I quit fast fashion: here's how you can too
I’ve written about repairing old and damaged clothing and know about the deep environmental scars fashion can leave on our planet.
I was talking the talk. But I wasn’t exactly walking the walk. If I needed clothes, I bought them new. I bought from countless brands, some better for the planet than others. I often didn’t think twice about where I was buying them from.
The final straw was when a new skirt I bought fell apart at the seam after a maximum of 10 wears. Our clothing should last much longer than that. But fast fashion is reactive and short-lived; it can quickly end up in landfill.
So, when that seam ripped open, I made a resolution – no more fast fashion.
It was easy at first. I could say no to a new summer dress, and I knew I really didn’t need those flowy linen pants. But as the months wore on, I began to find my endeavour increasingly difficult.
The marketing onslaught
Emails, posters and social media advertisements started to creep into my day-to-day life.
The marketing regularly featured claims like “recycled”, “planet conscious”, “made from reclaimed materials” and “organic cotton”.
The frequency with which I saw ads during my daily scroll of social media made me want to get out my debit card even more.
As a consumer, I desperately wanted to trust the claims, but as an investigative writer, I knew there was a chance it was mostly marketing manipulation. Despite talks of audits, environmental policies and sustainability goals, the claims would be difficult to verify. After all, when would I have the time to analyse the entire supply chain?
Not only did the marketing make me second-guess if the clothes really were fast fashion, but it also filled me with a deep fear of missing out (FOMO). Bolded or italicised call-outs like “last chance” and “new, new, new” or “fashion frenzy” and “must have” made me feel like I needed these things.
Curated subject lines such as “Vanessa, you don’t want to miss this” threatened my willpower. The sale prices I saw were excellent, large discounts off already cheaply priced items added to their allure.
At this point, my struggle became less about an attraction to fast fashion and more about companies’ influence to draw me in. The businesses made me feel like they were my friends but that I didn’t truly have the power to end the friendship, even if it was toxic.
But like any bad habit, it was up to me to break the cycle and commit to swapping fast fashion for slow fashion. As the fashion industry is highly dependent on social media and digital marketing, it meant switching off from some of my favourite apps.
What is slow fashion?
According to Gen Less, a government agency supporting New Zealanders to become more sustainable, slow fashion “involves making choices that respect the environment and people”. This can look like a lot of things and includes buying clothing that have:
transparent and ethical textile origins
ethical manufacturing processes
a smaller carbon-footprint.
However, slow fashion like the kind I described above isn’t accessible for some. Not only are we in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and the beginning of an official recession, but higher prices reflect sustainability’s premium cost. A pair of slow fashion jeans could cost nearly 400% more than their fast fashion counterpart.
Not to mention, companies still need to verify ethical and sustainable claims. Under section 13 of the Fair Trading Act, a business must be able to back up any claim made about a garment’s origins, footprint, or ethics.
Luckily, there’s more to slow fashion than buying new.
For me, it includes buying secondhand, only buying what I truly need, repairing what I’ve got, sharing my knowledge, washing less, not buying petrochemical-based clothing like polyester or nylon, making my own clothing, researching, asking questions, and more.
I’m proud of my progress, and I’ll continue to advocate for consumers to purchase genuine high-quality, durable, ethical, and sustainable clothing. I acknowledge that it’s a privilege to be able to forego fast fashion. It isn’t fair for the burden of doing good to fall on consumers. It should be a business’s responsibility, not yours.
I’ve only bought two items of clothing brand new this year, and even though those sustainably made garments cost me a fair bit, I reckon I’ve saved money. Even better, the FOMO is gone.
It’s still difficult, and sometimes I feel guilty buying a cheap pair of socks that’ll rip in the toes a month later. But even if I do buy those cheap socks, changing habits one step at a time is better than nothing.
Tips for quitting fast fashion
Feel like giving slow fashion a go? Follow some of my tips to get you started.
When you must buy fast, make it slow
If fast is what is accessible, try and extend the life of your clothing by:
repairing your clothes when you can and brushing up on those hand-sewing skills. No idea how to get started? Visit a repair cafe
washing less, washing according to the label and washing in a garment bag
avoiding trendy items and choosing garments that will stand the test of the trend cycle
checking the construction and quality of garments before buying
utilising as much of your wardrobe as possible.
Unsubscribe from those pesky emails
Removing myself from subscriber lists helped reduce the FOMO I felt by not participating in the trend cycle anymore. There’s usually a link at the bottom of most marketing emails that allows you to opt out or unsubscribe. If there isn't this option to opt out, contact the business directly or report the emails as spam.
You could also unfollow any social media accounts that promote fast fashion too.
Thrift at op shops carefully
Your local opportunity shop can be a treasure trove of funky fashion and cool accessories. I was embarrassed about shopping there as a teenager, but they’re now one of my favourite places to find much more affordable clothing, accessories and even homewares.
However, it’s important to consume mindfully – it can be easy to go in and buy in bulk.
Do your research
You can find most brands’ sustainability policies on their website. Contact them directly if you can’t find it, but beware of potential greenwashing and empty promises. There are some great databases out there that you can access to find sustainable brands. One of my favourite apps is Good on You.
Make something yourself – if you can
Get a little crafty and give knitting, crocheting or sewing a go. This tip depends on whether you have the equipment and materials, but gaining first-hand experience of what it takes to create a piece of clothing can be enlightening. If you don’t have access to equipment, try your local repair cafe or join a community sewing session.
Go easy on yourself
Slow fashion isn’t always accessible or practical for everyone, all of the time. It’s not necessary to quit cold turkey like I did. Start slow - every little bit helps.
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