A change in seasons is always a great time to refresh your look. For many of us, as we get ready for cooler weather, we are tempted to clean out our closets to make room for chunky sweaters and knee-high boots. The sad truth, however, is that our fashion sense results in large amounts of unused clothing going to the landfill. The sad truth is the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing per year. That’s half or more of our body weight going to the junk pile. What’s worse, if you widen that to include all countries, it translates into the equivalent of one dump truck of apparel per second going to waste. For more perspective on that statistic, there are over 31.5 million seconds in a year.
Another alternative is to donate your unwanted clothing. This option is a far better one but isn’t without pitfalls. With the rise of fast fashion, donation centers are getting overloaded with poor quality clothing that they can’t sell. If the donated items are good quality, the charities are simply receiving too many donations to sell everything. Most donation centers have channels that send clothing to third world countries to manage overflow. While this seems like it could be a good thing, in the last several years the US has sent over a billion pounds per year to east African countries. While it does provide jobs in the second-hand industry and inexpensive clothing for people living in those countries, it also suppresses their own manufacturing potential. Many of these countries have considered banning the import of used clothing so they can become more self-sustaining. The upshot is using Africa as a dumping ground is obviously far from a good or sustainable solution.
The more recent overproduction of clothing is a direct result of the rising popularity of fast fashion. With online clothing companies and retailers selling t-shirts for $3-$5 each, it’s easy to see why consumption habits are exploding. These shirts are so poorly made that they are designed to be worn a few times then discarded. With free shipping and a price about the same as an afternoon latte, it’s easy to see the allure of getting something so inexpensively and not caring if it’s made to last.
On top of that, many budding entrepreneurs are taking advantage of t-shirt printing on demand. With nothing more than a handful of graphic designs and a bit of time, artists can start a t-shirt company using cheap and wastefully made tees by having their own designs printed on them. Low manufacturing prices mean the potential for high margins and little regard for waste or what cost to the environment the manufacturing of cheap shirts have. And who cares if someone wears it only a few times, it just means more sales!!
So, before you re-tool your wardrobe for the fall and winter season, consider what you do with clothing you already have. Perhaps it’s worth hanging onto and simply storing for warmer days. If you do need some new items to get you through, consider visiting second-hand stores first. If you prefer to buy new, look for sustainably made clothing as well as things that will last several cold weather seasons. Being more conscious about how we purchase apparel will not only help us look and feel better, it will be far better for the health of our planet.