Fast fashion retailers like H&M, Zara, and Forever21 have made trendy clothing more accessible and affordable than ever. While the low prices and constant new styles are tempting, fast fashion has many downsides that make it unsustainable.
We all know that fast fashion contributes to environmental harm and labor exploitation. Fast fashion is famous for being made of low-quality materials and not lasting long at all.
There is a legitimate push in this space to move toward thrifting, making your clothing, and zero waste. I support this, but what I don’t support is an all-or-nothing mentality.
What are the Reasons to Still Use Fast Fashion?
While these downsides make fast fashion ethically problematic, it may still be the most viable option for some people due to financial or accessibility constraints. For those relying solely on low-wage jobs, ethically-produced clothing is often out of reach. Even if you make your clothing, that still requires skills and materials that can be expensive. Rural areas and smaller cities may lack affordable access to sustainable brands and secondhand stores. Fast fashion is also more size-inclusive, generally. And as a former obese girly, I know how difficult it is to feel good in your clothing or find anything that fits. Fast fashion has opened up new roads for size inclusivity. And it’s difficult to thrift for bigger sizes.
Making Mindful Choices
I’m not here to tell you that you’re awful for buying fast fashion. I love supporting my independent, ethical clothing companies, but they’re more expensive and not everyone can afford them. We have to start where we are, and even small steps are better than no steps.
Look, fast fashion is not something I’m ever going to champion, but it’s inescapable for a lot of us. With a little thought and planning, we can make less harmful choices while advocating for broader systemic change. If fast fashion is your only current option, you can still make mindful choices:
- Buy only what you love and will wear often. Look for staple pieces (like peasant skirts— things that can be worn in many ways.)
- Care for items properly to extend their lifespan. Air dry, use garment bags, and spot clean. I’ve made some fast fashion items last for years this way.
- Shop secondhand when possible. Seek thrift stores and apps like Poshmark and Thred-up for hidden gems. I love a good thrift find!
- Opt for natural fabrics like cotton and linen that hold up to more wear over time. Scarlet Darkness has several pieces that are higher quality fabrics, like this cotton top, one of the reasons I like them!
- Repurpose, mend, or alter clothes. If you stick to buying staples, you can add embellishments as they age to make them something totally different. Learning how to mend clothing is an easy entry point to sewing that doesn’t always require a sewing machine.
But, How Do I Stop Fast Fashion?
If you find yourself in an in-between stage where you’re able to move to more sustainable habits, here are some things that you can try now to avoid fast fashion:
- Learn to make your clothes. This can be sewing, knitting, crocheting, jewelry, or no-sew techniques. This is an amazing skill to have.
- Barter with someone who can make clothing. Maybe you hate sewing or are not crafty, but you can do something else, like coding. Offer to build a website for your friend who makes clothes in exchange for what they make. Do you garden? Exchange some plants or veggies you grew for a garment.
- Create a skill exchange circle. This is the most cottage-core idea ever and builds on the barter system. Gather your friends and see what kind of skill each person might have. Make a “bulletin board” of what one person needs and what they can offer, and match people up.
- Start thinking of clothing as an investment, and save up for higher quality. Instead of buying 4 pair of cheap pants (trousers, for my overseas peeps,) invest in that one pair from that boutique, ethical seller you’ve been wanting. They will probably last longer than all the other pair combined.
- Fewer pieces, more versatility. I am not a minimalist, especially in my wardrobe, but I tend to go for very boring basics and then have a few statement pieces that will change an entire outfit.
- Accessories. You can change an entire outfit by adding belts, vests, socks, tights, etc.
- Identify your aesthetic(s) and look for pieces that complement it! I have multiple aesthetics that I love and wear, but they all share certain elements, so one piece works for all of them.
I hope this article relieves some stress about not being the perfect thrifting fashionista. The aesthetics I like best tend to lend themselves to being more thrift-friendly than some others, but it’s still not always possible to get what you need. And remember, you can make less harmful choices even within fast fashion. Scarlet Darkness is a company I like (*affiliate link), and if you use the code BLYTHESREVERIE, you can get 20% off your purchase.