Anne Else: Conscious consumerism

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 - 2:49pm

Sustainability goes further than typical policies and eco-structures learned about in environment classes; it is applicable to many facets of life. Recently, people have been examining a newer model for living sustainably: shopping consciously and understanding the impact that fast fashion has on the world.

Fast fashion is commonly defined as clothing that is cheaply and quickly made in order to meet the demands of buyers as well as the rotating cycle of trends. Due to the unstoppable market for popular clothing and styles, businesses like Forever 21 and H&M produce vast quantities of new clothes every month. The fast fashion industry needs to work on conscious alternatives to their production, or else consumers will need to avoid these models altogether in order to help the planet.      

So how does this affect our ecosystem? Typical consumers tend to buy an item that they like one moment and then discard it due to rapidly changing style trends. There are several methods to get rid of clothing; some eco-conscious ways are to donate to a thrift store, swap with friends or give to local shelters or charities. The most detrimental way to get rid of old clothes would be to directly throw them away, as they would then be sent straight to a landfill.

In the U.S. alone, there are about 11 million tons of clothing thrown away every year. From this, the clothes that are cheaply made are contributing to heavy chemical seepage from dyes and fabrics into water systems and soil around the world. Furthermore, most fabrics take a long time to break down in a landfill and will release chemicals into the air.

Paying attention to the kinds of clothes you own is important. Take a look at the labels are they composed of synthetic fabrics? If bought from a fast fashion retailer, the chances are the clothing items are made of some sort of blend of acrylic and synthetic materials. Through every laundry wash, microfibers fall off clothing and are washed into the water system. Their small size allows them to get through water treatment centers and into bodies of water. This is just another way cheap clothing is affecting natural environments.

The flow of microfibers into bodies of water can even directly affect humans. Reports are revealing that plastic microfibers are reaching fish that are processed for grocery stores and consumption, meaning people are eating plastics stemming from our laundry. To fix this issue, individuals can either choose to buy fewer synthetic materials or purchase a special filter for washing machines that filters out microfibers. Hopefully we can begin to improve water quality and the quality of what humans consume in the long run.

There are fortunately several alternatives to all of these fast fashion failings. The direct alternative would be to purchase items from sustainable clothing brands. Some well-known and trusted sustainable brands to look out for are Everlane, Pact, and Veja which specializes in low-impact, sustainably-made sneakers. These eco-friendly brands are on the rise and cater to a wide variety of customers and styles. Look out for companies that market the fact they have transparent business models, sustainable materials and fair employment.

These types of business are helping to recreate the fashion world into a place where working conditions are healthy and products are made consciously with a small carbon footprint. Some brands use quality materials in their products, while others build their brand on reusing and revamping recycled fabric. Companies may even solely rely on deadstock fabric, which is fabric that has been left-over from large textile mills or factories. This deadstock fabric is then reused in new garments instead of simply being thrown away. All of these creative approaches to sustainable fashion are thoughtful and eco-friendly sources for clothing. If individuals begin to primarily support corporations that use sustainable processes, then, hopefully, the rest of the market will shift toward prioritizing these values. 

Of course, the price for quality garments and business is typically much steeper than shopping at a fast fashion retailer. This economic standpoint is what makes fast fashion so appealing, especially for younger consumers who do not want to spend all of their money on clothing. If the higher prices of sustainable fashion deter you, there are ways to shop consciously on a budget. The best option for this is thrifting. Thrift stores are present in almost every town across the country. They bring in local donations and resell them for low prices, and most thrift stores carry clothing for everyone. Thrifting is a clear way to shop consciously because the money does not go directly to fast fashion retailers. It is funneled into a charitable organization that capitalizes on the values of recycling and reusing. Stop in at your local thrift shop and see what gems you can find.         

Despite all of these alternative options for consuming, the key way to become a conscious shopper is to simply buy what you know you will use. Buying thoughtfully allows us to possess what we love which will ultimately cut down amount of textile waste. Conscious shoppers are pivotal in reducing these negative clothing impacts.

Anne Else can be reached at aelse@umich.edu.