Lately, I’ve found myself talking a lot about fast fashion – the cheaply made clothing that looks great on the rack, costs less than a meal out, and unfortunately often lasts less than a few seasons.
I touched on the subject in my book, recently wrote this article for Earth911 about H&M’s clothing recycling initiative, and last week I was interview by a Canadian news network called CBC to get my take on the issue, and why it can be problematic to rely on corporations to guide our environmental decisions.
[I pop in around 3:00]
There’s also a full article here, where I was featured in the pull quote!
This was such an incredible opportunity to talk about something I care really deeply about, aaaand also a great chance to discover just how awkward I become when I’m being followed around by a camera while being told to act natural.
(Internal monologue: This is how I usually walk..right? Like, does this looks like how a normal human would walk? Yeah, the camera guy’s not saying anything so this is probably perfectly acceptable. Oh, you want me to just rifle through the hangers? Cool, cool, absolutely. Just…how…how do I usually move my hands when I do this? What are my fingers doing?! Am I rifling too fast? What do I do with my feet? Am I smiling? Smile Madeleine, you bastard!)
Anyway, I’ve never been so excited! The clip ended up being pretty short – this is a huge issue and there’s way too much info to squish into just seven minutes- so I wanted to write this post as a bit of an add-on.
My main point in the interview was this: While I think the recent push by fashion giants like Zara to embrace a more Eco-friendly production process is definitely a positive one and should be recognised as such, it does need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Zara’s business model (and that of every fast-fashion retailer) is based on maximising profit. Bottom line, they need to sell lots of clothes – ideally, more and more every year. Shifting to more Eco-friendly practices is simply one more way to do so, undoubtedly designed to address an increasingly Eco-conscious consumer base. They’d like to be recognised for attempting to solve a problem while also avoiding the fact that they still actively contribute to a huge portion of it with their continued production of poorly-made, polluting, and disposable clothing.
Buying clothes labelled “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” may be slightly better for the environment, but the best option (and the one fashion retailers will never talk about) is simply to drastically reduce how many clothes we buy, period.
So how do you go about shifting your shopping habits? Well, when I first began drastically reducing how much I bought, I had four questions I’d ask myself. These questions helped guide my buying decisions (about everything, not just clothing), stopped impulse buys, and made sure I was making the most environmentally friendly decision I could.
- Do I need this?
This is where about 80% of purchases stop in their tracks. Do you really, truly need that thing you’ve got in your cart? Think about what you could use instead, how long it’ll last, how you’ll pay for it, where you’ll keep it, and what will happen to it once you’re done with it. Most of the time, you’ll realize you really don’t need it at all.
- Can I make it/borrow it?
It’s really, really easy to make things for yourself and usually less expensive, less wasteful and better for the environment, too. I regularly make my own cleaning products, laundry detergent, lotion, makeup remover, toothpaste, and shampoo and conditioner. You can, too!
If you can’t make it – can you borrow it? Is this item something you’ll use once or twice and never need again?Owning isn’t always better, renting or borrowing something means you don’t have to pay full price for it, maintain it, store it, or dispose of it when it breaks or wears out. Wins all around!
- Can I buy it secondhand?
Aside from reducing how much clothing you buy altogether, this is the most relevant question regarding the issue of fast fashion. Secondhand and consignment stores are packed with clothing just waiting to sell. You’ll pay 10-50% of the retail cost and you’ll also prevent those clothing pieces from ending up in a landfill.
Secondhand shopping also increase your chances of getting a quality product, because you can see how it’s held up to regular wear and tear.
- Is this the best quality I can afford?
A deal isn’t a deal if it’s so poorly made that you have to keep rebuying it every few months or years. Invest in a good pair of boots rather than cheap ones that will wear out and replace. Avoid particleboard furniture and plastic dishware – basically, look for quality over quantity.
Also, in a (sort of) unrelated note, I absolutely loved speaking with Dianne Buckner (the fabulous reporter who worked on the story) and she was so amazing, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell you that the way she says “…she buys used clothing” (around 3:14) is absolutely making my life right now.
Did you listen to it?!
It is everything. I love it so, so much. It is my new ringtone. I am going to record it into a build-a-bear so I can replay it whenever I want to. It’s exactly how I imagine people talk about me when I’m not there, “She’s weird. She carries her own straw. She buys used clothing”.
Finally and most importantly, thank you so much, CBC! This is my greatest media appearance since 2014, when I was featured on the front page of the Style section in the Edmonton Journal for not washing my hair.
It goes without saying that my mom is so proud.