The trouble with fast fashion


CLOTHING AT A COST  Cheap fashion comes at huge expense to the environment. 

Green Living

McKinley Neal

How many times have you worn each of the clothes items in your closet? According to, the global textile industry is the second-largest contributor to global pollution.
We take for granted the clothes, towels and bedding that line our closets and hot presses, but these items require immense resources to produce, from the crops grown (cotton, and flax for linen) and petroleum extracted (for polyester and other synthetic fibres) to the water and chemicals necessary for cleaning and dyeing fabrics. Then there’s the energy used to power the machinery that spins fibres, weaves and cuts fabrics, prints designs and sews it all together.
A 2015 documentary, ‘The True Cost’, covered the devastating impact of textile production for ‘fast fashion’ brands on both people and the planet. It highlighted how globally, people consume approximately 400 percent more new articles of clothing than we did just two decades ago, for a total of 80 billion new garments annually.
Clothes have never been as cheap to purchase relative to our income, especially when we consider that a few generations ago our family members were making the majority of the clothes they wore. And never have so many clothes been quickly discarded.
To cut down on textile waste, we all need to commit to buying less, and buying better. The True Cost documentary encourages us to ask ourselves whether we will wear an item 30 times or more, in order to change our mindset about clothes as single-use items. Thinking about clothes as investment pieces to last us for years challenges us to buy thoughtfully, based less on trends and more on functionality and fit.
A number of sustainable fashion experts promote a ‘capsule wardrobe’, which is essentially a curated set of clothes, often 50 pieces or less, that can be combined in a number of ways to get you through all seasons and events. A lot of people find that less is actually more, that owning fewer clothes enables you to streamline your day-to-day routine, and that you can bring in fun elements with a few well-chosen accessories.
Staple items that my husband and I have are neutral coloured T-shirts and vests in long and short sleeves, which can be worn alone or layered under other tops, and jeans in black and blue. More interesting pieces for special events can be borrowed, or bought from a charity or vintage shop; my wedding dress was a combination of my grandmother and aunts’ dresses.
Also, be mindful of your washing routine. Wash less, at the lowest temperature possible to clean your items to preserve their life. Clearly, some items need washing more often than others (underwear is best changed daily!), but manufacturers of high-quality denim, wool and linen now suggest wearing them for as long as possible without washing them in a machine; try spot cleaning them only as necessary. For my kids’ clothes, I have a natural soap bar designed for laundry use which I rub directly on to stains before cleaning at 30 degrees.
Simple steps that simplify life and benefit the planet. Win, win.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.


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