How To: Not Shop Fast Fashion

Whether it’s buying strictly secondhand, or renting looks online, we have options.

Key Takeaways

  1. Many consumers continue to purchase fast fashion clothing despite its detrimental effects on the environment, and workers’ rights. Since the industry is far from transparent and rife with greenwashing, many buyers are left unsure of which brands fall under the fast fashion definition.
  2. Millennials and Gen Z are popularizing the practice of secondhand shopping online via brands such as The Real Real, Depop, and Vestiaire Collective. While this may seem like an ethical alternative to fast fashion, experts warn that this in itself is not a sustainable practice. Reducing overall clothing consumption is still the best way to create an impact.
  3. Buyers should seek out alternative modes of consumption such as swapping clothing, utilizing rental services, or tailoring garments they already own in order to abstain from purchasing fast fashion. Even a single purchase from a fast-fashion company helps support an unethical business model.

Insiders may look down upon fast fashion, but its reputation as an acceptable model for purchasing clothing is secure among many consumers. A recent article in the Guardian by Sirin Kale discusses the tension experienced by many Gen Z buyers who desire to make sustainable purchases yet seek affordable clothing for their social media posts. These customers often won’t wear the same outfit twice, so the clothes they buy are generally cheap and disposable. Despite the business model’s well-documented detrimental effects on the environment, exploitive working conditions, and extreme wastefulness, most people will still give in to their desires for acceptance and status versus saving the world. What’s more, the quality of clothing has changed in the last twenty-five years, with many products now made cheaply overseas. In addition, “the cost of clothing was in a period of deflation for almost 20 years before edging up more recently,” according to an article in The Atlantic by Elizabeth Cline. This has all skewed the expectations of your average consumer. For those that are too young to remember a time when many mall brands sold hand-knit sweaters or finely made products, it’s no wonder that they have no qualms about buying rock-bottom-priced clothing meant to be worn once. Yet there are green alternatives to purchasing clothing from fast fashion brands for those seeking to dress up again after nearly two years swaddled in sweats if you know where to look. The move towards slow fashion (defined as clothing that is made ethically taking into account the environment, people, and animals) is a concept that is the direct antithesis to fast fashion—a practice championed by luxury slow fashion brands such as Marine Serre and Lauren Manoogian.

Secondhand shopping is in the midst of a renaissance. While the time-honored tradition of hunting for your next purchase in person is nothing new for thrift enthusiasts or clothing dealers, the stigma associated with the practice is fading away. Both Millennials and Gen Z have contributed to the booming $28 billion resale industry according to findings by Thredup. (NPR) Gone are the misconceptions that only impoverished people thrift or that the wares themselves are dirty or soiled. Buying gently used or never worn clothing at thrift or consignment stores is thought to keep the garments in circulation for longer. But this is not a magic salve for excess; many people feel justified in donating their entire wardrobes and rebuying pieces since they believe this practice is more sustainable. Only 10 to 20 percent of donated clothing ends up on the sales floor at stores like the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The rest is sold to other countries such as Pakistan, Kenya, or Poland so it’s not as ecologically sound as one may think. (Popular Science) Unsellable clothing still ends up incinerated or in landfills. Thrifting with purpose by only adding wardrobe staples or buying what you need is a better way to shop. For those without access to thrift stores, purchasing secondhand garments online can provide a dizzying array of possibilities. Purchasing used luxury items from online resale companies such as The RealReal is becoming commonplace. In its 2020 resale report, The RealReal reported that of its 17+ million users, they had a “significant increase in shoppers buying high-value investment pieces. [The] Buyers are gravitating toward quieter stealth luxury…” By changing our shopping behaviors and purchasing fewer quality items, customers can build out a perennial wardrobe that will not be affected by lightning-fast micro-trends. Well-made knits or leather goods will always look good, and by simply adding au courant accessories, older styles can be reinvigorated.

Scouring the web for used or vintage clothing is one way to avoid fast fashion and salvage pivotal pieces in fashion history at the same time. With the world at their fingertips, many young people such as the stylist and collector David Cassavant, have built up archival collections, that rival those found in institutions by making purchases from hobby resellers on websites such as eBay (Vogue France). These individuals seek out clothing from esteemed designers and collections including Marc Jacobs’s Perry Ellis Spring 1993 collection which heralded the arrival of grunge, or Vivienne Westwood’s various iterations of her famed corset. If you’re seeking to buy a trendier item, buying pieces from a revered designer’s collections from the ’90s to early 2000s may keep the look from feeling dated. Recently, designer clothing from brands such as Blumarine, Helmut Lang, Gucci, Dior, and Mugler from this period have been referenced in many new collections.

If you’re not worried about preserving the integrity of your purchased wares, tailoring them to fit the body can help modernize a passé style. While shopping for used clothing is convenient and gives buyers global access to garments, the practice is not without its faults. Many critics point out that vintage clothing is not accessible for plus-sized consumers. In addition, some resellers have been known to mark up the cost of plus-sized clothing by marketing it as “oversized.” This depletes inventory at thrift stores for those consumers (Refinery29). While buying luxury clothing can be cost-prohibitive, more tastemakers and working professionals are turning to affordable options such as fashion rentals services.

Rented clothing was considered to be a niche market when Rent the Runway first launched in 2016. The company initially offered evening wear but has recently relaunched with more contemporary and designer options for events as varied as “brunches, vacations, and birthdays,” according to Anushka Salinas the President and CEO. (Vogue) With the rise of social media people documenting their everyday lives has become the norm. The desire to look polished at all times has risen and created a need for these rental programs. Competitors have emerged which specialize in accessories such as high-end jewelry, and even handbags. Renting clothing allows users to try something unexpected without having to commit to the object forever. Unique services which allow customers to rent out their own garments or swap with other vetted individuals have also emerged making the entire experience feel local akin to the swap parties of the past.

Buying replicated runway looks on the cheap may seem like a good option for many people but every purchase helps reinforce a system that is bad for both the buyer and the environment. By seeking alternative modes of consumption such as investing in fewer garments per year, buying secondhand, exchanging clothing through peer-to-peer applications, or even renting garments buyers can disrupt the fast fashion machine. When used items aren’t an option, buyers can purchase durable clothing that is meant to last from ethically-minded companies such as Everlane, Cuyana, and Of a Kind. (The Atlantic) We all went to look our best online and IRL but it’s time that we make informed decisions that go beyond just passing dopamine hit on social media.