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One man’s trash: the fast-fashion industry

A few months ago I had a debate with a friend who was skeptical about my decision to reduce buying clothes at fast-fashion retailers.

“Why do you use that term?” he asked.

I told him that I had begun reading news articles that coined retailers like Zara and H&M as fast-fashion business competitors. These companies started creating low-cost clothing collections that resembled luxurious ones as early as 2002.

According to a 2012 study on fashion theory, retailers took advantage of the low manufacturing costs and, to this day, routinely source new trends that last as long as two weeks in stores.

The fast-fashion industry model is simple: speed up the process of business operations, react in real time to consumers taste, asses demand and respond by using fast-cycle manufacturing processes. All the while holding accountability for how this process happens.

Zara, a company that used to manufacture their goods in Europe, now outsources 13 percent of their manufacturing to China and Turkey. The company has succeeded in profiting from lower manufacturing and labor costs by reducing the time between new “trend” introductions and quick production capacity.

The study points out that this leads to lower quality clothing that is quickly tossed aside and replaced with a new item purchased as an “of the moment” design. Depending on your budget, these prices vary between $7 to $25.

Whenever you frequent an H&M, Zara or a Gap and discover the blouses you eyed the week before aren’t in the front of the store but on the discount section it ultimately means two things:

  1. You were late
  2. Fashion cycles are moving faster than Flash Gordon

Here’s the conflict. Fast-fashion is attractive because the manufactured product becomes affordable. However, the low cost means that whatever you brought may have very limited durability.

Retail companies often share the fact that after 10 washes garments will lose its original value. To toss or not to toss? Toss. We’re more likely to throw away mass-production clothing items than pricier ones.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile were generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded.

When the waste decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, a toxic greenhouse gas that, if trapped in the atmosphere, undermines greenhouse gas benefits. The uncombusted natural gas is stronger than carbon dioxide and is considered a potent climate pollutant. When my friend asked me why fast-fashion bothered me, I still didn’t have data to explain myself better.

Now I’ve found a proven silver lining. Despite our minimum influence on environmental policy actions against methane leaks, our consumerism tendencies can gradually lower contamination footprints.

Actions to decrease environmental impacts include recycling textiles and reselling them.

Reports show that thrift shopping and resale tendencies have grown 50 percent between 2008-2016. Retail thrift is more mainstream among millennial shoppers now. And some resale store’s intention to practice a “sharing economy” is increasing.

In St. Petersburg, there are over a dozen stores that offer used garments, furniture, books, and accessories. I’ve begun visiting a few of them and always stumble upon young shoppers who are passing on trips to the mall.

“Whenever I visit a thrift shop, I’m more guilt-free. It’s really exciting when you surprise yourself buying used things. It’s unique, affordable and eco-friendly,” said Francesca Toledo, a former USF graduate student. Her closet is a blend of traditional retailer purchases and used garments.

Customers can drop off clothes that are in good conditions and receive a 30 percent trade-off from the price they set for the item in the store. They also offer a 15 percent cash back if you don’t prefer in-store credit. Photo courtesy of Revolve.

Customers can drop off clothes that are in good conditions and receive a 30 percent trade-off from the price they set for the item in the store. They also offer a 15 percent cash back if you don’t prefer in-store credit. Photo courtesy of Revolve.

A personal favorite find of hers is a Fossil purse valued over $50 that her mother found in a local Goodwill over the summer. Toledo says she uses it all the time and has no plans to donate it yet. She recently participated in a friend’s clothing exchange.

Her mission was to give away a Trader Joe’s bag full of clothes before taking it to a Thrift Shop. She succeeded.

“I got out with a bunch of new clothes without having to spend money. I didn’t have to throw anything away either.” She and three other friends found themselves surrounded by five piles of clothes ready to be tried on and tested.

Profiting from the commodities of donations and retail thrift shopping can gradually reverse the effects of global warming as long as we’re mindful of what happens to the clothes we donate or throw away.

Revolve, a Tampa Bay resale shop on Fourth Avenue, for example, offers clients the opportunity to earn store credit for the clothes they drop off or cash back. They’ve succeeded in connecting with customers through Instagram posts to gain exposure and always update a clothing rack titled: “As seen on Instagram.” This adoption is similar to retailer’s method of frequent fashion updates.

Even if thrift shopping isn’t your cup of tea, I invite to read more about its benefits. It’s worth a conversation starter now more than ever.

Demand for second-hand clothing around the world is increasing. It wouldn’t surprise me that someone in this lovely city may wish to repurchase a black cocktail dress that I happen to own but doesn’t fit me anymore.

“I know I’m going to find something different from what I’m going to find in a big retail store. I look for more unique pieces,” Toledo explained.

When clothes represent our expressions, often we should think about them as essential acquisitions too. Time becomes irrelevant, what’s in fashion becomes the secondary priority, and instant gratification becomes a thing of the past.

“I think it’s really cool when an item of clothing has a past,” Toledo said. “It makes it special.”

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