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Fast Fashion Q&A

What’s fast fashion and why I want to be Locally Dressed

closet image with women's fashion
An image of my closet

I was interviewed recently about my challenge and it dawned on me that I haven’t written about the 800 lb gorilla in the changing room - fast fashion. Advances in fashion sustainability have come a long way over the past few years. Many companies have been working on more sustainable manufacturing methods and fabrics. But, the bottom line is fast fashion is still with us and equates to purchasing more to be used for a shorter time period. This in turn creates waste. Below I answer some common questions about fast fashion and why I am slowing down and turning to locally sourced fashion even if this means learning new skills to repair and create my own clothes.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Questions & Answers

What is fast fashion?

It is clothing that is constructed to last approximately a dozen washings and is expected to be tossed within months or a year after purchase. The end life for these garments is either a recycling bin or a trashcan. Both of these endpoints have societal impacts, some more local and others on different continents. Water and energy are being used to create fast fashion, that for the most part, is being thrown away, either by being put directly in the trash or a recycle bin. Only about 15% of recycled clothing in the US is worn again. (EPA) Some fast fashion manufacturers are seeking ways to create a circular economy around garments, but for now, this does not include the majority of fiber created for fast fashion.

Why would major companies create clothing to be worn just a few times?

Although I can’t say for sure, it appears the motivation is to create consumers that continuously update their wardrobes. This in turn can lead to triggering a pleasure response when shopping and creates a feeling of wealth by having more, even if the clothing is poor quality and doesn’t last.

How does fast fashion differ from fashion in past decades?

Fashion consumers use to shop collections that were produced a few times a year and set the trends for that year. In fact, when I was a buyer, I remember a time when only two seasons of fashion came out with some upscale lines doing an additional cruise line series. Now, many fashion houses produce more than 25 collections per year or about every 2 weeks. Let that sink in - as soon as you have washed a new garment twice, the fashion line has discounted or replaced that line of clothing in its retail stores.

“Think of yourself as a curator rather than a consumer." Christine Koh

What does fast fashion mean to workers and companies that supply these fashions?

Asking for garments to be essentially disposable means asking them to cost less and less so the consumer can continue to purchase more. Fashion houses are still making profits while selling lower quality clothing to consumers and compensating the makers and workers less and less to keep their profit margins. There is movement in the garment industry to become more sustainable, and some locations are making strides, but this isn’t industry-wide.

What does fast fashion mean for the planet?

It means hardship for the planet as many cheap fabrics are created from fossil fuels and strengthens our relationship with an industry that we know has led to an increase in global temperatures (latest IPCC report). We are already seeing the effects of climate change. It also means using water, a resource that is becoming more and more scarce and polluted by the clothing industry. (water pollution, water use) The raw materials for garments, such as cotton, are extremely water-intensive (over 700 gallons for one non-organic cotton t-shirt). Treating fabrics during processing with chemicals and dyes uses a great deal of water and pollutes waterways in countries without sufficient safeguards.

What is the effect of fast fashion on the fashion consumer?

Purchasing more and more that lasts for a shorter and shorter time period provides an initial feel of having more but only for a short time. More garments may fill a closet but these garments over time don’t last. This compels the consumer to continually purchase more and, in the end, may spend more on clothing than purchasing garments a few times a year.

“When things happen too fast, nobody can be certain about anything, about anything at all, not even about himself.” — Milan Kundera

Is it true that wool and animal-based fibers also produce CO2?

Yes, since animal-based fibers are materials that come from shearing a living being CO2 is produced. Animals eat and produce flatulence and waste products. Most of the CO2 in fact is produced by the animals themselves.

If animals produce CO2, why don’t you promote wearing only plant-based fibers? Plant fibers consume water (some fibers such as nonorganic cotton at very high volumes) and require land to be grown on. This presents the possibility of removing land for growing food crops. As climate change limits growing areas this may come to be more of an issue. Balance seems to be the key to fiber production. The CA Fibershed has promoted dual land use with crops comingled with sheep for better production. This may hold the key to future fiber and food production.

Some fashion fibers can be grown in more arid climates and used to produce viscose materials. This seems like great news but, with viscose, the devil is in the details. These materials require high energy usage, being extruded into a fiber like 3D-printing. Thus, how the energy is sourced is as important as how sustainable the fiber is and becomes after creation.

Each one of these questions requires a deep dive and even then nuances exist. And, once each is addressed, a holistic picture may evolve that muddies areas that seemed clear when answering the question independently. But, the bottom line is the closer to home fashion is created, the better the chance to track its supply chain. Being able to trace the supply chain means being able to understand the processes in producing the clothing. Local can bring clarity, sustainability, and economic benefits to communities that already produce fiber such as wool.


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