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On a Netflix documentary binge, I had the privilege of watching The True Cost. The piece delves into the world of “fast fashion”, relaying the dark side of the fashion industry. While I am not one to put down an industry that I love, The True Cost sheds light on the environmental and economic consequences of the fashion industry today that we cannot ignore.

So what is “fast fashion” and why does it matter?

In the last decade, megastores with very cheap fashionable items have come to the forefront of our [consumer] attention (ie. H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy). These stores have changed the face of fashion from high-end leisure goods, into a flood of seasonal must-haves geared toward people of all economic means. While this may sound like a positive trend, it has severe implications. The production of such goods forces factory management in developing nations to cut corners in order to meet the demands of the industry. When a t-shirt sells for $9.99, consider the low cost of producing that t-shirt in order to guarantee a profit for that company. Not to mention the fact that the lower prices encourage us consumers to buy more, and more, and more, and more. Endlessly.

Fashion is the number 2 highest polluting industry in the world, only 2nd to oil. Landfills are filled to the brim with our cheap “donated” clothing, most of which is non-biodegradable.

The fast fashion industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through the chemicals used in cotton fields and the mass transport of goods all over the world. Factory working conditions are despicable, leaving workers with no choice but to sacrifice their health in order to produce our cheap t-shirts at $9.99 a piece.

Please consider watching the documentary. It is truly insightful.

Does this mean that all fashion is bad?

Thankfully this does not mean that we have to give up our love for clothing and fashion. Not all fashion brands are created equal. As the fast fashion behemoth grows, so do trends toward up-cycling (reusing old clothing and fabrics to create new garments), recycling (consigning used clothing), and localizing (brands are localizing production, guaranteeing fair treatment of their workers).

Many in the fashion industry are committed to making a positive impact through slow fashion and so can you.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. What can I do to make a difference?

Yes, I understand that this can be overwhelming information. I enjoy shopping and bargains just as much as you do.

There are several small changes that we can make that will have a huge impact over time. Here are three of my tips/guiding principals:

  1. Begin to notice. When you are picking up a piece of clothing and looking at the price tag, think about the true cost of that garment. What did it take to obtain the material, sew it by hand, move it half way around the globe? Are all of those factors reflected in the price tag?
  2. When possible, slow down. If you are only buying an item because of the low price, reconsider. Do you really need it? Try to only purchase new things when you are replacing garments that are no longer wearable. You do not need nearly as much as you think you do! Take it from someone who has to make a truly conscious effort to step back when I “fall in love” with an item.
  3. Opt for slow fashion. Read about the company or brand that you are buying from. Perhaps the company produces its garments locally and the price tag is a bit higher. That makes a lot of sense when you begin to consider the true cost of that garment. Think about buying a single t-shirt made by a company that cares about the environment and local production for $50 instead of the five t-shirts that you buy for $9.99 each. Shop consignment! More than half of my closet is filled with items from my favourite consignment shops. It is a great way to recycle.

Remember that nobody is perfect. That includes me. But it won’t hurt to be a little more conscious about our clothing choices. After all, having a vibrant wardrobe means more than just having clothes that look good. It also means having clothes that do good.