Next to the petroleum industry, textiles are the number two contributor to waste and pollution. From sourcing materials to manufacturing, clothing production equates to copious factory runoff into local waterways, toxic chemicals introduced to the environment and unused materials that are tossed aside.

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The problem

Fast fashion is a major culprit here. What used to be seasonal trends has now shifted to weekly trends. That means last week’s favorites are this week’s disposals. Even when we donate clothing, it often ends up in the landfill, sometimes after being shipped halfway around the world. 

Related: Upcycled clothes collection inspires to break the pattern

As defined by clothing that is worn for a brief cycle and then discarded, fast fashion leaves a deep wound on the planet. From start to finish it’s a waste of resources. Consider the plant-based materials such as cotton and bamboo that require land and water to grow. Those materials are then sent for processing, which requires more water and tons of energy. Even worse, most clothes aren’t made from natural materials. They’re made of synthetic materials, aka plastic in the form of nylon, polyester, etc. These stem from fossil fuels, a notably dirty business, and result in microplastics and chemicals back in the soil and water. 

The factories

Then there is the human worker aspect of fast clothing production. Many of the primary textile factories are in Asia, specifically China, where labor laws often do not protect workers against long hours and inadequate pay. Unhealthy working conditions, chemical exposure and unrealistic production expectations plague the industry in the name of quickly produced and readily available clothing, shoes, and accessories. Recently, U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 uncovered Shein’s abysmal workplace practices.

Clothing rack of neutral-colored clothes

The solutions

Consumers have the power to drive the direction of fashion. If we don’t buy it, they won’t make it. It’s up to every one of us to be conscientious consumers.

Natural Materials

Synthetic materials are bad for the environment at every level of production. Read labels and choose clothing made from wool, cotton, bamboo, hemp, silk, and linen instead. These materials are sourced from nature rather than a lab. Organic is best, which means it comes without chemicals mixed in. That helps the land it grows on and is also better for us as the wearer. 


In addition to choosing natural materials, buy the best quality clothing you can afford. The longer any clothing item remains in use, the more beneficial for the planet. Not only are you honoring the copious resources used in the production of that item, but you’re keeping it out of the waste stream too. 

Check the country of origin

Clothing made in China is unreliable in regard to fair working conditions. While there are exceptions, avoid the tags “Made in China” unless you’ve researched the factory where the clothing was made.

Purchasing power

The definition of affordable is different for everyone. In addition to fast fashion offering up new and interesting options on the regular, the clothing is typically exceedingly low-priced. Although this is tempting, remember the real costs to the planet and humanity.

Empower your purchasing dollar by buying readily available and budget-friendly 100% cotton items instead. Consider a scenario where you buy a $5 item from Shein, H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, Guess, Forever 21, Gap, etc. You might wear this ultra-trendy item a few times before it’s no longer in style or it falls apart from poor construction. Then into the waste bin it goes. A similar but more sustainable option might cost you three or four times as much, but that $15 to $20 shirt will likely be in your closet much longer. 

Think capsule wardrobe

When looking to solve a problem, look towards the opposite end of the spectrum. In the case of a counterweight to fast fashion, investigate the components of a capsule wardrobe. You don’t have to go full-out limiting your belongings to a certain number of items, but keep in mind the versatility of the garment when you purchase it. Basic pants, tops and jackets can be accessorized, dressed up and dressed down in a variety of ways, providing maximum life for the clothing without feeling like you’re wearing the same thing every day. 

Hawaiian T-shirts on a clothing rack

Don’t be trendy

Look, we don’t want to take all the joy out of your life but we’re going to be straight here. Your need to be trendy is killing the planet and the people on it. While it might sound harsh, the detrimental aspects of the fast fashion industry are undeniable. If you’re contributing to it financially, you’re not part of the solution. Cut back or eliminate clothing purchases. Your toddler doesn’t need to be runway ready. You can be stylish in a more classic sense. Your children’s world will benefit from the decisions you make today. 

Buy second hand

One way to hold on to the trends is to pick up likely used items at thrift shops, vintage malls and estate sales. Keep clothing in circulation longer by giving it a new home.


So, that’s it? All we want is clothing that’s made to last, from responsibly made, chemical-free natural materials, affordable and produced in alignment with fair trade practices? Yep, that’s all. It’s a tall order, but if each of us is vigilant in our purchasing choices, the tides will shift.

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