Sustainable Fashion and the “Buyerarchy”

—— Cover art by Annabelle (brightly.eco) on Instragram

Happy Saturday everyone! As a follow-up to my last post about fast fashion, today’s post will be a follow-up post to that one.

As outlined in that post, fast-fashion brands make their profits by exploiting their garment workers, using cheap, low-quality materials, designed to only be worn a few times before being thrown away, and relying on following quick trend turnovers, thus creating immense amounts of waste. As a result of fast fashion, our planet is drowning in unwanted clothes. Each year, the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing. In fact, next to oil companies, fashion is the dirtiest industry in the world.

With so many fast fashion brands out there, selling their clothes at generally lower prices, it may be difficult for some budget-wise to make the switch to shop sustainable fashion.

Presenting the Buyerarchy of Sustainable Fashion

Buying new clothes from sustainable brands is a great alternative to fast fashion, but that doesn’t have to be your first move. Sustainable fashion, does not have to be solely purchase-driven.

Starting at the bottom of the Buyerarchy, the most sustainable clothing is wearing what you already have, regardless of where you got them from. No consumption of new materials, no new waste. Wearing what you already have means applying the 6Rs of sustainable fashion: Repair, Rewear, Restyle, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. This means being a proud outfit repeater, and making your clothes last as long as they can, even if they were made to fall apart after just a few wears, or for as long as you possibly can before needing to discard them.

Next up, borrowing and swapping clothes between your friends and family members also means no consumption of new materials, no new waste, and this time you have more options in your collective wardrobes. Who knows, maybe your bestie has the perfect pair of shoes to go with that dress!

Thrift shopping is a great way to save money and help produce less waste, but there are some hidden truths about thrifting that we should all understand. Although donating your clothes to thrift stores or charities extends their lifespan, the issue is their eventual destinations. Out of all the clothes dropped off at thrift stores, the nicest clothes, less than 20% of what is donated, make it to the racks and a small portion of that actually gets re resold in-store. What doesn’t sell, gets shipped to textile recycling companies, but the reality is that there is simply too much clothing to process, and about 33% of thrift store discards will actually get recycled, the rest is destined for the landfill.

The vast majority of donated items head overseas, these are the 80% of donated clothes that didn’t even make it to the racks. The US exports 1.6 million tons of secondhand clothes each year. Regardless of their quality, they enter the secondhand market in East African and Indian countries. Many vendors in these countries have built their livelihoods around selling the clothes, and it serves as a strong part of the developing economy. But there is just simply too much donated clothing for the level of demand in these countries, causing local textile sectors to become obsolete. To make matters worse, the quality of the clothes is often unfit for anyone to wear, so tons of clothing is simply incinerated.

I’m not saying that you should boycott your local thrift stores or avoid donating wearable clothing to them and to charity bins. The message that I am trying to get across is that thrift stores are not a solution to the fashion waste crisis, and donating your clothes to them, to free up space in your closet for more fast fashion is not the point of sustainable fashion.

Next on the Buyerarchy is making your own clothes. While this takes a lot of skill, talent, and time, that many people don’t have, but some do and that’s great. Making your own clothes promotes sustainable fashion in the way that the maker is able to find their own, and not feel the pressures of a trend-driven and sales-driven industry.

At the tip of the Buyerarchy is buying from sustainable fashion brands. This can be difficult mostly because many brands are not fully transparent about where and how their clothes are made, what steps they take (if any) to ensure their clothes are ethically made. It may take a lot of searching to find a reliable sustainable fashion brand.

What can you do?

If you’re looking to take steps toward leading a more sustainable fashion lifestyle, start at the bottom of the Buyerarchy and work your way up! Additionally, here are some more actions that you can take to support and fight for the rights of garment workers:

  • Sign petitions for a fair wage for garment workers and more sustainable practices
  • Write to brands demanding less production and better quality
  • Don’t conform to “wear it once” cultures and be a proud outfit repeater
  • Unsubscribe from brand marketing emails and don’t be pulled in by celebrity endorsements
  • Above all, hold brands accountable

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