How you can help to end the fast fashion fiasco

The global textile industry is worth about 1.3 trillion US dollars and is now the second worst polluter of the environment after oil. It’s not sustainable. Something has to change.

Fast fashion

Until fairly recently, no one gave much thought to recycling clothes. In most parts of the Western world it was simple enough to donate any unwanted items to local charity shops without a second thought. They easily and effortlessly disappeared out of our lives.

But times are changing.

No one wants your unwanted clothes any more

I ran a Fast Track Clutter Clearing online course earlier this year with participants from 18 countries. Word started filtering back to me that some charity shops were so overloaded with post-Christmas donations they were not accepting any more items.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of clothing donated to charity shops never gets sold as second-hand clothes at all. Most of our cast-offs don’t help people in need, as we fondly imagine. Instead, they are sold for recycling or rags.

It used to be the perfect formula. China used cheap labour to make clothes for western manufacturers at a fraction of the price they could be produced in the West. They delivered these clothes by ship and used the return journey to haul away the vast quantities of garbage that western countries didn’t want, including mountains of used clothing. Back in China the garbage was sorted (using cheap labour again) and recycled iinto new products that were again shipped to the West. And so the cycle continued.

Except that this no longer works.

China’s change of policy

A tipping point was reached where the immense wealth generated in China by all this trade created a new middle class who were hungry for the same affluent products that had been shipped to the West for so many years. As a result, China now has a huge recycling problem of its own. And as wages have increased, cheap labour has become less available to sort through contaminated recycling from the West.

This led in 2017, to China announcing it would no longer be the garbage can of the world. It listed 24 types of recyclables it would no longer accept, and in 2018, it added another 32 types.

Western municipalities have been scrambling ever since to find alternative options. For years, we’ve been trained to dutifully recycle everything we can but now municipal services can’t afford to process it or even incinerate it. In the US, some towns have suspended their recycling programs altogether, admitting that whichever bin people put it in, it now all goes to landfill. The old system has fallen apart.

Fast fashion lies at the root of the problem

Some countries manage their recycling better than others, it’s true. But no matter how well they do this, the problem will never be resolved until the core of the issue is addressed. Nothing will change until consumers understand the damage to the environment that low quality mass-produced fast fashion is causing.

Fast fashion is all about quick sales at throwaway prices. Retail chains churn out new designs as often as every two weeks and at such cheap prices that many people can afford to wear something once or twice and then throw it away like a discarded food wrapper.

And why does fashion change so fast? There is only one reason — so that clothing manufacturers can make more money. With millions of tons of clothing now going to landfill every day, this practice has been exposed for the obscene waste of planetary resources that it is. The recycling crisis is finally causing people to wake up and want to make changes.

Slow fashion

The new slow fashion movement advocates classic styles made from high quality, sustainable materials. It embraces the concept of timeless rather than trendy. It promotes well-made clothes that we’ll want to keep and wear for years, as previous generations used to do.

Best of all, it sends a firm message to all the manufacturers of the cheap, synthetic clothes that are mostly all you can find in chain stores these days. It says enough is enough.

Yes, it will take time for this movement to take effect but it’s quickly gathering momentum. Western countries are offloading their rubbish and recycling to other Third World countries, but it’s only a matter of time before what happened in China repeats itself, and what will we do then? Fast fashion is not sustainable. One way or another, its days are surely numbered. We can all do our part by adopting slow fashion and saying no to all the rest.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2019

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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9 Responses to How you can help to end the fast fashion fiasco

  1. I used to volunteer at a charity shop – I’ve seen hundreds of donated Fast Fashion clothes and many of them still had price tags on. It wasn’t worth sorting/tagging/steaming/displaying those cheap & nasty clothes (no one wanted to buy them), majority of them went straight to the ‘rag trade’ and charity received some cash, but not much. It was depressing! I hope more people read this article and think twice before they waste their money on Fast Fashion clothes (and shoes and handbags, too!).

  2. A very sound article! I imagine how we could be turning our clothes into house insulation through some kind of industrial felting. In Australia, despite the variable climate conditions, most housing is akin to cardboard walls held together with glue. Noise and temperature insulation desperately needed.

  3. I’m really worried about the recycling scene described in this article.

    I live in a four-season environment where a broad selection of basic clothing is required to address the varied weather patterns. Half of my clothing is worn repeatedly for weeks and months on end. The other half are worn less often based on weather extremes, an occasional dressy event, etc. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool minimalist, but a number of my lesser-worn outfits are quite old. I’m not at all a fashion plate, yet I often receive compliments on my simple daily outfits and old classics. No one knows they’re old because (1.) they’ve been well-cared for and (2.) they still work so well for me!

    I’ve learned:

    • which colors and styles look great on me
    • that a jacket, sweater, vest, scarf, or piece of jewelry can transform a tee-shirt into something greater than itself. Dress it up or dress it down. All year
    • that I would rather be comfortable than in vogue
    • that dry cleaning doesn’t appeal to me, to my budget, or to how I spend my time
    • that I can’t wear polyester. It creates strong static electrical shocks along with itching in cold weather and feels hot and sticky—plus smells bad—in warm weather
    • I have a wool allergy, so that’s out too (except for some really nice, washable, merino wool socks that don’t itch and keep me warm all winter)
    • that even if something is old—if it’s classic, comfortable, well-cared for, and still appropriate for my age, shape and coloring—I feel good about what I’m wearing. Others routinely admire my selections!

    I use everything up and put it to good use. Well-worn clothing becomes cleaning rags or work clothes for housework, cooking, art projects, gardening, hiking, etc. Old gloves are used up the same way. When something stops working for me, I either sell it on consignment, donate it to charity, or recycle it in the rag bin. I only replace it with something new if I really need it or really love it. Last fall, I purchased a good quality, long-sleeved, solid color, pima cotton tee-shirt in a shade of red that makes my heart sing. It goes with all kinds of things I already own, adds a pop of color to neutrals, can be worn year round, and only cost $20 (US) on sale.

    I dearly hope we can spiral back ’round to slow fashion. And real living. Soon.

    1. Hi Elisabeth – There is a huge difference between developing a personal style that evolves over years to match who you are and the frivolous discarding of fast fashion items after a few weeks or just one wear.

  4. Thanks so much for this article, Karen. I had heard the term fast fashion before but never really investigated what it means or its real repercussions (I’m 74). The garbage issue is staggering. Throw away appliances like vacuums, etc. Until we as a society learn to achieve happiness thru other ways than buying things it seems bleak.

  5. This article covers the deep layer of clutter clearing. I’m thankful for that. It has made me think a lot and will certainly greatly affect my future buying behavior. I would not limit the term “fast and slow” only to clothing and food, but I would generally appeal to a sustainable “slow” consumption.

  6. Well researched and good to see new ground being broken in one of the planet’s biggest challenges.

  7. Excellent article Karen. So true about cheap and nasty clothes. I have been buying more expensive natural fibre clothes as and when I need to replace something. I hate polyester! Trying to buy clothes for my grandchildren is a nightmare. Where are the clothes made from hemp? Our old clothes get cut up to use as ties in our vegetable and flower garden. A friend digs hers in all over her property! We have to get rid if fast fashion or the world will suffocate under it all.

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