The perils of fast fashion: why your closet matters

Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

by Clarisse Y.

Applied Learning Global Development Studies

Fast fashion, the production of cheap, disposable clothing that is made indiscriminately has become the norm across our clothing sector. Trying to make sure we stay on trend, mainstream customers are drawn to fast fashion. And sadly, I have also been enthralled with it. I have been obsessed with fast fashion because it has allowed for trendy clothing at a cheaper price. I have felt compelled to go online and buy new clothes. Nothing would thrill me more than seeing a new sale pop up on a favourite store's webpage. 

A few weeks ago, this started to change. I conducted a clothing audit as part of the curriculum in my Global Development Studies class. I pulled my clothes out of the closet and placed them in any empty places I had in my room. Quickly, my clothes were piled higher and higher. Soon, I was surrounded by mountains of clothes with no space to move. It was only then that I realized how many clothes I actually owned.

Overwhelmed with the amount of clothing I had, I opened up my laptop and researched the KonMari method. After gaining inspiration from Marie Kondo’s KonMari method, I began my quest to declutter my closet.

To help me declutter I based my decisions on whether or not to keep the clothing. Marie Kondo says that the question “Does it spark joy?” is a good place to start. I picked up each item and carefully thought about if it brought me true joy. If it did, then I placed it in the bucket. If it didn’t then I placed it in a bag. I repeated this process over and over until I processed all of my clothing. Looking at the bag of clothes that did not bring me joy, a feeling of real pain and shame overtook me. Most of the clothes were new and had only been worn once or twice. I started to realize that my addiction to fast fashion was because of the surge of dopamine I felt when I was buying clothes.

After successfully decluttering my closet, I decided to shatter my relationship with fast fashion. To help me overcome my habit of constantly buying clothes, I began researching more about the impacts of fast fashion. I was appalled by the statistics I discovered.

Did you know that one pair of jeans requires a kilogram of cotton? And since cotton grows in dry environments, a kilo of cotton requires about 7,500-10,00 liters of water, which is equivalent to about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person. To me, this was shocking because I previously had never considered the environmental impacts of my clothing purchases. I learned that, on average, consumers throw away 60% of their clothes in the first year of owning them. In 2020 an estimated 18.6 million tons of clothing will end up in a landfill.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that, if this trend continues, over 150 million tonnes of clothing waste will clog landfills by 2050. These large numbers might seem a little hard to grasp but to simplify it, for every second you are reading this article, 7.6 cubic meters of discarded clothing is being dumped into a landfill. If this does not scare or worry you then I would seriously urge you to read more about the waste generated by the fashion industry each year.

During my research, I also learned about sustainable fashion alternatives. Sustainable fashion is an ‘all-encapsulating’ concept that refers to clothing that is manufactured, distributed, and used in a way that is most considerate of the environment and social justice.

A popular form of sustainable fashion is upcycling. Upcycling is based on recycling, reusing, and repurposing materials. Not only is upcycling a way of reviving old fabrics and turning them into new clothes, but the final product is also always unique. There are also numerous companies that are making clothes based on sustainable practices with new materials. This can involve sourcing sustainable materials, reducing the waste of materials in the production process, and ensuring fair labour practices are used throughout. 

Doing a clothing audit has transformed my complex relationship with fast fashion. I have been able to realize what really brings me joy in my wardrobe, and I am reflecting on how my contentment is not connected to how much clothing I own. With my closet now clean and organized, I feel relieved since I can now easily find a piece of clothing. For the future, I hope that I can explore more sustainable fashion brands and only make purchases that are necessary and promote the health of the planet and people.

I would strongly encourage you to go through your closet and declutter like I did, using Marie Kondo’s method. It is surprising how much of the clothing you own may not spark joy.

For more information about the KonMari method, visit https://konmari.com/.

This podcast by Applied Learning Global Development student Isabella Y sheds more light on fast fashion and sustainable alternatives: