Those of you familiar with me know that I rarely (okay, never) talk about fashion; not trends or styles. Heck, most of my clothes consist of workout gear, kitchen clothes (complete with food stains), aprons and the rare “cool” outfit (that I bought in Italy) for going out to the occasional dinner. But I do watch and read news and what I have seen is alarming when it comes to fashion. It got me to thinking about it at this time of year when we pack away the coats and sweaters and dust off the sandals and sunglasses.
With every season comes the inevitable headline blitz on magazine covers about new fall (or summer, winter or spring) fashion and the absolutely must-have items that will make your closet complete…and by association, you a cooler, hipper person.
I love to look at fashion and its artistic beauty. The creativity of designers never fails to amaze me. I think fashion can be a fun way to express our individuality and to feel beautiful and confident. But marketing has created an insatiable demand to buy more and more. And they tempt us further with cheaper and cheaper items that we simply…must…have. But then, as usual with most not needed stuff in life, we buy; we are slightly disappointed and so we buy more, convinced by advertising that we will be happier, sexier, more successful, more complete, more on trend with this one last purchase.
Trendy clothing and accessories that are mass-produced to meet consumer demands are often cheaply made, sometimes under dodgy circumstances (like underpaid labor) in an effort to cut costs and deliver products to the market and into your hands as fast as possible.
My friend and colleague, Kris Carr sums it up well: “Many people associate fast fashion with cheap, throw-away crap that lasts about as long in your closet as an avocado does on your counter. This kind of clothing often falls apart after a couple of washes or wears due to low quality standards. It also tends to go out of style quickly because it’s made to meet society’s hunger for passing trends, not to stand the test of time.”
So those $10 jeans you see advertised on tv with happily dancing people? That’s fast fashion.
Fast fashion also encompasses some big brands who work by, shall we say, questionable standards of practice environmentally as well as in business and working standards. As usual, you must be a bit of a detective and find brands that align with your ethics.
Still wondering what the big deal is? What’s so wrong with a bargain? A lot, as it turns out.
It’s about the environment, which I know can seem like a huge abstract problem but we all play a role in either the healing or the detriment of our fragile world.
According to the World Resources Institute, making one cheap cotton shirt uses enough water for one person for two and a half years! On top of that, the fashion industry is responsible for about 20% of water pollution worldwide. And because cheap clothing wears out so fast or goes out of style so quickly, more than half of it ends up in landfills where non-biodegradable materials and toxins seep into the soil and water. Some studies conclude that these fabrics can last, not degraded foe 200 years. Ugh.
And then there’s labor. Despite pressure on the industry to improve working conditions, more workers than you might care to think about are subject to unsafe working environments. How can people be paid fairly when clothing is being so cheaply manufactured?
Finally there are the animals that are exploited for clothing. Unless a brand specifies that any animal products they use are responsibly and ethically sourced, you can be sure an animal suffered or died. Of course, the easiest way to avoid this is to skip animal products wherever you can.
I know this is complicated and a very big issue to think about but it’s not all bad news. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money but we always looked neat and put together. My mother lived by the philosophy that one or two great, classic pieces would serve us better than a closet full of cheap junk. She was right, at least about that one. Classic pieces have always served me in my…shall we say, minimalist approach to fashion.
My mother instilled great independence in me and with that an individuality about everything. She taught me to find a few pieces that would make me feel great and confident and skip the trendy looks that wouldn’t serve me in the long run.
She also taught me this rule to live by…and I do…to this day. Whenever I buy a new piece, I find a piece in my closet that I no longer love and that gets donated to a charity. It’s so great to never face the clutter of an over-filled closet.
It’s time to get smart about what and how we buy...and how much. When faced with a choice to buy or not, it’s time to question want versus need. And sometimes, we do just want something and that’s not a crime. It’s about taking a more minimalist approach to your wardrobe and being more mindful of when and what we buy.
With so many ethical and sustainable brands out there, it’s getting easier to put your money where your ethics are. There are great people doing great work to create sustainable goods produced under the best circumstances and paying fair wages for work. From Under the Canopy to Girlfriend Collective to the high end couture of Stella McCartney and lots of brands in between. And then there are consignment shops where you can find some really great pieces second-hand.
There are websites like ecowarriorprincess.net that can help guide you with well-researched articles, but more often than not, we have the common sense we need to make a difference and buy responsibly.
The True Cost (a documentary available on Netflix!) and The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy will open your eyes to the problems of fast fashion.
My friend Marcy Zaroff, the founder of Under the Canopy and a real pioneer of eco-fashion (I’m talking OG here!), has written a gorgeous book on the subject called “ECOrenaissance: A Lifestyle Guide for Cocreating a Stylish, Sexy and Sustainable World”. It’s a must-read, in my view.
Finally, we have to talk about privilege. Yup, privilege. Most of us in this little community have the resources and brain bandwidth to think about this and act on it. Some of us…many of us, do not. There are many people in the world struggling to make ends meet and feed their families. Sustainable fashion isn’t high on their list of priorities. So the question is, can we take on a little extra responsibility and do more for the people who can’t do anything for the planet right now? I say we can. I know I can. After all, we are in this life together.
Now, breathe, my loves. Nothing changes overnight and fast fashion is a huge problem, but as you prepare your kids (big and little) for a return to school and yourself for the reality of fall and a return to work, be mindful as you buy. Do the best you can. Any little change you can make to live more sustainably is a win for us all. Keep your mind on what you can do (and do it) and not on what you can’t.
It’s not about perfection or tilting at windmills trying to change the world on our own. It’s about being awake and mindful of the impact of our actions and how we can create a healthier planet for generations to come.