We've been watching documentaries with our children to learn more about the clothing and fashion industry. For some time we have avoided buying new, imported clothes knowing that they were made by women and children in terrible working conditions, but until we realized the entire story behind the industry, it was impossible to truly grasp the magnitude of the situation. Fast fashion is a huge global human rights issue and an environmental problem of epic proportion.
Over the last few decades, we've seen the clothing manufacturing industry nearly totally disappear from North America. Clothing labels now seek manufacturing services in countries where garments can be made very cheaply (and often without regard for the health and safety of the people making them). As fashion (and consumption) has sped up (with "looks", colours and styles rapidly changing) people have taken up shopping as a pastime to keep up with trends. Consumption is at an all time high and our homes and closets are burgeoning as a result! Are you old enough to remember when closets were much smaller? In newer homes today, master closets are ROOMS with cabinetry and opulent finishing... literally, shrines to consumption and the fast fashion industry.
The word "decluttering" didn't exist in mainstream conversations a short time ago... Closet "purging" wasn't on the radar because none of us had the number of garments we have now. Excess abounds in today's culture. Growing up, I had ONE pair of good leather shoes for everyday wear, a pair of boots and leather sandals for summer. I recall owning 2 or 3 dresses, 2 pair of pants, 2 pair of shorts and a few shirts at any one time. That's it! All of it was good quality and it lasted the whole year (or until I needed the next size up). There was nothing to declutter from my closet (or my Mother's) because we wore everything on a regular basis. Clothing shopping was not recreational and it certainly didn't happen frequently. In fact, my Mother took me only twice a year to the department store to get what I needed (undergarments, socks, shoes or perhaps a winter coat or another needed item). Shopping was done as a pre-planned homemaking task not as a recreational pastime (as it is today).
Retail stores are FULL of garments that perform poorly (fabric shrinkage, fabric pilling, twisting seams, buttons barely attached, flimsy zippers that break, etc) because they are made from inferior quality materials. These clothing items are often thrown out after just a few wearings which has created a HUGE problem of synthetic clothes in landfills (synthetic fabrics or "blends" do NOT biodegrade). The ever popular micro fleece is a terrible polluter as those very fine plastic fibres (which shed with each washing) ultimately end up in our lakes and oceans (and believe it or not, in fish!). Fast fashion comes at a tremendous cost to the environment. This must stop and the place to tackle the issue is in our homes.
We have in recent years looked to buy clothing made in North America to remove our support from the "fashion industry", reduce the "travel miles" on our clothes and purchase better quality clothing but we are now taking this issue deeper to heart... With permaculture ethics as our guide (once again), we look to waste streams in our community to fill our clothing needs. We live in a fairly affluent area of Alberta so a huge amount of second hand clothing is on offer in several thrift stores near me. Much of it is in new or nearly new condition and often, I find quality garments made to last from wool, linen and cotton. As an example, just yesterday, this is what I found:
Purchasing clothing in this way keeps discarded clothing out of landfills (and it certainly helps our budget), but most importantly, it keeps our money (and therefore our support) out of the fast fashion industry. We likely can't meet all of our needs in this way, but we can certainly be mindful consumers and look for ethically produced garments to fill any wardrobe gaps. Those ethically purchased items will be more costly than cheap imports, but the money saved on the bulk of our (used) purchases should balance this out.
Will you join me in taking this challenge on?