By: Karis Gladieux
The term for the phenomenon known as “fast fashion” was coined in the 1990s when the company Zara first founded itself in New York City. Their claim to fame was their speed; they could design a garment and have the first batch ready to sell in fifteen days. Today, these products are also cheap and trendy, allowing consumers to look as if their clothing is fresh off the runway. Nowadays, fast fashion brands such as Forever 21, H&M, Zaful, Shein and Fashion Nova are producing mass quantities of clothing at record-breaking speeds. But what happens to these products when the newest styles roll around?
Worldwide, over 80 billion articles of clothing are purchased each year, and in the US alone, over 10,500 tons of textiles end up in our landfills. Only about 14 percent of these clothing and footwear related textiles are recycled. According to the University of Queensland (Australia), the fashion industry has quickly become the second biggest polluter in our society, second only to oil, and fast fashion and consumerism are to blame. The creation of clothing uses a lot of resources; one kilogram of cotton roughly translates to the usage of 20,000 liters of water. Not only is it a tremendous source of water usage, but the cheap materials used in these articles of clothing also shed microplastics each time they are washed, and these bits and pieces find their way into our oceans. Each gram of a polyester garment can release up to 4,500 fibers with each wash cycle.
Many companies deemed “fast fashion brands” have attempted to seem a bit more green by offering ‘recycling programs’ where customers can drop off old clothes to be recycled and reused. However, only 0.1 percent of the clothing received by these take-back programs is actually turned into reusable fibers. Some companies, such as Marine Layer, for example, have donation programs where every shirt that they receive is broken down and “re-spun” into new pieces. They even offer coupons for those who donate and provide free shipping for those not near their storefronts in California. These articles of clothing are not as cost-efficient as mainstream items, but they are high-quality and sustainable pieces that have been made to last. This “re-spun” initiative is something that Marine Layer hopes will take off in the fashion industry in order to really demonstrate the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle.
For those of us in Oxford, rather than those beachy coasts of California, don’t worry: we still have options when it comes to sustainable fashion. On campus, Zero Waste Oxford has opened a pop-up thrift store that is located inside of Armstrong Student Center. They maintain a selection of affordable, sustainable pieces, and accept payment through card, cash, and even MUlaa! I’ve personally picked up a few of my favorite cozy sweaters there, and I’m lucky I did because these pieces can go fast.
Locally, Oxford has a Goodwill, a sustainable, beneficial and cost-effective way to shop for clothing. Donating and purchasing from thrift shops creates a cycle of sustainability in the community that’s important to build, particularly in a college town like Oxford. in addition to typical clothing pieces, there’s often vintage Miami gear if you want to show off your school spirit for an amazingly low price.
It’s important to be mindful of the clothing and textiles we consume. While fashion and looking good may be important, so is our environmental footprint. So instead of scrolling through Forever 21’s online bankruptcy sales, take a walk through a thrift shop first! After all, it could save you some money, a trip to the package center, and even our oceans from some extra plastic.
Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay