Whether we like fashion or not, every day we wake up and put an outfit on. We all shop, and we all have our own set of garments related to our taste, lifestyle, and comfort preferences. We all think about what we are going to wear, but do we ever question how were those clothes made, who made them, and how did their production affect the environment? Well, a majority of the clothes we own are made in faraway countries, mostly in East Asia, by women and kids who are being paid under the minimum wage. When people are done with wearing certain items of clothing, studies show that only 15 percent of this textile waste is recycled, whilst 85 percent is thrown away. The US alone wastes around 11 billion kilograms of textiles every year. Yes, we can blame major companies for this waste, but what kind of waste are we, as individuals, creating, and more importantly how can we move past our wasteful habits, and opt for sustainable fashion? Is sustainable fashion a non-sustainable trend?
The Netherlands is known for its quite expensive second-hand stores, if the way we want to embrace sustainability is by shopping hand-me-down items. What can we do as individuals, more specifically as college students at Maastricht University? Considering that we are students and we mostly live on an allowance, or by the money we make from a student job, it is easy to say that we are pushed into fast fashion. We are young, broke, and fabulous, which leads us to cheaper and trendier items. However, most of these items do not have a long life, and after one or two years they find their place in the trash, contributing to the huge textile waste pile of the world. This is unless we can wait for the occasional vintage market in Wyck, the Markt, or the cloth swap activities that are conducted once or twice a year in the city.
A major tip for dressing sustainably is going through your parents’ wardrobe and taking over their old clothes they no longer fit in, or wear. To be honest, this is my go-to when dressing sustainably. Although, it is tricky. My mom and I have very different body shapes, plus she is taller than me, which makes her clothes not quite suitable for me. Hence, I learned the important fashion rule - being friends with your tailor. Granted, I am not friends with my tailor, who is in his 60s by the way, but I manage to explain to him how I want my clothes to fit and look. This, added to my mom's love of keeping her stuff instead of throwing them out, helps me to dress more sustainably.
However, if you are not as lucky as I am, there are other ways to participate sustainably whilst being a student at Maastricht University. For instance, there are online second-hand shops that you can shop at, which is also safer than going to a store in times of Covid-19. Vinted, Depop, and Vintage & Rags are just a few examples of these online thrift shops. If this does not fit you, and are not one to shop online, you can always swap clothes with your friends, or you can learn new skills and hand sew to fix stuff that do not work for you in your wardrobe.
On the other hand, we should accept that this is no easy mission. Every day we are bombarded with online advertisements pushing us to buy new clothes. Sales, discount codes, new trends, influencers, and many other factors are pushing us towards consuming new, glossy items. In this world of consumption, it is difficult to be conscious of our shopping.
However, sustainable fashion is now one of these trends. Plenty of brands are making conscious lines, using biodegradable fabrics, or making clothes from recycled textiles while influencers are promoting vintage shopping and a timeless sense of style that would prevent us from shopping more. This raises the question: “Is the Sustainable Fashion Trend really sustainable?”. In other words: is this just a trend and in the following seasons, will people be bored of sustainable fashion, or will vintage be outdated? To prevent that, when engaging in sustainable fashion, we should do it while thinking about the actions of how long do I wear an item approximately, how much money do I invest in trends, how much do I spend on my timeless pieces, and what happens when I create textile waste?
I believe that many people participate in sustainable fashion because they want to buy into the thrift shop trend, wanting to romanticize their lives by acting as if they are these mysterious people who spend time in vintage stores, hunting for new treasures. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. No matter what the reason behind it is, more people opt for vintage items instead of new products, and that is good for the environment. The downside is, however, that when the demand for certain vintage items rise, certain brands manufacture ‘vintage looking’ clothes that just contribute to more fabric waste, taking away from the whole vintage shopping activity where you go to a second-hand shop or an online store, and search for the item you want for hours, making the piece of clothing more valuable sentimentally and cheaper, whilst not being harmful to the environment. For example, vintage suede coats with a fur collar are one of the winter trends of 2020. However, since there are not one hundred thousand of them in vintage stores, many online boutiques have produced new ones, and have been selling them for over 200$, taking away from the whole vintage spirit, and quite frankly, being against the whole point of dressing vintage to create less fabric waste.
On the other hand, there is also the obvious fact that we cannot sustain a fully-second hand closet, especially if we are interested in fashion, or simply want to look contemporary. In that case, I would suggest to not overdo the vintage look since it would just be a short-lived trend. Instead, buying timeless basic pieces from regular stores, even from fast fashion if you cannot afford more expensive good-quality pieces for now, and mixing them with vintage or second-hand pieces could become a long-lived habit that you can practice for many years.
Lastly, the Sustainable Fashion Trend would only stay as a trend if awareness was not raised on the damage that consuming too much fast fashion and creating excessive fabric waste is raised. We need to face the numbers, the meaning of those numbers, and their consequences. Today, 92 million tons are wasted globally each year, meaning that every second a truck full of clothes ends up in a landfill. Further, it is estimated that if we do not change our habits, by 2030 this number will escalate to 134 million. When this fabric waste is in our landfills, they release greenhouse gasses and leach toxins and dyes into the surrounding soil and water, which is extremely harmful to the environment. If we do not change our fashion habits, we will keep harming our planet. We should not forget that there is no plan(et) B.
In conclusion, when diving into the Sustainable Fashion Trend, we should first learn why it is important. We should embrace what we can do as individuals by being realistic and honest about our habits and taste. This way we will take a well-informed decision on sustainable fashion and be able to continue to participate in it for a very long period; making it a habit and not a trend.