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Investing in sustainable fashion is worth it, and here’s why

Sustainable fashion has a lower environmental impact and their clothes are more durable.

Sustainable fashion is becoming more popular over the years. The fast fashion industry is known for contributing to the climate crisis and throwaway culture. Clothes are produced rapidly and are often not expensive. Brands rely on countries with low labour costs to manufacture their clothes, and the working conditions have been concerning. People are now conscious of these impacts and do not want to partake in fast fashion.

Sustainable fashion aims to minimize its impact on the environment. How eco-friendly brands choose their raw material and manufacturing is well considered. These brands use organic cotton, linen, hemp, or recycled fabrics, rather than polyester and nylon. The labour practices are acceptable since workers get paid well and work in safe conditions. 

Sustainable fashion often incorporates recycled material into new products. What is fascinating about sustainable fashion is that they tend to create timeless designs, which is the opposite of what we usually see in trendy fast fashion. Moreover, considering the quality of material used in sustainable clothing,  it’s expected to last longer than conventional clothing. Investing in good quality products is a great way to save money in the long run.

Another point to consider is that by buying from fast fashion brands, we might be unintentionally partaking in animal cruelty. The high demand for leather and fur items  is leading to more animals getting killed. Animals are also affected by the chemicals used during production—a consequence of animal testing. Fortunately, sustainable clothing brands are cruelty-free and strive to keep animals and the planet safe.  

Although sustainable fashion is all about having a lower environmental footprint and damping the consequences of the fashion industry, it is often expensive, which discourages consumers.“It is disappointing that many of these sustainable brands are out of the price range of the average consumer and are unfortunately not size-inclusive, making it difficult or impossible for people of non-standard sizes to shop sustainably at an affordable price,” said India-Lynn Upshaw Ruffner, a Concordia student minoring in sustainability.

That said, all the work that goes behind sustainable production is quite adequate to justify its low affordability. I encourage everyone to start making conscious choices when shopping because it’s high time that we make a difference in an industry that is dominated by fast fashion. Here are some sustainable clothing brands that are affordable and accessible online: YesAnd by Marci Zaroff, Pact, Happy Earth Apparel, Outerknown, and MATE the Label.

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Opinions

Stop posting your Shein hauls

The rise of Shein through TikTok and its place in fast fashion today

From try-on hauls to unpacking videos, Shein has been fast fashion’s latest social media star. During the pandemic, Shein had a major rise in popularity as everyone looked for affordable places to shop online, and TikTok is to thank for that.

Seemingly overnight, the app was flooded with videos highlighting customers’ recent hauls from the cheap clothing site. Not only that, it also became oh so meme-worthy, with people posting videos of strange items they found on the site (fried chicken necklace, anyone?) and cringy product reviews.

On TikTok, the hashtag “#shein” currently has an accumulated 44.4 BILLION views, to give you an idea of just how massively popular it is.

As a brand, Shein is problematic to begin with, and that’s without delving into the complexity of Shein’s treatment of workers. It identifies itself as a “real time” fashion company, meaning instead of the average three week process brands like H&M and Zara use to release new items, Shein takes five to seven days. Because of this shorter rollout period, they also use cheap fabrics and their clothing is known for its low quality, which contributes to consumers regularly buying clothing in bulk from the site. 

Shein’s massive popularity has made over-consumption trendy. Shein’s popularity has also brought with it a deeper discussion on fast fashion. Can fast fashion be ethical? Should we be buying from sites like Shein at all? Is fast fashion even avoidable? Questions like these have been at the forefront of debates on fast fashion. 

Personally, I don’t believe fast fashion is truly avoidable in today’s world. Unfortunately, we live in a capitalist-run society, which is to say that mass consumption is all consuming and, frankly, we’re all broke and tired.

The average person can’t afford (and I mean, literally, financially afford) to completely avoid fast fashion. Even somewhat affordable mainstream clothing stores contribute to the problem by promoting mass consumption: Zara, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, etc. Not to mention how all these brands are problematic in their own right in terms of mass consumption, labour,environment, etc.. . Even thrift shops end up with these labels continuously cycling through their racks.

There’s hardly anywhere for an average working-class person to turn to where they can buy clothing that’s affordable and ethical. With online shopping becoming the norm and wiping out brick and mortar stores, the fast fashion issue has only worsened. 

Online stores and social media have given a new life to “haul” content online. More and more frequently, people are over-purchasing large amounts of clothing they don’t need on a regular basis for social media content.

Shein’s insane popularity on TikTok has cemented the over-consumption of fast fashion as a trend. It’s become the latest environment-killing, cheap, and easy form of content available to influencers or wannabe influencers trying to grow a following.

Influencers. Ugh. Influencers have glorified haul content and inspire others to copy these same behaviours. Now this isn’t to say that all influencers are awful and want to see the world burn, just that they should be more conscious of how they use their platform. If influencers were to entirely stop posting content that promotes regularly buying clothing in bulk, there’d be a massive drop in the amount of people doing exactly that. The spheres of beauty and fashion have influencers at their core, audiences (quite literally) “follow” their example. 

So stop posting your Shein hauls. Firstly, nobody truly cares about the seven shirts you got for $30. Secondly, you’re feeding into an already problematic company that is one of the largest modern contributors to fast fashion and, by extension, climate change.

This isn’t to shame anyone who’s bought from Shein or similar sites. Like I said, we’re all broke and tired, I’ve been there myself. It’s just to say buy what you need, when you need, not in excess.

From fall trends to corporate transparency: fast fashion at Jean Coutu

How a trip to the pharmacy opened up a world of questions

I rarely leave the house these days; partly because of the colder weather, mostly because of the deadly pandemic that most people seem to be taking less-than-seriously. One of the stops I absolutely must make, once a month, is to the pharmacy.

One Saturday, I was getting my medication refilled, and regardless of how much notice you give the pharmacy, there’s always a five-minute wait. Those five minutes of limited freedom to roam the aisles, avoiding other bodies and following little tape arrows along the floor, feels like a luxurious return to a somewhat normal routine.

Rack of sweaters at Jean Coutu

It was in the final corner of the store — behind the snacks, the assorted phone cables available for purchase, and the passport photo studio — that I noticed a clothing display. To someone who hasn’t been shopping in a while, my excitement was palpable. My excitement exponentially grew when I noticed a familiar tag on an item I had been seeking all summer: the perfect knitted vest. To my surprise, it looked like this item had gotten lost along the way to the nearest H&M retail location. How did this cute little vest end up in a Montreal pharmacy?

Earlier this year, several major fast-fashion retailers came under fire as a result of their failure to fulfill their orders to garment factory workers in Bangladesh. H&M was named as one of the major brands with the largest number of postponed or cancelled orders. The retailer was later absolved from this public relations disaster by working to compensate suppliers for finished goods and goods still in production. If finished goods and orders were fulfilled by H&M, why did this vest end up in the bargain clothing section at a Canadian drugstore?

Perhaps part of the reason that H&M remained relatively unscathed by this incident is a result of the brand’s positive public relations campaign about the transparency of the corporation’s supply chains. Following the reporting on the cancelled orders and unfulfilled payments, there was a flurry of articles focusing on H&M’s commitment to transparency of supply chains. This commitment to transparency is part of the brand’s turn towards sustainability, but the company lists a total of 261 suppliers in Bangladesh alone, making it difficult to pinpoint a specific supplier who could have produced this item.

H&M is undeniably a global brand, with production taking place in 40 countries across the globe, and retail locations in most major cities. The company purports a commitment to transparency and sustainability, and is celebrated in the media for its forward thinking approach. What is sustainable about a fast fashion brand with a surplus of goods and a supply chain that includes one in five countries around the world?

It is because of the scale of this retail giant that this goal of transparency is largely impossible. Despite the abundance of information on their website, it is impossible to determine what supplier created this item. The product is not listed on the H&M website, and as a pharmacy, Jean Coutu doesn’t exactly have a system in place for transparency of clothing suppliers. Despite reaching out to the corporate offices of Jean Coutu, I was unable to find anyone who could clarify where this item came from. Still, the familiar little tag makes one thing abundantly clear: the claim that H&M paid for all of its cancelled or completed orders cannot be true.

H&M is ultimately a corporation that prioritizes profit before all else, and the majority of the brand’s corporate social responsibility is a side effect of necessary marketing campaigns and shifting demographics. Late-stage global capitalism is wildly unpopular with many consumers, and as a global retail giant, H&M is poised to be hit the hardest by this social shift.

The company’s willingness to internalize this discourse of sustainability could be interpreted as a step in the right direction, or as a sinister commodification of environmental activism. Ultimately, I think COVID-19 has brought forth the destructive capacity of global capitalism, the ability to destroy business, and the ability to end lives.

It is a testament to western privilege that I am able to write and research an article about the transparency of supply chains, rather than live the reality of being an unpaid labourer struggling to survive on a bag of rice. I am afforded the luxury of aimlessly wandering pharmacy aisles and delightfully discovering a garment that has travelled further than I ever have. A major corporation worth billions of dollars found that they overestimated their seasonal profits and failed to consider the impact of COVID-19 on spending. If H&M is the industry standard for transparency, the company will continue their corporate legacy of empty promises to sustainability.

 

Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab, photo by Meagan Carter

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Student Life

Fast fashion is slowing down

We’ve all been there: your favourite celebrity wears a designer item worth more than your rent. You fawn over it and think “why aren’t I rich?” Then, as if meant to be, you see it at Zara. It’s there, it’s beautiful, it’s… $19.99? But what’s the true cost?

Fast fashion giant Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 30. At its peak, the company had USD$5.8 billion in revenue, according to Business Insider. What does this mean for the future of the retail industry? Does the end of Forever 21’s reign signify a new beginning?

But first, what is fast fashion, why is it problematic and why is it increasingly becoming the topic of conversation?

Fast fashion is cheap and trendy clothing produced in as quickly as two weeks – think H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters. While they make it easy to be fashionable, fast fashion suppliers come with their own set of problems. After oil, fashion is the second most polluting industry. According to online resale marketplace thredUP’s 2019 Resale Report, 108 million tons of non-renewable resources are used every year to produce clothing.

Consumers no longer buy with the intent to keep; an increasing desire to be constantly seen in new styles is shortening the garment life cycle. Because of this, the equivalent of one garbage truck is landfilled every second.

With the ridiculously low prices comes an ethical dilemma. As per Fashion Revolution, Human rights abuse is a prominent issue: unsafe working conditions, child labour, and exploitation contribute to why garments can be purchased at such low costs. According to thredUP, 59 per cent of consumers expect retailers to create products ethically and sustainably.  

Fashion Revolution is a global movement aiming to unite people and organizations to change how clothes are consumed and produced. Their goal is to achieve an environmentally conscious and ethical industry. Through their #whomademyclothes movement, they strive to encourage brands to disclose where their garments are produced and who exactly is making them. The point is to show that most fast fashion brands cannot name where their products are being made because they don’t know. Fashion Revolution hopes to push brands to be more transparent, accountable and honest about their practices.

Fashion Revolution releases a yearly Fashion Transparency Index listing data from the top 200 global fashion brands regarding how much they disclose about their business. A higher score means a more transparent brand in regards to where their garments are made, their ecological footprint, social responsibility, gender equality and payment of living wages.

Working in the fashion industry, I think about this often, and it’s something I’ve struggled with. Keeping up with trends is part of my job and marketing those trends is my job. Balancing this alongside my desire to be as sustainable, eco-conscious and ethical as possible has proven to be a dilemma. Or rather, it was a dilemma. 

Finding sustainable alternatives is no longer a concern. There is an abundance of secondhand shops – curated and thrift – in Montreal. There’s a Salvation Army on Notre-Dame St. W., in downtown Montreal, with over seven racks of exclusively denim items. For a more curated selection, there are three Empire Exchange locations in Mile End, where I’ve found my fair share of designer items (Yves Saint Laurent denim shorts, anyone?).

When following trends, I felt blocked. My closet was full, yet I always seemed to have nothing to wear. I easily got bored and resorted to buying more and more. Not to mention, there was the constant guilt of not knowing who was making my clothes, but knowing they couldn’t afford decent living conditions. Having studied the supply chain in fashion school, I felt in part responsible; I had all this knowledge about fast fashion’s ramifications and wasn’t doing anything about it.

I have not stepped foot in a fast fashion retail store in over a year, and it feels like a step in the right direction. Shopping exclusively vintage, thrifting, buying goods made in Canada and supporting local designers feels incredibly rewarding. My closet may not be overflowing, but I’ve developed a distinct personal style. Adopting a sustainable lifestyle forces you to get creative, upcycle, and do-it-yourself. Not to mention, it significantly reduces your carbon footprint. 

So, where is fashion headed? Forever 21’s bankruptcy wasn’t a fluke. It’s the result of changing consumer tastes and a growing resale industry. According to thredUP’s 2019 Resale Report, resale has grown 21 times faster than the retail market in the past three years. The secondhand market is expected to reach USD$68 billion by 2024, and to grow 1.5 times the size of the fast fashion industry by 2028.

“The fashion of the future is not about the pretty little things, the shoes and the handbag and new party dress,” wrote Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution, in the 2019 Transparency Index. “It is about weaving truth and value into our clothing. We love fashion. We love beautiful clothes. But there is no beauty without truth and there is no truth without transparency.”

You can read Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index and find out more about the #whomademyclothes campaign at https://www.fashionrevolution.org/.

 

Photo by Brittany Clarke / Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Don’t damage the earth when getting dressed

How fast fashion negatively affects our environment and how we can do better as consumers

I know that as a student, it is hard to keep up with the fast-changing world of fashion trends that incite our consumerism while on a tight budget. We tend to buy from the stores right around the corner from our homes. It’s close, it’s cheap and it gives us access to more. But, have you ever stopped and thought about how damaging these stores are for the environment?

Fast fashion is characterized by the mass production of clothes and cheap prices, to the extent that some stores have around 52 different seasons every year, according to the documentary The True Cost. That means new clothes coming in every week, which hooks consumers and attracts those who are more money-conscious. It sounds great in theoryI mean, who doesn’t like variety and low prices? However, the reality and the manufacturing ethics behind these products are not so great.

Behind these clothes are starving women and children who work long hours and for little money, according to The Guardian. Not only that, but these workers are abused in order to meet unrealistic deadlines, according to the same article. According to The Independent, these factories mostly operate in Asia and are known for their use of toxic chemicals, large amounts of material waste and contamination of one of the most precious natural resources: water. Large amounts of water. Thus, fueling the overheating of our planet, according to BBC. Since clothes have become even more accessible than before, we buy more, we use less and we waste on a larger scale.

If you are vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian, you probably already have a grasp on how harmful agriculture is for the environment. But did you know that, according to Forbes, the second largest industrial polluter world-wide is the fashion industry? If you are committed to minimizing your consumption of animal products and you are already interested in being more environmentally conscious, why not apply this living ethic when it comes to shopping?

Montreal is known for its styleI’m sure you know what I mean. The further you wander out of downtown and into the Plateau-Mile End, the more evident this becomes. Thrift shops also start clouding your vision, as there are plenty, and some are really worth checking out. Buying second-hand clothing is an amazing step towards being more sustainable: you help small businesses, you reuse, and it is affordable (unless you’re shopping in the Plateau). Plus, it has its advantage beyond the environmental questionyou won’t be wearing what everyone else already is.

Some of my favourite items in my wardrobe have been found in thrift shops, and surprisingly, I purchased them from Value Village. It is a huge store and can be a little overwhelming, but if you have a good eye and some enthusiasm, you will find some valuable treasures. Another one of my favourite thrift stores is definitely Ruse Boutique; it is a consignment store that always has unique pieces from renowned brands at unbeatable prices. If you are not already sold by these two suggestions, you should try Annex Vintage, Cul-de-sac, Citizen Vintage, Eva B,  Empire Exchange, Bohême Friperie, or just walk up St. Laurent Blvd.

If thrifting is not your thing, you could start being more conscious when you shop by selecting only products made with recycled materials, non-toxic dyes or organic fabrics. Although these small changes won’t fix the global environmental issue at hand, they do make an impact that multiplies as more people adopt them. If this article sparked anything in you, I would highly encourage you to watch The True Cost (available on Netflix), investigate and stay away from the most damaging mass production brands, like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21. Reusing makes you feel and look better. And more importantly, will help the environment. It’s a win-win situation.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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