Defined by a world with an insatiable desire to obtain things at the click of a button, fast fashion has become a dominating factor in overconsumption, a fear that many environmentalists say will only grow worse over time. Fast fashion can be observed as inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends, a concept that has increased in popularity with the rise of social media platforms like TikTok. To Magic City Fashion Week, sustainability is the cornerstone of fashion. Researchers, designers, and consumers alike comment on fast fashion, how to pursue sustainability, where to shop, and the benefits of living with conservation in mind.
According to Earth Org, the average US consumer throws away 81.5 pounds of clothes every year. Furthermore, the fashion industry is responsible for an estimated 8 to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and three out of five fashion garments end up in a landfill within a year of being purchased. To Anita Morgan, the Assistant to the Dean and Sustainability Coordinator at Samford University, these contributions point to a negative effect on the environment as a whole.
“When I read the statistics for the amounts of water consumed in manufacturing, the pollution generated, and how much of what is produced is wasted and ends up in landfills (an estimated 85%) each year, it did not take long to realize the fashion industry is causing a substantial amount of damage to our environment,” Morgan said. “And with fast fashion, which is marketed primarily to ages 18-24, the latest seasonal trends are likely worn only a few times before being tossed out for the next new thing.”
While the act of discarding a piece of unused, outdated clothing can appear casual to the consumer, Morgan illustrates the harmful chain of events that follows such a habit. “Major repercussions of fast fashion include the continuous piling on of landfills, which are major contributors to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the impact that the toxic chemicals, dyes, and plastic microfibers from production are making their way into wastewater and into the oceans,” Morgan stated, adding, “Microfibers cannot be extracted from water and can make their way throughout the food chain. Ethically speaking, there is the possible exploitation of workers and harm to animals.”
The concerns of fast fashion have become multi-faceted, touching both environmental and social issues while dancing the line of ethical boundaries, often crossing over. According to a study done by Emma Ross, a George Washington University law student, the fast fashion industry employs around 75 million factory workers worldwide. Of those workers, it is estimated that less than two percent of them make a living wage.
Furthermore, only 5 of the 250 large brands surveyed in the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index “publish a time-bound, measurable roadmap or strategy for how they will achieve a living wage for all workers across their supply chains” (https://issuu.com/fashionrevolution/docs/fr_fashiontransparencyindex2020). This factor served as a flame that spread the fire of passion behind Collected Atlanta and TrynaB Studios, hubs for up-cycled and vintage garments in Marietta, Georgia.
Leslie Tate and her husband source vintage clothing from all over the United States and create a space for those in Marietta to share in the beauty of sustainability. Their shop, called Collected Atlanta, offers $10 sales with incredible vintage pieces, giving each garment new life and longevity. Every single item is handpicked with love and style in mind to give their customers a taste of what it feels like to own something meaningful, beyond endless trends. Regardless of where one calls home, they can access such sustainable styles through their online shop that ships worldwide.
Before Collected ATL, Leslie showcased her innate passion for slow fashion as a sustainable designer through her brand TrynaB Studios. There, she up-cycles vintage pieces in creative, transformative, fresh ways to breathe new life into once discarded items. Her creations include, but are not limited to, graphic tops, up-cycled blazers, patchwork pants, and many more that all carry the same theme: sustainable style is the future.
Another designer who creates with sustainability in mind, Julie Maeseele, laces slow fashion into her designs like a needle and thread through her idea of “Compassionate Fashion.” Maeseele, born in Belgium, moved to Birmingham in 2014 and began pursuing her designer dreams with ethics as a priority.
“Slow fashion aims to create clothing within the lens of environmental, ethical, and sustainable ideals; creating clothing that takes the textile’s lifecycle into consideration. As a result, slow fashion finds itself recycling material, reusing excess textiles, up-cycling vintage clothes and advocating for the prolonged lifetime of a garment,” Maeseele said. “It is not only slow fashion, it is compassionate fashion.”
To Maeseele, the solution starts with the conscious decisions of every consumer. “Buying long-lasting clothes is one of the easiest and most pleasurable things we can do for the environment,” Maeseele advised. “If we can each increase our wardrobe’s lifespan by just one to two years, it would reduce the fashion industry’s CO2 emissions over that year by 24% and save billions of gallons of our increasingly precious water supply.”
Another designer local to Birmingham, Pyper Gilbert of Pyper Collection, uses the idea of slow fashion as a source of creative inspiration. “I use it [slow fashion] as a meter for me on my designs, to keep me innovative and also to inspire me in the designing process,” Gilbert explained.
Slow fashion was not always the driving force behind Pyper Collection, but quickly it became a form of personal art for those who invest in Gilbert’s designs. “I actually started off as a fast fashion brand to introduce myself to the industry. Then, I decided to transition to ready-to-wear, one-of-one, and custom-only looks to separate myself from other designers,” Gilbert said.
Pursuing a lifestyle of slow fashion takes intention, but the fashion community has grown in sustainability tremendously over the years. For those who call Birmingham home, thrift stores like Vapor, Sozo Trading Co, The Salvation Army, Good Will, King’s Home Thrift, America’s Thrift Stores, and The Foundry exist as cost-efficient alternatives to cheap fast fashion pieces.
To maximize one’s creativity and connection to the garment, up-cycling thrifted pieces extends their wearability, curating a capsule wardrobe opposed to a revolving door of trends. Brands like Splashed by DKG by Daniel Grier make beautiful denim patchwork pieces out of an array of items, turning forsaken garments into high fashion. Up-cycling can include patchwork, tie-dying, and other mediums to bring newness from the old. So, grab a thrifted garment, and get creative!
In addition to thrifting, shopping local not only supplements sustainability, but it shows support of small business owners, the backbone of our communities. Basic, Elidia the Label, The Moody Rabbit Studios, Magic City Mercantile, and more are all examples of small businesses local to Birmingham that make sustainability their priority. Choosing timeless pieces that align with your personal style to invest in a wardrobe of longevity benefits the environment, the businesses you support, and your own lifestyle.
Beyond Birmingham, many sustainable clothing options exist at the tips of our fingers via online shops. Earthkind, Fanfare Label, Veja, Ecoalf, and more all exist as eco-friendly spaces of style. Browsing these online stores, one can find pieces that suit their style, while remaining conscious of environmentally sound processes.
Though trends may ebb and flow with the changing tides of culture, individuals are able to contribute to the greater good through small choices made on a daily basis. Thrift stores, local brands, and designers that practice slow fashion exist as a means to combat the problem, one piece of clothing at a time, should one wish to make sustainability a verb.
Story by Noelle Neader