Over the past decade the garment industry has seen the rise of “fast fashion.” Retailers such as H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are examples of this phenomenon; they provide cheaper versions of the newest trends spotted on the runway. Using fast production cycles, retailers are able to replenish stock and introduce new collections at a rapid rate, keeping customers hooked on buying trendy clothes at cheap prices. A $20 version of that cute Rag and Bone bomber jacket is available at Forever 21 a month after the original debuts on the FW14 runway.
The focus of fast fashion criticism has primarily been the sweatshop labor it employs to keep its prices so low. While this alone should deter people, especially politically-minded young people such as ourselves, from shopping at these retailers, the toll fast fashion takes on the environment adds a whole new level of guilt. With such high garment production, more resources are being used and pollution created, and because the garments are constructed poorly with cheap fabrics, these clothes are considered disposable by their owners and become landfill.
As we shed our winter parkas and are tempted by the pretty spring lines promoted by H&M, Topshop, and Asos, here are a few ways you can update your warm-weather wardrobe in eco-conscious ways.
Buy Used Clothing
Consignment stores are a great option for fashionable students on a budget. While they often feature fast fashion garments, on a good day you can find barely used garments from upscale brands for a fraction of their original cost. In addition to being a bargain, shopping at consignment store ensures you are extending the life of garments that might otherwise be garbage instead of buying a similar item brand new.
While your hometown might only have a few trusty consignment stores in addition to the local Goodwill, luckily there are dozens scattered around Manhattan alone. Highlights include Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet, Housing Works, and Crossroads.
Another way to make sure you are buying more environmentally friendly clothing is by checking the composition tag. One big misconception is that polyester, a fabric made from petroleum, is worse for the environment than cotton. Though polyester utilizes nonrenewable resources, requires a highly energy intensive production process, and doesn’t decompose, conventional cotton is arguably just as harmful. Conventional cotton is considered the “dirtiest crop” because of its exorbitant use of insecticides. Cotton crops only cover 2.4% of cultivated land worldwide, but estimates for percentage of insecticides used on cotton crops range from 16% to 25%— more than any other single crop. In addition, polyester and polyester blend garments are more durable and require less energy to launder than cotton garments.
A good alternative to polyester and conventional cotton is organic cotton. It has all of the benefits of cotton without the insecticides and fertilizers. The organic certification also requires fair wages and working conditions for cotton workers. Many retailers such as American Apparel and H&M have organic cotton lines. While these tend to be more expensive, you are paying for a garment significantly less taxing on the environment.
When we buy something from Forever 21, we don’t expect it to last forever. Maybe a few seasons tops until that sweater pills or runs develop in that chiffon blouse. Buying for quality rather than quantity can be hard on the college student’s wallet, so it is important to invest some time into learning a few skills to extend the life of your garments.
We have all bought those BDG jeans from Urban Outfitters, only to have them fade from black to grayish green after a few washes. Re-dyeing your jeans is actually a cheap and easy process. Rit fabric dye goes for $3.40 and its available online and at drugstores. There are plenty of online tutorials to walk you through it, my favorite being http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-redye-your-jeans/. This not only takes you through the dyeing process step by step, but it also shows how different combinations of dye colors (navy blue, denim blue, and black) turn out.
Buying a travel sewing kit and learning the basics (how to replace a zipper, sew on a button, mend a torn seam, etc.) is another cost-effective way to maximize your wardrobe.
When you are ready to part ways with a garment, there a few ways to dispose it without relegating it to the dumpster. If a piece is in good shape, you have the time, and could use a little extra cash, bringing your garments to a consignment store is a good option. Another option is to donate your used clothing to thrift stores such as Goodwill. New York City also has a textile-recycling program with several drop-off locations (http://www.grownyc.org/clothing). Recycled garments are used to make wiping rags and insulation.
The Salvage Drive, for all those that ignore campus email (I’m guilty), is coming up this week. Your unwanted clothes, as well as everything else you want to get rid of because it doesn’t fit into your College Boxes or suitcase, can literally be picked up at your doorstep. Accepted items include clean clothing, kitchen utensils, dishware, unopened non-perishable food items, school/office supplies, unopened or opened bottles of detergent and cleaning supplies, clean bed linens, shoes/boots, and working lamps and electronics. For van pick up times check http://goo.gl/vDmPJh.