I don’t particularly like this about myself, but I am a total sucker for cheap clothes and accessories. You’ll often find me grabbing a couple of items from Joe Fresh when I’m doing the weekly grocery shop. Not proud of it, but I can’t seem to help myself! The ‘fast fashion’ industry that includes the likes of Joe Fresh, Forever 21, H&M, Old Navy, etc. thrives on our consumerist desire to buy quantity over quality. And I completely get that temptation, but I’m starting (trying) to change my tune. I am one of those people who have a wardrobe full of stuff but, more days than not, find myself flipping through my clothes and not wanting to wear any of them. I’m starting to get the appeal of going minimalist in my wardrobe and investing in some quality, classic pieces that I’ll actually enjoy wearing.
There’s been quite a bit of negative press surrounding the ‘fast fashion’ industry lately because many of the companies don’t exactly score too highly on the ‘being a decent human being’ scale. Most outsource the making of their clothing to countries that have little to no labour regulations and employ people who have to work in horrible conditions for very little money. Understanding what goes on behind the scenes will make a big difference in how you approach clothing, and you might just think twice before tossing that $10 blouse in your cart. Here are a few stats that hit home with me:
- Approximately 168 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are forced to work in developing countries.
- Women count for 85 to 90% of sweatshop workers and can be forced to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests.
- Doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8%
- Sweatshop workers earn as little as 24 US dollars per month to produce fast fashion garments.
Another big issue is the amount of waste that generated by the fast fashion industry. The lower quality and cheap prices mean that people don’t think twice about tossing items of clothing after just a few wears and replacing it with something new. Think about all the human labour, water, and oil it takes to design, create, ship and sell each item and how much could be saved if we were all willing to cut back. More stats for you:
- The average American throws away 70lbs of clothing and textiles every single year.
- The average woman owns over $550 worth of unworn clothing.
- Second-hand stores only resell about 20% of the clothing they receive, and about 10.5 million tons of clothing ends up in American landfills every year.
My goal here isn’t to make you feel guilty (well maybe a little) and never buy cheap clothes again, but I hope we can all take this knowledge and make small changes in our purchasing habits. Knowledge is power, and we can use that to demand more from the companies we buy from.
What can you do?
If you’re inspired to change your shopping habits (good on you!), there are plenty of options to get your fashion fix without all the bad vibes.
Hit up your local farmer’s markets or craft sales, and there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised by how many local artisans are around making clothing.
If you can’t find anything local then turn to Etsy. Search through the clothing and accessories category, and I can guarantee you’ll find something you love. The prices are often more reasonable than you would think and you’ll be supporting someone’s passion instead of a big corporation. I like to use the search function in Etsy to limit my options to sellers in Canada; I find the shipping is more reasonable and there’s no concern about customs/duties.
I will be the first to admit that I’m not exactly a thrifter (is that a word?) I’d never really considered checking out thrift stores for new (to me) clothes but it’s actually better than you would think. Last year we were at Value Village picking up Halloween costumes, and I started to browse through the women’s clothing, and actually came home with a couple of pieces I really love.
Instead of throwing out or donating the clothes you’re sick of consider hosting a clothing swap with a few friends. Chances are you have some items that you’re bored with or just don’t suit you but might be a perfect fit for one of your girlfriends. It can be a fun girls night activity and won’t cost you anything (except the cost of a few cocktails).
If you want some more info, this article from The Atlantic is an excellent read.
I’m just scratching the surface on this issue, but if you want some more info you should check out this bit John Oliver did on the fast fashion industry: