Here’s How To ACTUALLY Quit Fast Fashion Once & For All

As it stands, clothing and fashion are categorically different things. One serves the practical purpose of nudity prevention, while the other, subsisting primarily on runways and in Instagram feeds, consists of things like human heads donned creatively as accessories and little-club-on-the-prairie-style frocks. Somewhere in between, however, just outside the inner rings of the capital-F Fashion world, you’ll find another industry entirely: fast fashion
Generally speaking, fast fashion consists of lower-quality, mass-produced garments, usually designed to mimic the not-quite-totally-insane aesthetics trending among top-name designers. Put simply, anything you’ve purchased at a mall with an emblem of a moose or an eagle sewn above the breast pocket qualifies as fast fashion. For plenty of us, this counts for the majority of our closets — and it may be the worst of our material vices. 

Dana Thomas, author of Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, explains that fast fashion trade “exploits labor, the environment, and intellectual property — and in the last three decades...those abuses have multiplied exponentially, primarily out of view.” Few among us can claim we’ve never contributed to this cycle. While apparel and shoe production already account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Euromonitor analysts maintain that this number could grow up to 5% annually — and that’s before you address the mountains of non-recyclable, non-compostable apparel piling up in landfills worldwide. 

“Consumer demand drives everything when it comes to business,” says Brendan Synnott, founder and CEO of sustainable, ethical clothing brand Pact. “If consumers are demanding more sustainable products, the industry will definitely change.” Fast fashion only came into prominence in the '80s, but the market has shown few signs of slowing down — and so long as there are consumers, there will be textiles for them to consume. That said, when competitors like, say, Pact craft similar products at comparable prices out of far more sustainable materials, that very balance is threatened. 
So how, then, do we go about giving up fast fashion for good and building more sustainable closets without settling for homemade loin cloths? We reached out to Synnott and Thomas for some advice — and as it turns out, it's not as difficult as it may seem.

Learn to decipher your clothing labels.

“When it comes to food, you know what you do and don’t want to see on a label — and you’ll make your purchasing decisions based off of that information,” Synnott says. “So more and more brands are elevating ingredient labels and offering 3rd party certifications because that’s what people are demanding. If we know what we’re looking for on clothing labels, we can spur a similar revolution in fashion.”
For all we know about toxic food dyes, high-fructose corn syrup, and genetically modified grains, we’re far less literate in the realm of fashion labels. But fortunately, learning the lingo is not quite as taxing a process as it may seem. 
First and foremost, Synnott says that you should look for an indicator of “organic cotton.” While it’s common for fashion vendors to slap labels like “conscious” or “sustainable” onto their ad campaigns, words like “organic” come with actual, legal prerequisites. In fact, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is set up to ensure that the term is never used flippantly. 
Beyond organic, Synnott recommends checking clothing labels for Fair Trade certification. Along with environmental malpractice, most fast fashion brands are running factories (or more accurately, sweatshops) with unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages. According to the Fair Trade site, “with the Fair Trade Certified™ seal, you can be sure [your clothing] was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.” For the most part, this means liveable wages and ethical treatment for factory workers — which is not the standard in fast fashion. 

Buy from “slow fashion” brands.

For all the gloom that accompanies Thomas’ account of the fast fashion world in Fashionopolis, she still manages to remain blissfully sanguine about sustainable alternatives: “All the time I’m finding new brands using organic cotton to make pieces I love,” she says. 
These brands are representative of the growing slow fashion industry — what Thomas defines in her book as, “a growing movement of makers, designers, merchants, and manufacturers worldwide who, in response to fast fashion and globalization, have significantly dialed back their pace and financial ambition." 
Over the past few years, Thomas has spent time traveling across continents, tracking down innovative brands and designers utilizing new forms of technology and entrepreneurial methodologies to make and distribute this “slower” clothing. “Soon you’ll start seeing these new, verifiably green brands at all the big-name websites or department stores you shop regularly,” she says. “They won’t be hard to find or research — they’ll be right in front of you.” Sure, for the time being, none of these designers can produce at the scale of a massive factory chain, but overall, it’s not a dismal picture — in fact, it’s an optimistic one. 
Thomas says the first step to adopting slow fashion is merely awareness. When you scroll through your Instagram feed or page through a magazine, she recommends that you take note of pieces you like that are advertising ethical or sustainable production. Write down the names of designers you think are making exciting things. “Find brands you love, and follow them,” she says. Follow influencers and celebs with a commitment to sustainable living. This is where you’ll discover the slow fashion brands that truly cater to your sense of style. “Plus,” she adds, “major retailers are definitely starting to notice how important this is. They’re making it easier than ever.” She’s right — you’d be surprised how many sites you already love are finding new, clever ways of spotlighting greener products. 
For Synnott, too, slow fashion is essential to the future of clothing production. “I had this revelation a little while back that your clothes are grown in the same field as your food,” he says. “If we could make people see past fast food and move towards slower, organic food, why can’t we do the same in the realm of fashion?”
“Buy less, buy better,” is Thomas’ mantra when it comes to shopping slow fashion. When consumers find — and become infatuated with — brands like Pact, they’re not just choosing to invest in sustainability. They’re also building more intentional closets as a whole. It’s like the age-old French-girl sartorial secret: Love what you buy; avoid excess like the plague. 

Recycle old clothes and shop secondhand.

Even with a slew of new sustainable brands on the slow-fashion scene, cost remains a major challenge for both producers and consumers. As of right now, it’s simply more expensive to make sustainable, ethical garments than it is to produce fast fashion lines — and for the consumer, too, that price is higher. So while brands like Pact are looking to democratize that space, it remains true that rebuilding a more “conscious wardrobe” is not exactly an option for everyone. 
That said, there’s been a major uptick in resale and secondhand clothing sales with the emergence of a number of popular apps providing users with the ability to buy, sell, and trade clothes with all the presumed ease of scrolling through Instagram. This is what Thomas calls a closed-loop system, “in which products are continually recycled, reborn, reused. Nothing, ideally, should go in the trash.” 
According to the EPA, the average person throws out around 81 pounds of clothes annually — almost all of which could be funnelled into someone else’s wardrobe rather than a landfill — and for a profit, too.” The first thing I always tell people when they want to quit fast fashion is that you should try not to throw anything away,” says Synnott. “And always buy used clothes when you can. For the most part, they all get better with age anyway. 
As of June 2019, the first “re-commerce” brand began trading in the NASDAQ stock market, marking a new era for secondhand shopping. “I feel like while I was growing up, there was sort of a bias around purchasing secondhand products,” says R29 staff writer Emma Banks. “But now, I do most of my shopping on resale apps...and I honestly think there’s more clout in that than normal retail.” Trailing behind the normalization of secondhand shopping, it’s only natural that label literacy and the proliferation of slow fashion will follow suit.
“We have to dial back our consumption and disposal,” Thomas says. “The world just isn’t big enough to hold it all.” 

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