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Environment, Explained: how to navigate sustainable clothes shopping

Photo used with permission from The Donkey Sanctuary/Flickr
Fast fashion produces vast amounts of waste and pollution, while sustainable fashion companies make a conscious effort to provide for their workers and the environment.

Hello readers, and welcome back to my column. This month, I will be debunking the various misconceptions surrounding sustainable clothes shopping.

To begin, what is sustainable fashion? Often used as an umbrella term for environmental advocacy within the fashion industry, sustainable fashion – also known as slow fashion – is an ongoing movement working toward ensuring every stage of the clothes manufacturing process operates sustainably and ethically.

However, many mainstream clothing companies do not hold themselves accountable for producing their clothes sustainably. Or, they falsely advertise their allegiance to sustainability. This lack of commitment, in turn, harms both the environment and workers’ quality of life. These companies often produce fast fashion, which, contrary to sustainable fashion, is a term that encompasses non-eco-friendly clothes.

Fast fashion is produced at rapid rates, with clothing companies churning out 50 cycles worth of garments per year and 25 times more cycles than traditional fashion, according to “The True Cost,” a documentary depicting the effects of fast fashion, available on Prime Video. A fashion cycle refers to the lifespan of a collection of clothes pertaining to a specific fashion trend. These items are then sold at cheaper prices, drawing shoppers in to keep up with ever-changing fashion trends.

Eden Leavey

Unfortunately, for companies to sell their garments at such low prices, they outsource their labor operations, often in developing countries. In addition to being overworked and underpaid, workers are subject to mistreatment and spend their days in a dangerous environment filled with chemicals and hazardous machinery; health and safety among garment factories are overlooked. In one instance in 2013, a Bangladeshi factory collapsed due to engineering negligence, killing over 1,100 workers, per the New York Times.

Moreover, the poor-quality clothes that factories produce cause shoppers to continue buying new garments, which ultimately requires the use of more cheap, unsustainable materials.

Consequently, this vicious cycle forces a detrimental effect on the climate. The production of fast fashion releases mass amounts of carbon dioxide, creates waste and exacerbates pollution. According to the Climate Council, the fashion industry releases 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

In order to reduce your fast fashion purchases, consider the following pointers for building a wardrobe full of sustainable clothes:

First and foremost, the number one change in shopping habits that can help save the planet is limiting clothing purchases from fast fashion companies. By lowering your consumption of fast fashion, you will reduce your carbon footprint tremendously. While the cheap prices make fast fashion appealing, it is imperative to remember that buying less for more money will result in longer-lasting, higher-quality purchases, ultimately making sustainable fashion a more worthwhile investment.

That being said, I recognize that fast fashion makes clothing more accessible, especially for individuals who don’t have the means to pay for higher-quality clothes. Switching to sustainable clothes is not an overnight change, yet actively looking for small, sustainable alternatives contributes to larger collective progress.

Furthermore, it is worth investigating the sustainable and ethical policies of a clothing store before purchasing its garments. Try to find specific commitments that actively combat climate change as opposed to simple buzzwords that perpetuate “greenwashing.” Legitimate pledges include cutting carbon emissions, reducing pollution, lowering waste and guaranteeing factory workers’ protection. Be certain the clothes you purchase are produced sustainably and ethically.

Eden Leavey

Better yet, aim to buy clothes second hand when possible. Recently, the popularity of thrifting culture has risen in the U.K.; reselling and purchasing second hand clothing on platforms such as Depop is more widespread than ever before.

I am an avid user of Depop and have found great success purchasing gently used garments from the site. Regardless, throughout my time on the app, I have witnessed an increase in gentrification. Instead of listing clothes that are no longer being worn, sellers are purchasing fast fashion in bulk and marking up the items’ prices to profit from Depop. To avoid falling into this unsustainable and unethical trap as a buyer, look for listings that display second hand, gently-used garments from sustainable brands.

Lastly, remember to give your clothes a second life as well. Whether it be through reselling, donating or upcycling them, ensure that the resources utilized to create your garments can be salvaged. Once you are finished with those materials, someone else can begin with them.

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About the Contributor
Eden Leavey, Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Print
Eden Leavey (’24) is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Print of The Standard. Leavey’s passion for storytelling prompted her to join The Standard in Grade 9. Beyond journalism, she looks to tell stories through creative writing and photography as well as dance and movement. Separate from The Standard, Leavey leads the Sustainability Council and the Feminist Literature Book Club.

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