What You Wear Matters.
Though the San Diego community tends to be highly engaged in environmentally friendly behavior, what we wear is often overlooked when we think about our environmental and social impact. As consumers, we have an opportunity. Californians alone consume resources at a rate equivalent to the entire population of France, and if we were to use our economic ballots by purchasing second-hand, Fair Trade, and consciously-made fashion goods, we could help to reduce the demand for fast fashion products that rely on unsustainable practices.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion products are mass-manufactured apparel made in under-developed countries where labor costs are cheap. Over time, the affordable pricing of the garments increases consumer demand, flooding the market with an unnecessarily high volume of ephemeral products.
Who isn’t seduced by the constant flow of new trends? Affordable fashion seems like a good thing, but unsustainable consumption puts pressure on earth’s limited resources, and fast fashion in particular is significantly damaging in terms of waste generation, pollution from greenhouse gas emissions, and natural resource exploitation.
Ethics are also a major concern of overseas manufacturing, where low labor costs are the result of severely under-regulated labor with low wages and unsafe working conditions. Highly publicized tragedies in factories overseas initially ignited the Fashion Revolution.
A Fashion Revolution That Has Nothing to do with Style
The Fashion Revolution is both an advocacy organization and social movement striving to answer a simple question: “Who Made Your Clothes?”. By identifying the individuals behind the garments and sharing their personal stories, clothing items are humanized to consumers. The hope is that empathy will encourage conscious consumerism.
The majority of industry workers are females, especially women of color, and the Fashion Revolution aligns with Fair Trade by ensuring makers and artisans are given opportunities for growth and wellness.
What Can We Do?
While advocacy is important for protecting people from manipulation and wildlife from exploitation, our power as consumers is invaluable. Coined as an “economic ballot” by Jacqueline DeCarlo in the Fair Trade: A Beginner’s Guide, consumers have the power to influence the market by investing in sustainably and ethically made clothing which encourages competing businesses to follow suit.
Shop Thrift, Vintage, and Secondhand
Only an estimated 12–15% of Americans shop at consignment or resale stores today, yet in San Diego it is a simple effort thanks to the numerous locations throughout the region, like La Loupe Vintage (Normal Heights: 3337 Adams Ave | University Heights: 4646 Park Blvd), Hunt and Gather (North Park: 2871 University Ave), and Buffalo Exchange (Pacific Beach: 1079 Garnet Ave | Hillcrest: 3862 Fifth Ave).
Invest in Ethical and Sustainable Fashion
If you can afford these alternatives, you can put your economic ballot to good use by supporting popular, high-end brands such as Adidas and Stella McCartney, as well as Fair Trade certified brands that ensure garments are created ethically.
Check the Label
Sometimes we need to shop at a bix box stores, but even when we do, it is important to know the impact beyond the label. Anytime you shop for new garments, look at the label and try to avoid synthetics, such as polyester, which can potentially contaminate our waters through washing machines.
This factor is of particular importance in San Diego due to the status of this region as a biodiversity hotspot where wildlife is abundant and diverse, yet significantly threatened with endangerment.
Instead, select sustainable and natural fabrics such as organic cotton, linen, bamboo, or Tencel™, as well as silk, wool, or leather (for non-vegans).
Also be considerate about where garments are made. If the tag says it was made overseas, it was probably manufactured unethically, and it is certainly taking a whole lot of fossil fuels to be shipped.
Recycle to Keep the Cycle Going
It may be time to evaluate all the items you are holding onto. Help others who need access to affordable clothing by donating old and unused clothing to homeless and low- income communities, or take them to your local consignment store to provide others with the option to shop secondhand.
There are also textile recycling programs in the U.S. for garments that are no longer wearable, so instead of throwing that stained shirt away, donate it to recycling partner organizations like Goodwill Industries.