Being an Informed Fashion Consumer

Translation: Ásdís Sól Ágústsdóttir

The typical Icelandic tourist skips from one clothing chain to the next, wearing his white Air Force Nikes and his ASOS apparel all while sipping on an iced vanilla latte from the one and only Starbucks. He buys a few things from Forever 21 and Zara, pieces he thinks he desperately needs, and adds a few more from H&M just because he can. You might shake your head at the sound of this description. Or perhaps you recognize this individual; am I maybe describing you? Whoever you are, you’re not allowed to judge this person, because if I’m not mistaken, you have H&M briefs hidden in your underwear drawer, just like so many other people. Am I right?

The brands mentioned above belong to the so-called fast-fashion industry. The term fast fashion refers to clothing made to replicate expensive fashion trends but manufactured in a lower quality setting, meaning that retailers can sell the garments at low prices. The garments don’t last as long, so the buyer has to purchase more items, and more clothing ends up in the dumpster. The clothing chains that belong to the fast-fashion industry want the consumer to fall into this exact trap. Their goal is to bring you back to their shop, both to wear the newest items and also simply because the items you bought before have become unwearable. These big clothing chains manufacture their clothing this way knowing full well that the consumer is more likely to purchase cheap items more frequently rather than splurge on one pricey garment. Even though the pricier item may have actually been the cheaper option once you’ve added everything up - and more sustainable at the same time. The garments may be cheap for you, but they are costly for our planet.

Toxic manufacturing

We live in a consumerist western culture that constantly feeds us all sorts of absurdities through various mediums, including social media. “I can’t wear the same top I wore yesterday, they’ll judge me!” We convince ourselves that we need things or clothes to simply “survive.” These are of course nothing but generalizations, yet they are a common way of thinking here in Iceland. Caught up in this train of thought, you may forget to think of the environment. It is greatly important to keep the environment in mind when it comes to shopping for clothes. Not only does a large chunk of clothing made by fast-fashion companies end up in the landfill, but the manufacturing of these items pollutes the environment.

These clothing chains use copious amounts of toxic substances, thereby polluting the area where the manufacturing takes place and directly affecting the surrounding environment and its creatures. For example, polyester is a popular fabric in the fast-fashion industry because it’s cheap and easy to work with. However, its effects on the planet are atrocious. Polyester is manufactured from non-renewable resources, and it takes roughly 200 years to biodegrade. The production of polyester requires over 9.33 million tons of oil each year. With that in mind, polyester can almost be compared to plastic due to its similar environmental impact. Cotton is also a very common fabric in garment manufacturing, but 958 litres of water are required to produce a single cotton t-shirt. Additionally, a lot of fast-fashion clothing is manufactured from harmful, artificial materials, and every time you wash an article of clothing, plastic microfibres are released into the ocean, where they cause great damage to the ecosystem. A large portion of our food comes from the ocean, so in that sense we are quite literally poisoning ourselves. With every purchase from a fast-fashion retailer, we are supporting companies that actively and knowingly poison our planet. It’s also important to keep in mind that these clothing chains need to produce copious amounts of garments in a very short amount of time, so it is very common that their workers are underpaid, mistreated and put in life-threatening situations.

What on earth can be done?

To make a long story short, don’t support clothing chains associated with the fast-fashion industry. Keep in mind this rule of thumb when you go shopping; if the retailer is well known, but there are more than five identical versions of every garment and the prices are low, the retailer is most likely associated with the fast-fashion industry. However, this rule of thumb isn’t always applicable, so it’s best to research the shop beforehand. The other option would be to buy used clothing, RECYCLE!

There are many retailers that sell used clothing here in Iceland, for example Spúútník, Gyllti Kötturinn and the Red Cross. Buying secondhand means preventing all the pollution that goes along with manufacturing new clothing. There are also shops that only utilize recycled materials to sew new, fashion-forward garments. These would be shops like USEE STUDIO and Aftur.

If you’re tired of your wardrobe, you can always borrow something from your friends. Perhaps that’ll be the solution of the future; instead of selling our clothes, we’ll rent them temporarily so we won’t get tired of them. This phenomenon is already taking off overseas. It’s easy to get rid of clothing here in Iceland and support a good cause at the same time. You can give your clothes to the Red Cross or to the Konukot women’s shelter. It’s important to note that no one is forbidding you to buy new clothing, just make sure you choose wisely when it comes to buying new garments. The future is unclear, but we’re running out of time and we need to take action to save our precious earth.