I never paid much attention to how my clothes were being made. Soon after I started to learn about the disastrous impact of fast fashion, I tried to find the alternatives.
I used to shop for fast fashion a lot every month. Fast fashion is so convenient and accessible. It's fun to purchase new trends at an affordable price in high-street stores then go back home for a styling session.
Fast fashion has been growing exponentially over the last 20 years. The numerous advantages for fashion brands, retailers, and consumers made this business model very successful.
The global apparel industry is expanding at a 6.16% compound annual growth rate, valued at about USD 1.5 trillion in 2020.
In the United-States, 88% of consumers prefer shopping for fast fashion, followed by consumers in Europe (46%), India (25%), and China (21%). The most popular fast-fashion retailers in the world are Uniqlo (21%), H&M (18%), and Zara (18%).
Many fast fashion brands grew into large global corporations using cheap labor from overseas countries.
Today, fast fashion remains extremely flourishing despite its drawbacks.
Fast fashion exists to answer consumers' demand for stylish and affordable clothing. Today's consumers want convenience, new trends, and low prices more than ever before.
Fast fashion is the terminology that describes a catastrophic system in the clothing industry. It represents the mass production and overconsumption of cheaply made clothing following the latest trends.
The annual amount of textile waste the average American creates is close to 10 times larger than in 1960. That number doubled over the last 20 years. Americans alone generated 16.9 million tons of textile waste in 2017.
Fast fashion isn't sustainable. I quit fast fashion when I found out who made my clothes and how bad they were treated. It's very difficult for me to ignore the unethical and environmentally damaging practices happening daily in the fast fashion industry.
One alternative to fast fashion is slow fashion. It's a more ethical and responsible way to produce and consume clothes. Slow fashion is gaining acceptance among conscious consumers.
"Slow fashion is about designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow fashion is not time-based but quality-based (which has some time components). Slow is not the opposite of fast – there is no dualism – but a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers, and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities, and ecosystems."
- Kate Fletcher, textile consultant (The Ecologist, 2007)
Slow, ethical, conscious, and sustainable fashion are alternatives to fast fashion. Today, they are many solutions to buy clothes in a more environmentally friendly manner.
Read about the catastrophic impact of fast fashion on the environment in my other article on the importance of slow fashion for the planet.
Some of the few things you can do to lower the fashion industry's impact on the environment are buying fewer clothes overall and higher quality, buying apparel made from sustainable materials and shopping second hand.
Luckily, more people are starting to find more alternatives to fast fashion. The harmful consequences of fast fashion on people, the environment and eco-systems raises numerous questions:
- How to reduce textile waste going to landfills each year?
- What are some solutions to water, air and soil pollution?
- How to remove hazardous chemicals from fabric manufacturing?
- What's the better way to lower greenhouse gas emissions, water, and energy consumption?
The impact of the clothing industry on the planet is difficult to ignore. It's one of the leading contributors to global warming.
Check out my article on the fashion industry's impact on climate change to discover how environmentally damaging and resource-intensive fast fashion is.
The global apparel and footwear industry are responsible for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The fashion industry emits about 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide each year. That number is expected to rise by 50% by 2030 if the trend continues.
It's difficult to stop buying fast fashion because it's everywhere. The fashion industry wasn't always this way. People used to buy durable and high-quality clothing before the industrial revolution.
The rise of fast fashion was possible due to globalization and the transfer of clothing production in overseas countries, where labor costs are very low.
Fortunately, we have the power to make change happen. We choose the clothes we buy and who we support with our money. By choosing the alternatives to fast fashion, we contribute to making the wasteful fashion industry more regenerative and circular.
“It is obvious that the current fashion system is failing both the environment and us."
- Ida Auken, Denmark Member of Parliament
Here are the best alternatives to fast fashion.
1. Buy ethical and sustainable clothing
A lot of excellent brands and retailers now offer responsible fashion at an affordable price.
The key is to take some time for a bit of research and changing old shopping habits.
Upcoming and established brands now make eco-friendly clothes. Make the effort to look through what is available and make an informed purchase decision.
Ethical and sustainable clothing is produced in a respectful way to the Earth, the people, and the animals living on it.
Look for certifications that verify the fairness and eco-friendliness of your clothes. To do so, you can follow my guide on the best certification standards for textiles.
The best ethical designers and brands offer local, organic, recycled and fair trade clothing. Ethical fashion is crucial to help people earn a living wage and to reverse the harmful impact of clothing production on the environment.
To make sure every brand you buy from respects the people in its supply chain and protects the environment, read up my guide on how to check if a fashion brand is ethical.
Some popular examples of ethical fashion designers and brands sourcing sustainable materials and paying their workers a living wage are:
2. Transform old clothes into new ones
You can always try to transform old pieces of clothing to make new clothes with them. It's called upcycling.
Upcycling is making items by cutting and sewing used garments and other textiles.
You give a new life to old clothes in your wardrobe and extend the time you wear them.
It's an excellent way to minimize your impact on the environment and a great alternative to fast fashion.
"In a world still churning out trendy throw-away fashion pieces at breakneck speed, the idea of upcycled or refashioned apparel can be an anomaly. But it is a continuously growing trend and is one of the most sustainable things people can do in fashion. As upcycling makes use of already existing pieces, it often uses few resources in its creation and keeps ‘unwanted’ items out of the waste stream."
- Beth Stewart, Redress co-founder, and Executive Director
Read up my article on what does upcycled clothing mean to learn more about the many benefits of upcycling.
3. Donate your unwanted clothes
What do you do with the clothes you don't wear anymore? Don't throw them in the trash!
There are more responsible ways to dispose of old clothing instead of sending them to landfills to decompose or be incinerated.
If your used closed are still in good condition and you don't wear them anymore, why not donate? Someone else might need them more than you do and will have a chance of loving it.
Give them to your friends, family members, local shelters, or charitable organizations. You can also sell them to resale shops or second-hand marketplaces.
You can do a quick online search for your local options. Be sure to contact them first and ask what type of clothes they accept.
Amazing organizations to donate your clothes are Goodwill and Salvation Army.
4. Take good care of your wardrobe
It's essential to handle your wardrobe responsibly. By taking good care of the clothes you already have, they will last you longer.
It may seem like a simple idea, but it makes a huge positive difference in your wardrobe footprint.
Check the care labels of your clothing or ask the brands directly about the best way to take care of your garments.
If you feel like you have too many clothes and nothing to wear, it's probably time to sort your closet and make room for something new.
Follow my list of the types of clothes to get rid of right now to declutter your wardrobe for the better.
5. Buy wardrobe staples
A great alternative to fast fashion is to buy only fashion staples that fit your style perfectly. It's very beneficial for your budget and the planet.
Cut down the number of clothes you buy and wear. Don't give up completely on buying new clothes. Instead, make sure you select basics that you can combine easily.
Think of your clothes as an investment and not as disposable objects.
If you avoid buying cheaply-made clothing in the first place, you will have an easier time taking care of your clothes. Be sure to choose high quality and durable clothes that you love and forget the throwaway culture.
High quality doesn't necessarily mean a higher price. With a bit of patience and research, you can find affordable and long-lasting clothes.
Invest in pieces of clothing that are timeless and versatile. Buy clothes that you will enjoy wearing over and over again.
6. Buy second-hand clothing
Second-hand clothing is an amazing alternative to fast fashion. Going to thrift stores, vintage stores, or second-hand retailers is always a great option to shop on a budget, protect the environment, and support local businesses.
Used clothing from thrift stores has the benefit to help clothes stay away from landfills. The second-hand market is growing for good reasons. People love finding unique pieces nobody is wearing, relive old trends, and shop designer items at a fraction of the retail price.
Here are some fantastic places to buy second-hand clothes online:
You also have the opportunity to rent your clothes for special occasions. Many fashion brands and designers work with renting services to let people their clothes for a monthly fee.
It's a great way to have access to unique pieces that you can swap frequently.
"The benefits of renting fashion are wide-ranging. Not only can renting clothes be a more environmentally friendly alternative to buying into fast-moving fashion trends, but consumers can also save space in their homes. Fashion rentals can fulfill temporary fashion, such as clothing for women during pregnancy, while some fashion rental companies are tapping into demand for more niche and everyday fashion products such as streetwear."
- Samantha Dover, Mintel Senior Retail Analyst
Amazing places to rent clothes are:
You can also swap your used clothes with your friends and family. You can organize a clothing swapping party with your friends this weekend. It's a very popular, fun, and environmentally friendly activity to renew your wardrobe, instead of buying fast fashion.
These are the best alternatives to fast fashion. You can have beautiful, stylish clothing that is also accessible, ethical, and environmentally friendly.
Mindful shopping is the answer to the disastrous impact of the textile and apparel industry.
This may seem like an obvious answer but only a few conscious people follow a slower approach to fashion.
When you know the alternatives, ethical and sustainable fashion possibilities are endless.
What is your favorite way to avoid fast fashion?
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.