My dad bemoans the fact that millennials are overrunning his office with their “bring your dogs to work day,” in-office yoga sessions, fascination with music festivals, and determination to save the world–one reusable bag at a time. It’s not that my dad is opposed to saving the world; he is, in fact, a brilliant, good man. But our generation has been socialized to have an entirely different type of awareness. We pride ourselves on being “woke,” giving voice to the voiceless, and doing something that matters. We sign up to teach English an ocean away, we routinely check the Wall Street Journal notifications on our phones, and we repost mental health discussions for ourselves and for the people we love. I’m sure that I could find empirical evidence in one form or another to support this next statement, but with or without the numbers I’m convinced: our generation cares about a lot of things that are bigger than us. No one can reasonably argue that all of our motivations to do good are entirely altruistic, but surely we deserve some credit for our attempts. That being said, while we pay a lot of attention to the grand, overarching injustices in our world, we often fail to take advantage of more proximate opportunities. As proximate, in fact, as your very own skin.
You are what you eat, but you are what you wear, too. Especially when it comes to “fast fashion.” According to The Good Trade, “fast fashion utilizes trend replication, rapid production, and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public. Unfortunately, this results in harmful impacts to the environment, human well-being, and ultimately our wallets.” It’s the clothing industry’s version of fast food: low cost, low quality, and low responsibility, for both corporations and consumers. If you need me to name names, we’re talking H&M, Zara, ASOS, and a host of other companies who fail to meet acceptable ethical and environmental standards.
The fast fashion industry has evolved into a global superpower of its own accord. Brands have abandoned the four-seasons-per-year structure in favor of a constant cycle of new styles, trends, and products, which means you and I are never quite caught up. This also means that fast fashion brands are choosing profit over responsibility. As Summer Herlevi, a senior in BYU’s Global Supply Chain program, explained, “fast fashion uses faster transportation to cut down on lead times to get new trends to consumers faster. Making things faster is expensive, though. Shipping clothes on airplanes is far more expensive than shipping them on boats. When we cut time, we have to cut costs elsewhere, and when we cut costs elsewhere it often comes at the expense of low-wage workers and other people along the supply chain. Additionally, the more we purchase, the more we dispose. We don’t see clothes as garbage, so we don’t take responsibility for their future once we are done with them. Clothes go to the landfill just like everything else.” The environmental toll of textile production, manufacturing, packing, and shipping irresponsibly-produced clothing is massive. And, as Summer articulated, when we’ve decided we’re through with those clothes, they end up in garbage heaps with the rest of our hardly-decaying waste.
The fact of the matter is, fast fashion comes at a huge cost: child-labor, horrid working conditions, unimaginably low pay, and a slew of other human rights violations. We pick clothes that make us feel good about ourselves without ever taking into account the effect our choices have on the people who made them. As stated in the New York Times, “Fashion is an industry that has depended on the toil of the powerless and voiceless, and on keeping them that way.” We, the 20-somethings of America, are infuriated if our right to voice our opinions is threatened. So, what could possibly justify us putting another individual in such a position, simply because they’re an ocean away? Lucy Siegle reminds us that, “fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.”
So for those of us who are not in a position to dictate what the fashion industry can and cannot do, must we sit idly by and wait for the CEOs of the developed world’s clothing companies to come to their senses? Heavens no.
Sit yourself down in front of your open closet and evaluate the following practices:
- Minimalism: Do you have more than you need/use? Could someone else put certain pieces to better use?
- Buy second-hand: D.I., Saver’s, Thrifthood, Vantage, Plato’s Closet, your high school friend’s Instagram story, your roommate’s closet. It’s fun and cheap, I promise.
- Recycle: This one can be a little daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. BYU alumni and queen of all things creative Jenn Blosil reminds those of us who are new to this to be patient with the process, step a little out of your style comfort zone, and allow yourself to have fun with it!
- Buy from responsible brands: Shopping with a conscience does not mean that you’re never allowed to hit the mall ever again. There are plenty of big brands who are mastering “slow fashion.” Everlane and Patagonia are two stellar examples. Do a little research, and you’ll find plenty of options.
So, if you’re already head-to-toe in second-hand apparel, we applaud you. If you’re just barely starting to explore the world of ethical and environmentally-sound shopping, we applaud you, too! This article is not intended to guilt-trip all of Provo into only thrifting from here on out, but ideally to inspire some closet purges, trips to Savers, and (a lot) of ethically-minded consumers. Do your research. Wear what you want, but not at the cost of the environment or another human’s rights.