The term "fast fashion" is a relatively new addition to the industry's vocabulary. It refers to the quick turn around of designs from the catwalk to the sale rack, as retail stores try to keep up with constantly changing trends. A little over fifty years ago, most clothing was still custom-made for individuals, either at dress shops or at home. That all changed in the 1960s, when the demand for affordable, stylish clothes led to the opening of large textile mills. Ever since, the fashion industry has been churning out trendy clothes at an alarming rate—and at an incredibly high cost.
1. Why You Should Ditch Fast Fashion
The main two reasons that you should rethink purchasing cheaply made clothing is the danger it poses to the environment and numerous underpaid workers. The clothing industry is a huge contributor to water pollution and global CO2 emissions, and produces garments that can contain toxic dyes and chemicals like lead or pesticides. These toxic clothing items end up in landfills more often than not, due to the incredibly short lifespan of fast fashion—in the U.S. alone, 13 million tons of clothes are sent to landfills each year.
Apparel may be the largest employer of women across the globe, but less than 2% of these women earn a living wage (think $3 a day). A large number of the employees are underage and overworked. It's easy to forget about these sweatshops and brutal working conditions when we're browsing through clothes, but the truth is that a seemingly harmless shopping trip contributes to and supports an industry that disempowers women and threatens the environment. So what can we do?
As consumers, we determine the longevity of this fast fashion world. If it weren't for our demand and support, cheap and toxic clothing wouldn't be produced (and thrown away) at such a high rate. Instead of going to inexpensive retail stores, where your purchases support the fast fashion industry, consider a few other more sustainable alternatives. One, you could purchase higher quality clothing from local companies that rely on ethical production policies. The price may be higher, but you would be investing in pieces that will last longer and supporting sustainable businesses.
However, if more expensive clothing isn't an option—as a college student, I can relate—then thrifting is another great alternative. If you're anything like me, you've donated quite a few totes of clothing to Goodwill in your time. Instead of contributing to the cycle of buying trendy clothes, tiring of them, and donating them, cut out the middle man (i.e. stores like Forever21 and H&M) and head straight to the thrift store. This is easier on your wallet and prevents unsold secondhand clothing from ending up in landfills.
2. How To Start Thrifting
Walking into a thrift store can be overwhelming and disheartening. There's no doubt about it—thrifting requires a great deal of patience. You have to be prepared to sift through numerous blouses and skirts that look like they came from your grandmother's closet, but if you keep an open mind you will almost always find a unique piece. Be imaginative when you're looking through the racks, and know that clothes look different on the hanger than on your body. If anything draws your eye, try it on.
Thrift stores are also a great place to find clothes that are currently in fashion (think mom jeans and dad shoes). You'll find that vintage jeans are sized very differently than today's clothing, so don't even look at the number on the tag. Instead, wrap the waist band of the jeans around your neck: if the ends connect, it should fit. You may look like a dork, but you'll cut down on the amount of time you spend in the dressing room.
If you're handy with a needle, or even a pair of scissors, consider revamping thrift store finds. Oversized t-shirts can be cropped to go with high-waisted jeans, and dresses can be altered for a more modern fit. Exercise your creative side and produce pieces that are uniquely you.
3. Where To Go Thrifting
Although any secondhand store is easier on the wallet and environment than cheap retail stores, some are better than others. Goodwill may be the most well-known company, but I've personally found more luck at Salvation Army and local thrift stores (if you're in Indy, check out Thrifty Threads and Vintage Vogue). There are even online thrift stores, like ThredUP and Poshmark. If you prefer to try clothes on, however—and browsing is half the fun, let's be real—a simple Google search should tell you the best thrift stores in your area.
Forget fast fashion: try thrifting today.