Fast Fashion Discounts The Environment.

By Chris Warren.

My daily “uniform” is jeans and a t-shirt, unless it’s warm out, then it’s shorts and a t-shirt. Heck, I don’t even own a suit. I’ve never been a dress up guy. The closest I get to dressing up is some nice shirts and jeans picked out by someone with a better sense of style than myself. It saves me money, and my wardrobe does not turn over that often. I did not realize until recently that my non-participation in fast fashion had an environmental as well as practical benefit.

Fast fashion is an industry buzzword that means to churn out inexpensive, trendy clothes. Instead of new styles being introduced two or three times a year, clothing is continuous stream of new designs that flips every month or so. By speeding up the clothing design & production process and lowering the price, retailers calculate that there is more profit in selling several less expensive items than one big ticket item. Therefore, the faster a garment becomes obsolete, the sooner consumers can be sold something else.

If a shopper buys a $500 dress, they expect it to last a long time, both in style and physical wear. But if you can sell them a $50 dress that is essentially a clone of a prestigious brand, they don’t care so much if it is out of fashion after a few months or even if it is cheaply made. It’s not going to be around that long anyway. They will buy a new dress four, five, six times or more every year to keep up with fast fashion. By the way, this scheme is used on men’s clothing too.

That’s how fast fashion brings in the money, and shoppers are taking the bait. Six $50 dresses cost the consumer a lot less than one $500 dress, and the retailer makes at least as much if not more profit. There is an added bonus: Getting the customer in the store six or more times a year (as opposed to one or two) is more opportunities to upsell other products.

Very few plots to vacuum out consumers’ wallets have been as effective as fast fashion. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Normally I would leave this alone and let capitalism run its course. This time though, the environmental impact of fast fashion cannot be given a pass.

Cheaply made clothes that are discarded frequently and replaced with more cheaply made clothes equals lot of unwanted clothes, not to mention the energy, resources, and sweatshop labor needed to produce and transport them to market. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that the average American throws out 70 lbs. (31.75 kg) of clothing and other textiles every year…and that estimate is from 2009, well before fast fashion became fashionable!

Only a small percentage of this material is recycled, donated, or otherwise put to another useful purpose. What’s worse, the fabric is almost entirely synthetic and will last decades in a landfill. The unintended consequence of fast fashion is millions of tons of waste every year. The clothing industry is paying only vague attention to this issue, making token efforts to promote environmentally responsible practices.

Unfortunately, fast fashion is a marketing tactic that creates an artificial need for a what is essentially a throwaway product, without much regard for the impact that product has on the environment.

While many will (correctly) lay responsibility at the feet of the retailers and manufacturers, the consumer is a willing and equal party to cramming last month’s fashions into the landfills. I think I’ll hang onto my five year old  jeans and go about my very unstylish life. I may not look like the latest big thing, but the Earth will look better for not having so much of my old clothes buried in it.

3 thoughts on “Fast Fashion Discounts The Environment.

  1. Here in the UK, we have loads of places where clothes can be recycled, Chris. Now, I’m not sure what happens to them after they go in the recycling bins, but our local authorities all have recycling targets they have to meet, otherwise they get heavily fined.
    I’ll make a shirt last years. In fact, I recently came across a Levi shirt from the 1980s. I ended up selling it to a vintage clothes collector for a rather nice sum of money.

  2. Well Chris, sounds like you and I just might walk right by each other in our jeans and t-shirts. I do have some old suits and sport coats, and I’m lucky in that I can still wear them, but it’s a pretty rare occasion. Eventually I’ll wear them out from wearing them in the chilly fall weather, etc. I haven’t worn a tie in quite a while and instead prefer wearing a sporty bolo around my neck – I’ve picked up a few nice ones over the years… all for weddings, a rare party, and the like. I found an old pair of dress shoes (in good condition) a month ago that I’d misplaced, but mostly rely on tennis shoes, hiking boots or cowboy boots. I usually simply wear things out, and maybe turn them into rags for the garage or workshop. If clothes are still in good condition, like some suits/sport coats and slacks, and I’m just not wearing them anymore, I’ll donate them to a Vets Organization… they still look plenty good, why not! Same for jackets, winter clothes, and my wife does the same… not much goes to waste around here. My favorite head gear is baseball caps… and I have lots of them. Some have even gone through the dishwasher a time or two. I do try and have a couple in good condition just for dressing up, but most look pretty rough- like they’ve been worn on the trail for a few years, all faded and sweat-stained! I’ve outgrown any need for fashionable, expensive clothes – my fashion comes from my ‘character’ showing through simple, functional clothing… it’s just fewer things to worry about in life. The ‘ol KISS principle at work! 73

    1. Hi Mike. One fact I discovered (that got chopped in the editing process for this article) was that most of the clothes donated to Goodwill and similar organizations ends up in the landfill anyway.

      They get way more than they can use, so anything that they already have too much of or does not find a home within a month or so is sold by the ton to bulk buyers who then cherry-pick the good stuff. Some of the rest is recycled into building insulation and other fiber products. What’s left (which is most of it) goes in the dump. After going through this long chain, 85% of the original material goes to the landfill.

      Men seem to have an advantage in that mens’ styles don’t get outdated as quickly as the ladies’. I have 20 year old sweaters that look just fine, and Dockers and cargo pants are never out of style. In any case, it seems the only way to stop this problem is to not buy the stuff in the first place.

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