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How to avoid fast fashion: adopting “slow fashion” and thrifting tips

Fast fashion dominates in a world where it’s a fashion faux-pas to wear the same outfit twice. Big fashion clothing brands like H&M and Forever 21 are constantly pressuring you to have the latest trends. But fast fashion is destroying the planet. While it may seem like these big companies are the only option for clothes, we can show you how to avoid fashion.

Fast fashion clothes aren’t made to last, constantly pilling and tearing at the seams. When clothing is poorly made, it’s tossed after only a few months, ending up in the landfill. A new pair of jeans or a new t-shirt can seem harmless, but the amount of resources that go into making it makes it completely unsustainable.

In this article we’ll talk about fast fashion and how you can spot it, how to avoid fast fashion, and some of our best tips for thrifting.

What is fast fashion?

The term fast fashion was coined by the New York Times when retailers like Zara and H&M became popular. Their “revolutionary” idea was to take runway trends and deliver inexpensive versions to consumers in as little as 14 days. 

In general, though, fast fashion has come to mean trendy clothing made with cheap, low-quality materials. Once mass produced and sold to customers, it ends up in the landfill within one year of purchase. The clothing is of poor quality, usually made of synthetic fabrics that don’t biodegrade.

Why is fast fashion bad for the environment?

Fast fashion clothing uses a lot of natural resources to produce. Freshwater is the main resource used to make fast fashion clothing. It takes as much as 700 gallons of freshwater for 1 t-shirt or 1000 gallons for one pair of jeans

On top of that, the process of dyeing clothes pollutes water. Factories use toxic chemicals to dye clothes, which are then rinsed, with the runoff ending back up in waterways. 

Many of the materials used to make fast fashion clothing are not biodegradable, either. Materials like acrylic, polyester and nylon create harmful microfibres when washed, which pollutes our water. 

Most of these clothes end up in the landfill after use, where they’ll take hundreds of years to break down. Did you know that 85% of all textiles produced globally end up in the landfill every year? 

Fast fashion has huge social implications as well. Many of these fast fashion items are produced overseas in factories with cheap and/or forced labour. The working conditions in these factories are often unsafe and squalid. In 2013, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1000 people. 

How to avoid fast fashion

There are a lot of things that you, as a consumer, can do to avoid fast fashion. The first thing you can do is to buy less clothes. When buying a piece of clothing, ask yourself if you really love it, and if you see yourself wearing it often.

When buying new clothes, look for well-made clothing. Look for materials like wild silk, organic cotton, linen, hemp, and lyocell.

You can also look into thrift shopping. 

What is thrift shopping?

Thrift shopping is buying items, mainly clothing, that have been previously used by another owner. Thrift stores include second-hand stores, consignment shops, and vintage clothing stores. 

Woman browsing colourful shirts at thrift shop

Benefits of thrifting

From an environmental perspective, thrift shopping doesn’t contribute to waste. Buying something that would otherwise end up in the landfill is part of a closed loop system.

Here are the main benefits of thrift shopping for clothes.

  • Great value

Thrift shopping can save you money, both in the short-term and the long-term. General thrift stores tend to sell their clothes for cheap because all their items are donated. Vintage clothing stores, where the clothes are hand-picked and are from a specific era, can be a bit pricier. Older clothes from the pre-fast-fashion era tend to be well-made. Though you might spend more than at a general thrift shop, you’re getting great value.

  • Unique finds

One of the biggest benefits of thrift shopping is finding unique clothes that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s one of the best ways to express your fashion sense, and the aged patina of used clothes can be desirable. There’s also the element of surprise when you go to the thrift store of not knowing what you’re going to find.

  • Reduces your environmental and social impact

Thrifting is part of the slow fashion movement, which is the opposite of fast fashion. Embracing slow fashion means buying less and sourcing ethical, sustainably-made clothing. Slow fashion brands use sustainable materials, like organic cotton and hemp, and pay their employees well. Some of them also make goods on demand to avoid unnecessary inventory and waste.

Thrifting tips

Thrifting is great for expressing your sense of style and reducing your environmental impact. However, many people have trouble finding things that are suitable for them. 

The key to successful thrifting is to take the time to look at everything. Pick a day in your calendar when you can spend an hour or more in the store. Instead of starting in the middle rack, start at the beginning and work your way to the end of the rack.

Colourful thrift shop with neon-red "OPEN" sign

Know your fitting measurements by heart. It speeds up the thrifting process, and it’s helpful when the change rooms are closed or too busy. 

Go into thrift shopping with an idea of what kind of styles you like. To get inspiration, browse Pinterest and Instagram and keep a folder of styles you like.

Try to shop at smaller, more independent thrift stores. Smaller thrift stores and consignment shops are more curated, and you’ll get better value. 

Thrifting online

If you don’t want to spend a whole afternoon at a thrift store, try thrifting online. Online thrift stores like ThredUp and Poshmark are great for ordering pre-loved items. 

If you can, buy from businesses who offer carbon neutral shipping

Assortment of used high-heeled shoes at thrift shop

The old-fashioned way

Fast fashion is neither sustainable for the environment, nor for you. When you support fast fashion, you support poor environmental and social actions, and you throw money down the drain.

Opting for sustainable fashion, whether new or used, will make your clothes last longer and better express your fashion sense. 

When purchasing clothes, ask yourself if the item brings you joy, and envision yourself wearing it for years to come. This will dramatically cut down on the amount of clothes you buy. Less really is more!

Looking for more tips to reduce your waste? Check out our previous blog post, 7 tips for a sustainable laundry day routine