Let's Get Ethical
Before you shop for the season ahead, slow down—literally. Here’s why and how to join the ‘slow fashion’ movement.
By Sasha Levin
Spring cleaning started extra early this year with the airing of “Tidying up with Marie Kondo,” which spread a worldwide decluttering movement like wildfire. The Japanese organizational guru’s so-called “Konmari” method suggests throwing away anything that doesn’t ‘spark joy.’ But after picking out all those clothes you ended up only wearing once, facing a massive pile of old stuff can spark more anxiety than joy.
Kondo’s method is one of many minimalist-inspired movements popping up in past years, urging people to take a cold, hard look at the excess of “stuff” in their closets and consider the value. The average person buys 60 percent more items of clothing every year and keeps them for about half as long as they did 15 years ago, reported Vice News. Big picture, global clothes production has more than doubled since 2000.
The biggest culprits in the textile industry are Zara, Pull & Bear, H&M, and FashionNova. These fast fashion brands mass produce cheap, low-quality clothes that replicate fashion trends at super-sonic speed, with about 50 collections a year.
Not only are exploited workers producing the clothing in poor conditions facing the consequences of mass production, but the environment is too. The textile industry is in the top three most polluting industries in the world. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned, according to a 2017 report by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.
As the effects of the waste from the fashion industry become more palpable, some social media influencers are actually leveraging their platforms for good. The rise of the slow fashion movement is pioneered by many fashion bloggers turned ethically conscious thrifters and sustainability enthusiasts. At the heart of it, their purpose is getting people to wake up and stop mindlessly consuming fashion. As the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes suggests, slow fashion calls for taking a moment to stop and think about how your habits impact the environment. “Every choice we make as consumers we need to understand. Look at the whole picture...What goes into the fabric? Where is it made? What kind of fair labor standards do they have?” says Mark Lichtenstein, Executive Director of Sustainability at Syracuse University’s School of Environmental Science and Forestry. Some quick research on Google can often reveal whether a brand stands for ethical and sustainable values.
YouTuber Kristen Leo, 27, is a leader of the new community of fashion-conscious influencers. She produces videos, like most of these influencers, explaining how to upcycle, buy second hand, and live more sustainably. “Dear YouTubers, think before promoting these clothes,” Leo urges in a video to her 180k followers, pointing especially to Zara. Zara is one of the companies that kickstarted the fast fashion model by being one of the first brands to take in merchandise bi-weekly, according to Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
When it comes down to it, becoming more fashion conscious means thinking twice about how quickly we consume fashion, which is easier said than done. Even YouTuber, Leo, knows we all have to start somewhere. Ten years ago, she wore any brand and was a poster child for Zara – the brand even designed two shirts with her face on it. But in the year 2000, news surfaced that 9 out of 10 jeans Zara made are made with poisonous, carcinogenic dye. And in 2016, Syrian refugees and children were found working in sweatshops in Zara jeans with toxic chemicals, without facemasks, for 12 hours a day. Leo decided to claim responsibility as an influencer and project a different message to her followers by cutting fast fashion almost completely out of her life.
Clothes made by ‘fast fashion’ brands like H&M and Zara are very affordable, especially for college students. But so is second-hand shopping, which if done for an entire year can save about $2,420 according to the ThredUp 2018 report. That’s why Syracuse University sophomore graphic design major Dasha Bychkova hits the thrift shop. In the past year, Bychkova’s become a bit of a thrifting expert, learning thrifting tips and hacks from different YouTubers. “Once I started thrifting and watching these YouTubers, I’ve definitely become more aware of sustainability,” Bychkova says.
Within the past five years, the fashion industry has seen a resale revolution. Online thrift store leaders like ThredUP, luxury outlet The Real Real, and PoshMark are seeing Millennials and Gen-Z adopt secondhand apparel 2.5x faster than any other age group.
And besides sustainability factors in an age of endless scrolling online, the thrill of finding vintage clothes IRL makes for a more mindful experience. Taking the opportunity to go actually touch, feel, and try on clothes, can boost the appreciation one has for each clothing item. And Gen Y isn’t so mindful about their clothes; millennials only wear an item one to five times before discarding it, according to ThredUp.
Taking on the challenge of becoming a more ethical and eco-friendly shopper may seem difficult, but it’s about time we’ve started cleaning up our act. The truth is, no one really likes tidying up, except for magical Japanese women like Marie Kondo. Plus, there’s a huge support system of knowledgable sustainable living bloggers ready to help right on your phone.
The days of not taking responsibility for contributing to fast fashion are behind us. So let’s dive into slow fashion as Kondo dives into a mess -- with intention, determination, and joy.
How to join the fight against fast fashion
Whether you start big or small, there are several steps you can take to lower your environmental impact as a shopper.
Refuse: Refuse to buy from brands that aren’t environmentally conscious. Try installing the DoneGood browser extension, which pops up in the corner of your browser when you’re online shopping and tells you whether or not the brand site you’re on is sustainable and/or ethical, and links you to alternatives if it’s not.
Here are some Zipped-approved environmentally conscious brands: Reformation, Everlane, Vejas, Outdoor Voices, Patagonia, Stella McCartney, and Alternative Apparel keep it largely eco-friendly.
Reduce: Cut down on the volume of things you’re buying. Increase your clothes' lifespan by laundering them right and buying higher quality pieces to wear them longer. Avoid being stuck with ‘meh’ pieces you only wear once by buying only what you love.
Re-use: Upcycle by repairing, restyling and re-inventing old pieces. By buying or selling secondhand and upcycling, you can extend the useful life of clothing by 2.2 years, which reduces the carbon footprint by 73 percent, a Sourcing Journal study shows. Swap clothes with friends, hand ‘em down. Thrift! By buying second hand you support keeping textiles out of the landfill or from being shipped overseas, and usually secondhand stores are owned by local or family-owned businesses. This goes for higher fashion too. Luxury fashion statement pieces can be rented at websites like Style Lend, The Real Real, or Rent the Runway.
Recycle: Using recycled fabrics and eco-friendly materials that minimize waste is key. The best fabrics to look for are natural fibers like organically grown cotton or wool sustainably harvested from animals, according to Lichtenstein.
On the other hand, avoid buying clothing made from microplastics, microfiber, and polyester, which are dangerously polluting and have been proven to show up in drinking water sources and even glaciers.