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What is Fast Fashion?

What is Fast Fashion and What We Can Do About It

We all love to shop…. and today you can walk into any mall and find clothing cheaper than ever.  You can easily snag a shirt for under 10 bucks, which is basically my morning coconut flat white and snack.  But buying cheap comes at a high cost.

And we hear this phrase a lot these days.  What does this mean? It means that when you buy cheap - a $10 shirt - the low cost of that shirt is masked by the high cost of exploitative labor conditions and the even higher cost of really fudgin’ up our environment.

So let’s talk about Fast Fashion.  What exactly is fast fashion? It is a concept which came to be in the 80’s and is based upon the same rules of “Fast Food”.  If you understand Fast Food – which offers few custom options, is consistent in taste and texture, mass produced and has a low unit cost, then you understand Fast Fashion.  Like Fast Food, Fast Fashion is cheaply made, addictive and unsustainable. Fast Fashion is the Big Mac and fries of the fashion world.

Fast Fashion is dependent on cheap labor.  Every week you see an article about a company exploiting workers.  There are numerous accounts of child labor violations, workers forced to handle dangerous chemicals and employees being grossly overworked and underpaid.  When I was researching facts for this talk, I came across a photograph of a female garment worker in Bangladesh. She was protesting with a sign that read: Fast Fashion is made by slaves of poverty for slaves of fashion.

Cheap, easily accessible clothing makes it easy to buy too much.  On average, Canadians buy 70 clothing items every year. That means we are buying new clothes more than once a week.  

Poor quality, “disposable” clothing is causing us to have an enormous amount of textile waste.  This is terrible for environment and there is no question that it has attributed to the effects of climate change.  10% of the world’s total carbon footprint comes from the apparel industry, and apparel is the second largest polluter of fresh water globally. These are devastating stats and we’re wearing them on our sleeves.

85% of donated clothing ends up in a landfill which is 25 billion pounds a year.  In Canada alone, imagine a mountain of used clothing that is 3 times the size of the Sky Dome - this is what is going into Canadian landfills a year.  Clothes in landfills do not biodegrade easily because many are made of fabric blends that cannot be broken down. These used clothes release chemicals and dyes into our water table and soil.  This is part of the reason why fashion is one of the World's top polluters.

Fast fashion is a big part of the problem but we don't have to buy in.  You can still participate in fashion trends in a manner that is cost effective, healthy and better for our planet and communities.  It’s not all doom and gloom due to the 5 R’s. Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Rent.


This is the first step of dabbling in sustainable fashion.  Refuse to buy something because it’s cheap. Refuse impulse purchases.  

If your clothing is in great condition, swap it or take it to a consignment shop.  If you’ve been bitten by the shopping bug, check out your local vintage and thrift stores.  When you buy second-hand you are not contributing to the production of new items.

Buying clothes, new or used, can really add up. Repairing your existing clothing can save you big money in the long run.  There are 5 basic hand-stitches that every fashion-lover should be familiar with and these can be easily found on YouTube.  (threading the needle is the hardest part!) You can also take repairs to local seamstresses. At Filthy Rebena Vintage we have 3 seamstresses on staff and charge $5 - $15 for repairs.  There are many creative ways to keep wearing clothing even after they rip or fray.

Recycling your clothing should be a last resort in my opinion.  We all know those pretty green-washing commercials H&M puts out, but the reality is that 1% of fashion is being recycled because we do not have the ability to break down blended fibers.  And you can always find a use for old clothing. Use it to stuff pillows and fabulous Moroccan poufs. Cut them into smaller cloths for cleaning or removing make up. Or use the fabric to make something completely new.  

Rental services allow you to raid local closets anytime, anywhere and offer unlimited styles.  You can constantly refresh your wardrobe without any of the nasty environmental and social impacts.  For a small cost (that morning coconut flat white) you are shopping smarter than ever.

Keeping the 5 R’s in your back pocket when making a purchase is not only trendy, it provides peace of mind knowing that you are making a statement about how your purchase clothing.  Without even knowing it, you will be making a positive impact on people you have never met, improving our environment, saving a buck and feeling more trendy than ever. With all of the negative impacts of fast fashion, it's time we slow it down.  It’s time to start wearing a different world.

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