While basic necessities, such as food and medication, have certainly grown more and more expensive over the years, clothes have dramatically become cheaper. Back in the 1960s, more than 95% of the clothing Americans wore was made in America. By 2013, that number dropped a shocking amount to less than 2%. Production is dramatically cheaper overseas where labor is cheaper, and as a result, the clothes you buy from companies who outsource are made with cheaper materials such as polyester.
Unfortunately, while our wallets may initially love the idea of cute clothes at a steep discount, there’s a high cost for both people and the planet. Polyester and other synthetic fabrics not only require more energy to produce, the chemicals used in their production are toxic. Working conditions in these factories are often abysmal and dangerous. Not only is the planet suffering from chemical waste during the creation of fast fashion, the humans forced to sit in dangerous working conditions to make that cute top are suffering as well.
And even if you think you’re getting a good deal on an outfit, if it’s cheaply made, you’ll wind up spending more in the long run when you have to inevitably toss said outfit in the trash when it falls apart after three washes and can’t even be donated.
So, what makes clothing “sustainable?”
The clothes must be both eco-friendly and worker-friendly, meaning no one had to sit in inhumane conditions dealing with harsh toxic chemicals while getting paid pennies a day for you to rock a $20 blazer. Sustainable clothing companies pay their workers a fair wage and provide decent working conditions.
Along with ensuring whoever made your clothes is both treated and paid fairly, you need to make sure the item has been made with eco-friendly fibers. Natural fabrics such as cotton are typically assumed to be greener than synthetic fabrics like polyester, but conventional methods of growing cotton use vast amounts of potentially toxic fertilizer and pesticides. While it is possible to grow cotton without these chemicals, even organic cotton still requires large amounts of water.
The greenest fabrics consist of renewable fibers which are easy to grow or produce. They use limited water and energy to produce and are recyclable:
Remember: REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE.
Of course, a great way to shop sustainably would be to buy fewer brand new things. Shopping at consignment stores, thrift stores, yard sales, and anywhere else you can buy second-hand clothing and other items is a great way to reduce, reuse, and recycle clothing.
This also means you should take good care of the new clothing you do buy. No shade to anyone who is also guilty of throwing everything in the wash and hoping it comes out fine; we all have been there, and we all have ruined perfectly good clothing that had only been worn once or twice. But imagine if you did take fabulous care of all your clothes, not just the ones you dropped serious cash on (which very well may have also been fast fashion and cost the manufacturer pennies. If that doesn’t irk you, I don’t know what will).
The better care you take of your clothing, the longer it will last. This will also increase your ability to donate your clothes once you decide they no longer serve you which keeps them out of the landfill.
Do your research.
There are countless brands out there working to break the fast fashion cycle. If you do need to purchase something brand new, do some Googling beforehand to find out what brands are ethically producing their apparel. The information is out there! Just take some time to find it.
Take good care of what you already own, and try to donate or resell whenever possible!