happy to hear your stories. Let’s all make use of our superpower and make this world a better place, where a disaster like Rana Plaza will never happen again!
An article written by Lara Schade, Goodwill Commissioner