Once upon a time, people used to shop in preparation for two different seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter — basically cold weather or warm.
There are now 52 “micro-seasons” in which new fashions are released.
That’s a new season every single week of the year.
Fast-fashion stores like Forever21 and H&M get shipments of new clothing and styles every day.
That means that by the time you wear the clothes you just purchased, it’s already on its way out of style.
And that’s the point because they want you coming back.
The average number of times a person wears an article of clothing is five times. You wear the item five times before it’s (essentially) designed to fall apart . The low costs of factory production labor and poor quality model allows stores to produce at a high volume, stay in front of trends and keep a demand on cheap, unsustainable clothing.
The cost of this model, to our planet and to the people exploited to work in factories for fast fashion companies across the world, is significant.
And we as Christians should be horrified.
Fashion is the second largest polluter in the world, right behind Big Oil. Our fashion carbon footprint is immense.
From cotton production to dyeing to textile manufacturing to the actual washing of clothing, the water usage required in all of this is significant. Then there are the herbicides and pesticides and other chemicals used in the growing of cotton crops. Beyond that, the chemicals used in the dyeing and treatment of textiles is often unregulated and dumped directly into rivers and streams killing aquatic life and poisoning local communities. Often in areas distant to the Western World.
After the production, you have the transportation of clothing to contend with. Twenty-two billion new articles of clothing are bought yearly in the U.S. alone, much of which is shipped by rail, boat and truck from countries in Asia. That’s a lot of fuel being used by things like big container ships, which produce as much pollutants as 50 million cars per year and is mostly unregulated by any sort of environmental protection agency.
When you’re done wearing your clothes, it often ends up in the dump. Which is an environmental nightmare of carbon dioxide, ammonia, sulfides and methane gases, contributing greatly to climate change and the pollution of the water table. In fact, the average American throws away 68 pounds of textiles a year.
The fashion industry as it stands poses a real problem, and it’s not just an environmental one.
There are approximately 40 million garment workers in the world right now, and roughly 85 percent of that population is female. While we have many laws protecting our rights as laborers here in the U.S., a vast majority of those working in the garment industry are not protected by those same rights.
Much of our clothing is made in sweatshops — which means there are labor violations according to international standards. When you look at the fast fashion industry, the likelihood of the clothing being made in inhumane conditions is high, if not guaranteed.
Working conditions are not only exploitative to time and energy, but are often unsafe and unhealthy. Think back to the Rana Plaza incident in 2013. The death toll soared above 1,000 people with more than double that in injuries. The structural issues in that building are not uncommon.
These workers are also exposed to countless other problems. The chemicals, toxins and dyes that are daily handled by many at the very least can cause major skin irritation and at the worst can cause lifetime of breathing problems, cancer and-or early death. Women face not only labor abuses, but also encounter sexual harassment, abuse, and rape at alarming rates.
That’s the real cost of a $5 clearance top.
We’ve completely separated ourselves from the people and process that goes into what we’re purchasing. And we’re keeping this flagrant human rights nightmare of an industry in business. We must keep in mind, if our clothing doesn’t come at a financial cost, it comes at a human cost.
The Problem Behind the Problem
The intangible cost on the human psyche is real, because when it comes down to it, fast fashion is a heart problem in our culture of excess.
We’re caught in this wicked web of modern-day “Keeping up with the Joneses.” We see something that looks good on someone else and suddenly we have to have it. Or we’re shamed into purchasing something cheap solely to “fit in.”
It’s just not right and we can’t be complicit to a fundamentally worldly concept (John 17:14-15).
Stop buying into the fast fashion. It’s killing our world and the people in it. It’s not easy but there are several ways you can do this:
1. Shop secondhand.
It is one of the best things you can do. Check out ThredUp or your local thrift store.
2. If you feel you must buy new clothing, research your options.
Don’t shop at the Forever 21s and H&Ms of the world. Invest in clothing that will last, and buy it from reputable companies who treat the environment and their people well.
3. Consider downgrading what you already have into a capsule wardrobe with a few staple items you can mix and match.
It’s hard. Believe me, I know it’s hard. But keep in the back of your mind how much you don’t need it — whatever that “it” may be.
Once you have these habits become a part of your life, being a good steward of this planet and its resources will come more naturally.
You don’t have to do this alone, either. Form a community and keep each other accountable. Together we can do so much. Together we can create a movement. Together we can change the world. We just need to start. So why not now?
is an activist and writer living in Portland, Oregon.