Fast fashion and textile waste: give your clothes a second chance
Updated: May 13
In the last decades the number of clothes bought around the world strongly increased, as a consequence of the “fast fashion” phenomenon. Fast fashion products are well known for being cheaper and affordable, they are always updated with the latest trends and available. But, as it is in many cases, not all that glitters is gold.
Fast fashion industries are strongly criticized for social and environmental consequences of their production system, in short, for their non-sustainability. Fast fashion products are explicitly planned to be “obsolete”, which means unusable, after a short time. Their low quality materials deteriorate faster, making consumers feel the need to buy new clothes more often, without feeling guilty.
But what happens to all the textile waste generated by this system? Each of us produces around 30 kg of textile waste every year. Donating clothes to charity is generally considered a good option, instead of moving them straight to the trash can. But, be aware, this option can also have some negative consequences.
In the documentary “The true cost” by Andrew Morgan (2015), some hidden negative aspects of this solution are shown. Charity centers can give to poor people in their country just a small proportion of all the donated clothes. Many of them, especially the older and more worn clothes, are sent to poorer global regions, sometimes as humanitarian aids after calamities. In this way the textile waste problem has just been moved to another country: tonnes of textile products arrive in those places and a lot of them are in very bad conditions, rendering them unusable.
As a consequence, global landfill sites grow significantly. These sites severely pollute the land and take over 200 years to decompose! Surprisingly, there is another problem related to donating clothes that are in better condition. The circulation of free clothes, that have been donated, can be detrimental to local textile producers and the local economy. It is important to underline that if the local situation is not examined and donations aren’t organised effectively, the clothes can become a burden rather than a relief.
So what should we do with our old clothes? There are many possible solutions.
Having a deeper knowledge of what materials can be recycled and how they can be reused is vital. Pay attention to what your clothes are made of, a higher quality cloth, made of organic cotton, for example, lasts longer and will remain in better condition.
Check if a brand is committed to sustainability before shopping there and take a look at what is on offer at second hand shops. If you want to get rid of your old clothes in a more sustainable way, one solution could be to exchange them by organizing or attending a swap clothes event, such as Let’s Swap in Porto, with your friends and family.
By swapping your old clothes in exchange for other people’s, you can gain a new wardrobe without spending a penny. In short, always try to be a responsible consumer and give your clothes a second chance!
By Giulia Conti