We had the fortunate opportunity to meet Professor Rachel Miller back in March. Rachel is a Professor and Department Head of textiles at Sheridan College in Oakville. Professor Miller also taught at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. We asked her if we can pick her brain on "fast fashion". She kindly agreed. We learned a lot that we wanted to relay to our customers.
For instance, the definition of "fast fashion" according to Professor Miller is "Items that are not built to last, and generally last one or two seasons". Not to be confused with fast turnover. A boutique like ours get's in new styles consistantly. We work with many suppliers to make that happen. However, our quality is built to last. So what does that fast fashion truly mean for our communities, and the communities of the producers of our garments?
For one thing, fast fashion is harmful to our environment. Textile producers are the #1 polluter in the world according to Professor Miller. That is only the beginning of the life line of a garment. If, or when a fast fashion item ends up in the landfill, that is also harmful to our environment. The less production of textiles, the better our environment will be. According to Toronto City Waste Services website, 85% of North Americas clothing ends up in landfills. That is over 10.5 million tons of clothing. Canada produces enough textile waste in one year to create a mountain 3x the size of the rogers centre.
Fast fashion can also harm communities in under developed countries such as Pakistan, where labour costs and factory costs are low. Therefore, working conditions can be poor and safety is not a priority. Big business will always nickel and dime producers. Squeezing them so tight that something has to give. That something is often working conditions or less wages for staff. Cutting breaks etc.
We asked Professor Miller what is our obligation as a business, and as humans. She went on to explain the 3 PILLARS OF SUSTAINABILITY. There are 3 components to the pillars of sustainability.
1) People - Meaning keep work environments safe and products production healthy as to not harm staff or consumers. She gave me an example of a time when sand blasting denim was popular. However, it was causing silicosis in workers. Most companies stopped doing it, unfortunately some did not.
2) Planet - This pillar is simple. Be mindful of our environment. Take care of our planet by not polluting it. A perfect example of this is the story of the largely successful company Patagonia. They use recycled plastic bottles to make their fleece. This noble initiative makes them a very lucrative company. Applause!!!
Businesses need to make it part of their mandate to make efforts to upcyle, recycle or produce products with little to no pollution to the environment. One look at China's yellow river, where dyes and chemicals are disposed, reminds us of the instant damage from textile production and and other products.
3) Profit - With the two above pillars working in tandem, profit must follow. A business still needs to make a living and create jobs.
Now, we are not saying that we as business have been doing everything we can to follow the Pillars of Sustainability. We are saying we are trying. The more we learn, the more we want to change. All businesses can put more effort into making manufacturing safe and fare, and committing to recycling. Whether they use paper over plastic, or buy more local product. We are starting to ask more questions of our suppliers who produce off shore. Mavi jeans have even sent us photos of their factories in Turkey showing their fabulous working conditions.
Here are few simple things Professor Miller suggested you can do;
- Wash your clothes in cold water and let them hang to dry, instead of always placing them in the dryer therefore saving energy. Buy detergents that are formulated specifically for cold water washes.
- Reduce the amount of detergent packaging that you purchase by using concentrated detergents, as they have less plastic packaging than a regular detergent bottle size.
- Don't wash after every use. Some clothes don't need to be washed after every wear. This will also extend the life of your garments.
- Use wash bags to prevent damage in the washing machine.
Other suggestions we can make;
- Donate your used clothes to Ontario Federation of Cerebral Palsy, or Canadian Diabetes Association. (They sell it to value village.)
- Drop off your used clothes to H&M. They have recycling boxes where fabrics are being either reused or recycled. They may be fueling the fast fashion empire, but at least they are making a contribution to fixing the issue.
We are proud to carry local brands like Guru, and Preloved and Parkhurst. They all use up-cycled or recycled materials to reconstruct new fashion. We hope to see more Canadian companies doing this in future years.
Let's stop the disposable thinking. We are open to your suggestions on how we can do better. We sincerely want to do better! Thank you to Professor Miller to taking the time to contribute to this blog post.