Eco-Action Guides

A Year Without Buying Fast Fashion Clothes

I’ve changed my personal consumption habits over the past few years to avoid buying fast fashion clothes from the likes of Target, H&M and Forever 21, but it can be hard to avoid the cute new styles when you pop into the stores! I wanted to challenge myself to stop buying random purchases, so for a full year, I stopped  buying fast fashion clothes.

Why is This Topic Important?

The fashion industry is extremely unsustainable. According to the United Nations Environment Program, one trash truck load of textiles is either burned or sent to the landfill every second. Americans generate an average of 35 kg of textile waste per person per year. That’s about 77 pounds of clothing waste we trash every single year. On average, woman’s outfit weighs about 2 pounds. So, we throw away about 38 outfits every year per person in the US….that’s more clothes than I want to even own! (Note: just because you donate to Goodwill, doesn’t mean it actually gets rebought by someone…we are sending so many cheap clothes to thrift stores that the stores can’t sell everything they receive).

Fast fashion has changed the fashion industry. Rather than seasonal style cycles, we now have a 52-week cycle of new styles and fashions. Waste on the consumer side isn’t even the worst of it. So many of the clothes and companies we frequent also create the following ecological problems: waste from production, toxic chemical use, modern day slavery, human rights issues, animal rights issues, air pollution, plastic pollution and more. Currently, the clothing industry accounts for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fast Fashion Definition: "Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed." Good On You
Examples: Target, Walmart, Forever 21, H&M, Charlotte Russe, Zara, Cotton On, Old Navy.
Cute secondhand jacket from a clothing swap
How My Eco-Challenge Went

It was awesome! By having the no fast fashion rule, I was free of nearly all temptation. For the most part, it kept me away from stores because I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything anyway. I focused on going to stores I would support if I had an urge to shop – places like Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, sustainable fashion companies and other secondhand stores.

I explored new options for the products I needed. Example: I needed a sports bra, and I wanted to avoid shopping at places like Victoria’s Secret. With a size C cup, I’ve never found a supportive-enough sports bra option from sustainable fashion brands, so I’ve not had luck there after much searching. I kept an eye out at Goodwill, but good bras in the correct size can be very hard to come by. I decided to try ThredUp, and it was the option I was looking for! I found a discontinued style of a Victoria’s Secret sports bra that I loved from years ago. It was my size and practically new. Planning early to find what I was looking for was key.

Clothing swaps are the best
The Biggest Temptations I Had:
  • Target. I still go to Target from time to time, so I still get tempted! With my eco-challenge set, it eliminated most temptation when I would shop at a Target, but there were a few trips throughout the year where my internal voice did everything it could to convince me that I needed to buy a cute bag or sweater. What I did to combat it: I moved quickly to a different section of the store, I planned my next Goodwill trip, and I looked at eco-beauty brands to indulge in one of those products instead. And with these tricks, I avoided buying Target clothing.
  • Seeing my friends with cute fast fashion! My friend bought new, very cute, Old Navy lined jeans in early December when I needed some new jeans. I was very tempted to buy the exact same jeans. It was getting very cold and I “needed” new jeans to replace ones that didn’t fit anymore. And my friend looked amazing in their new jeans – so much so that they bought the same style in two other colors, and I was even more tempted! I told myself I would buy a pair come 2020 once my challenge was over, but you know what ended up happening? I started my hunt for new jeans at thrift stores and after four locations, I found the exact same lined Old Navy pants for $6. Secondhand. Cheap. My size. Check.
One of my favorite purchases of the year: Victoria’s Secret running tights from Goodwill
  • Look before you need something. It can take some time to find the clothes you want or need when you buy secondhand. Plan! If you know you’ll need a sweater for fall or new running tights, keep an eye out before you’re desperate. Check thrift stores and secondhand stores. Find sustainable companies that have what you like. Look for clothing exchanges.
  • Know your options. There are so many resources, companies, and options to replace our fast fashion addiction, and these options are usually pretty amazing, whether you’re judging them on price, quality, or style. See below for some resources and start to make your list of go-to options.
  • Don’t tempt yourself. If you can avoid shopping at fast fashion companies, don’t go at all. They know what they’re doing, and it’s too hard to get pulled into buying something. I can say that after a year of not buying, I can resist the temptation more than I used to, but I’m still tempted!
  • Know why you’re doing it. It became easier for me to avoid fast fashion after two things changed for me. One, I learned why this issue was important and being a conscious consumer turned into a value of mine. Two, it became fun to shop secondhand…like really fun. See below for some great resources to learn more about why this topic is important. And for making it fun, make it fun by going with friends and family and hunting for one or two products at a time (rather than shopping the whole store…because let’s be real, that can be exhausting).
I went to this clothing swap and was literally the only person bigger than a size 6 (and my size is much higher than that!). It wasn’t fruitful for clothing, but it was great connecting with a new group of friends!
Start Your Own Eco-Challenge!

Set your own challenge to stop buying fast fashion. I love challenges, because they’re a great way to help us learn and develop new habits. It doesn’t have to be a year challenge. Do a month or a season. Or set a challenge to change shopping habits-make it a goal to shop two secondhand places before buying new or buy all sweaters from sustainable sources. Set a goal that you can stick to and get started!