A young Canadian can enter any mall and purchase three outfits for about $50. They can wear their new outfits for their intended purpose and then return to the mall to buy three new outfits. Shopping trips are made weekly, and sometimes even more frequently. The wardrobes of youth are growing and the prices of clothing are shrinking.
Brands such as Forever 21, H&M and Old Navy keep their production costs low, allowing them to sell their clothes inexpensively. Canadians can afford to buy a lot of clothing due to these low prices. This cycle of low production costs, low prices, and shopping in excess is known as “fast fashion.”
While fast fashion is defined by a low cost for consumers, it comes at a high price. Clothes at the end of their life cycle — that have been worn or aren’t sold in retail stores — don’t simply disappear. In fact, they last for many years after they’re used, and their impact lasts for hundreds of years.
Their life cycle begins with the fabrication of the article of clothing. At this stage, manufacturers will often produce significant amounts of solid waste. Greenpeace reported that globally, 400 billion square meters of textiles are produced annually, 60 billion of which are left unused on the cutting room floor.
The majority of the textile is hung up in stores and then purchased by a consumer. With today’s fast fashion, this phase is very short. A piece of clothing is worn once and then put in the closet until next year’s spring cleaning where it, more often than not, gets thrown out. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that only 15 percent of all clothing and textile waste is recycled.
This leads to the last phase for any article of clothing: disposal. This stage is often overlooked by consumers. Once they throw out their clothes, they don’t normally consider the consequences. According to Eco Watch, buying into fast fashion has made the fashion industry the second largest polluter in the world after crude oil. That trend applies to Canada as well.
Another disposal issue is irresponsible donations. In many cases, developing countries no longer have tailoring or clothing industries because of donations from developed countries. For some countries, like Kenya, reselling donated clothes is a huge business. These donations are made with the best of intentions, but are often the reason why small businesses cannot flourish in these countries.
Fashion overconsumption in Canada leads to unsustainable manufacturing and disposal of clothing. Despite this reality, the average Canadian youth has no idea that their shopping is affecting the Earth in such a dramatic way. All of the Canadian youth we asked about this said they had never really thought about it.
“I have never considered where my clothes go after I throw them out, and I don’t think it is a thought that would ever come to mind,” Emily Fu, a young Toronto resident, said. But the same youth feel very strongly about finding a solution.
“When we buy our clothes we don’t think about where did this come from and what did the world have to suffer to get it… the companies that are in the malls next to my house are the ones responsible for this, and I could easily make an effort to put a stop to it,” Maria Kambitakis, a Montreal local, said. Not only are there youth in Canada who are motivated to make a difference, but also many are actively working toward a solution.
Fashion Takes Action is a youth-led Canadian organization that takes a different approach to sustainability in fashion. As opposed to simply encouraging youth to make more sustainable purchases, it uses social media and public relations, makes public speaking engagements, attends conferences and works with students and teachers to spread its message.
It combats fast fashion by encouraging Canadian youth to live a lifestyle that is more conducive to sustainable disposal of clothes, and advocate for a more sustainable production chain in the fashion industry.
For example, Canadian youth can forgo big stores and buy clothes from boutiques and local shops, where they can get clothes that will last longer. When buying clothes for their next occasion, they could go to a thrift store instead of a mall. Once they’re done with some clothes, they can donate it locally instead of giving them to charities without knowing where they’re going.
As stated on the Fashion Takes Action website, “If we all make one small change in the right direction — a responsible direction — then collectively we believe it can have a positive social and environmental impact.”