Raise the selfie stick, strike a pose and — wait. Did you post that outfit already? With fast-fashion brands aggressively marketing new wardrobes for every season and consumers acting as our own Instagram paparazzi, there’s daily pressure to be seen in something new and trend-setting. This summer, news leaked that Burberry burned almost $50 million in old stock just to maintain that pressure and exclusivity.
The British fashion label announced it will stop burning clothes, and though it’s reassuring to see brands respond to criticism, consumers need to make their own changes.
According to one expert, 80 per cent of the clothes we buy don’t get out of the closet much. Studies show we’re consuming 400 per cent more clothing than we did 20 years ago — back when you could wear the same flannel-and-baggy-jean combo for a week and call it ’90s grunge.
“The system is broken and we need to change it,” says Kelly Drennan, founder of the Toronto-based fashion sustainability group Fashion Takes Action.
Drennan practises “slow fashion,” a movement focused on slowing the roll of consumerism throughout the fashion lifecycle and at every stage of life. From new parents dealing with the flood of gifted baby clothes to the teenager who wants a new wardrobe every September, and the newly promoted office manager who needs an apparel upgrade, slow fashion means embracing the seven Rs. Not just reduce, reuse, recycle, but also research, repair, repurpose and rent.
Research can minimize environmental impact. Check out Good On You, an app that rates the eco-friendliness of apparel for kids and adults, or look for brands such as Petit Pli, which uses expanding pleats to makes clothes that grow with your child from newborn to toddler. Drennan also recommends clothing swaps to keep those adorable onesies on cute babies instead of in landfills.
Encourage older kids to mend items or even bring new life to used pieces at a sewing class.
Fashion Takes Action offers My Clothes, My World, a school program that teaches kids about slow fashion and culminates with designing handbags out of old T-shirts. What we parents wore in high school is one-of-a-kind vintage now.
For teens and adults, clothing rental services offer a sustainable way to nab more current styles. With Canadian companies such as Rent Frock Repeat and Boro, you can rock a designer dress for one-third to one-tenth of the retail price — all the highs of retail therapy without the crash of the full credit card bill. Bonus: Boro sources its stock from customers’ closets, so you can rent out outfits you don’t wear anymore. And it makes the practice more sustainable.
Fashion bloggers are also embracing the capsule wardrobe, a small rotation of classic, quality pieces you mix and match year-round, and change up with smaller accessories. Each item might cost more, but you’ll buy less and get better mileage overall.
“You’re going to take better care because you paid more for it,” says Drennan.
A signature look made with fewer pieces leads to less trend-chasing.
At every stage of life, there’s more we can do to cut down our fashion consumption from the crib to the catwalk.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day. For more dispatches from WE, check out WE Stories.