What’s the latest fashion this week? That is an important question to some people, because according to several fashion and trend-settings publications, “fast fashion” comes up with new “trends” as frequently as weekly. According to the health and wellness site, Mercola, several years ago the fashion industry had two seasons for designing and marketing new “trends”: warm-weather clothing and cold-weather clothing. Eventually that evolved into four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Now, the rapid turnover in fashion trends has created 52 “fashion seasons” per year!
Most Americans have closets overflowing with clothing — some of which may rarely if ever be worn. Inexpensive clothing — so-called “fast fashion” — has become so common, it’s not unusual for people to throw away clothes worn only once or twice.
In fact, Americans buy 500 percent more clothing today than we did in the 1980s.1 But the low price tag is deceptive. Upon further scrutiny, each item of clothing exacts a significant toll on the environment, and on human health across the globe.
Each year, Americans buy an astounding 22 billion items of clothing, and only 2 percent of these items are made in the U.S. Transportation alone, since each item has been shipped numerous times from country to country by the time it ends up in a retail store, creates an enormous amount of air pollution.
So, what happens to all of those discarded “fast fashion” garments that are here today and suddenly out of style tomorrow? I did a bit of research, since I work with “discarded” clothing by cutting up many beautiful garments and turn them into something new and different. I have always been interested in where these items come from and what happens to the ones that no one buys at the thrift stores. Here’s what I discovered:
Most discarded clothing ends up in landfills
All of which I find fascinating, because many of the same people who purchase “fast fashion” and discard it as soon as it is no longer considered “trendy,” are actually people who are sincerely concerned about the environment.
After the discarded clothing is made available for purchase through local thrift shops (which receive way more stuff than they can ever sell!), the remaining items are relegated to a liquidation site where they are available to purchase “Buy the Pound.” What’s left after this step goes to an auction where huge lots of clothing can be purchased by the highest bidder, without having any idea what is actually in each individual lot.
” . . . approximately 5 percent is discarded to landfill, 30 percent gets cut into rags for industrial use, 20 percent is processed for fiber fill that gets used in furniture and insulation, and 45 percent is resold into the American and international second-hand clothing markets.”
“This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Obviously, re-selling clothes into the U.S. secondhand market just encourages them to make the cycle all over again. And sending clothes overseas can majorly hinder the textile industries in developing countries, robbing locals of jobs and income.”
Now here is where it gets really interesting (to me, at least, because I’ve always worked with “discarded” textiles) and actually quite sad – especially for those who consider the ramifications of our actions on the world around us. “African textile industries suffer due to glut of cheap cast-offs from the West.”
“Many of these countries in Africa used to have a fairly well-developed indigenous market for textiles and clothing and particularly for hand-crafted or hand-tailored clothes. And we’ve seen those markets virtually disappear …
There is no question that the secondhand clothing market has had a significant impact on domestic African clothing production. The tailors, the small producers have been put out of business.
Those were good jobs for Africans and there are no jobs taking their place. This is a trade that feeds on the poor rather than benefits the poor.”
This is yet another sign that our Western shopping habits have truly global effects — and not in a good way. Some believe the only way forward is for Westerners to become more conscious consumers. As noted by Kelsey Halling, director of impact for Thread International:9
“We need to find better uses for that ‘going-out top’ bought for $15 and worn only twice. Places such as Uganda, and Haiti, and India shouldn’t have to be — and very soon may choose not to be — responsible for our excess.”
Westerners have a tendency to think that we’re being generous by donating so many cast-offs, allowing those with few means to get clothes they might not be able to afford otherwise. The reality is, the second-hand industry is struggling with such an overwhelming amount of clothes.
Over-consumption is the root of the problem
As I continue to research this topic, and look for ways to “repurpose,” “upcycle,” and “refashion” clothing for women and children, I am amazed to discover just how much our choices as consumers have on the lives and well-being of people on the other side of the world. Actually, having traveled to China twice, it was obvious to me then that the whole world does not live the way we live . . . even those of us who live quite simple, modest, and “minimalist” in comparison to many others. So I find myself being drawn more and more into a lifestyle of simplicity, all of which is good for our family. What about you? What do you think of all this “stuff” that gets discarded like last night’s leftover potatoes from dinner? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and ideas of ways that your family addresses our societal emphasis on excess. In the meantime, I hope you can link up to this weeks Favorite Things Blog Hop. Looking forward to catching up with some of you this week!
Quotes in this blog post are from an article on the Mercola site, “What happens to donated clothing?”
Another article with interesting perspectives on this topic is found at Huffington Post, “We Buy An Obscene Amount Of Clothes. Here’s What It’s Doing To Secondhand Stores.”
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