Main content

How to ditch fast fashion — and shop more sustainably

It’s hard to resist the allure of fast fashion. It’s cheap, trendy and, well, everywhere.

“I totally understand the appeal. There’s budget and reality to consider,” said Sarah Parker, an Ohio State student studying fashion retail alongside environment, economy, development and sustainability. “I don’t have money, and I’m constantly targeted, many times a day, by these stores and these looks. If it’s all or nothing with shopping sustainably, it’s never going to happen.”

Parker, whose experience includes an internship with New York-based fashion designer Zac Posen, is herself, one brand at a time, trying to break up with fast fashion. With a little bit of thought and moderation, she said, we can slow down fast fashion to a more comfortable pace (Parker calls it the “pescatarian way”), for our closets and our planet. Here are some of her tips.

What is fast fashion?

Inexpensive clothing quickly made to imitate what designers are sending down the runway. (Think H&M, Zara and Forever 21.) Because it’s trendy and affordable, it’s also disposable, and critics say it contributes to pollution and encourages exploitative work conditions.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that textiles — mostly clothing — generate 16 million tons of waste each year, compared to less than 2 million a year in the 1960s. Only about 15 percent of textiles are recycled.

So how do I shop sustainably?

When you’re shopping, go in (whether that’s a scroll or a store) with a mindset of finding something you’ll have and like for a long time. Anything like Dad sneakers or crazy flairs that borderline looks stupid now will definitely look stupid in time, and you’re going to throw it away.

Do not impulse buy. Instead of buying right then, think about it. Walk away for a little bit (whether that’s two minutes, two hours, two weeks — you can build endurance over time). If you’re still thinking about it and still want it when you come back, then go and get it!

But what if I can't afford sustainable fashion?

You can find really good pieces thrifting, and of much better quality, including gorgeous, enduring natural fibers for the price of synthetics today.

By definition, if these pieces made it this far, they were made to last.

OK, I'll try. Meanwhile, how can I recycle my old clothes?

You have plenty of options. Sites such as Earth911 can help you find local recycling options, and companies such as H&M will take your clothes — no matter the brand — and give you a store discount in exchange. Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green program will take your denim, and Nike will recycle your athletic shoes, even if they're Adidas.