It’s been about 6 months since I vowed to overhaul my shopping habits and become a more conscious consumer. One of my main goals was to cut back on fast fashion, AKA super cheap, trendy clothes from stores like Forever 21, Zara, H&M, and Topshop that refresh their inventory almost daily and rely heavily on sweat shop labor. Honestly, I didn’t realize how addicted I was to fast fashion until I tried to break my habit. It’s been a bumpy road (and I still haven’t phased it out completely), but the rewards are worth it: my closet is less crowded, my clothes are better quality, and I feel better about where my money’s going. If you’ve been thinking of cutting down on your fast fashion consumption (woohoo! you go girl!), here are 5 tips I learned the hard way:
1. Practice moderation. Think of fast fashion like fast food — it’s best to partake only once in awhile, and if you’re trying to quit completely, cut back slowly instead of going cold turkey. Depending on who you ask, fast fashion is either an inherently evil industry, an awesome marvel of globalization, or something in between. But most people can agree that the speed of fast fashion is not sustainable or good for anyone (well, except the people who own the stores, I guess). That speed depends on people buying more, more, more all the time. It’s good for your wallet, your closet, and the earth to just slow down a little bit. Go to Zara once a month instead of once a week. Buy one dress instead of five. These kinds of stores are like McDonald’s french fries — make it a treat, not a habit, and refrain from binges.
2. Be more choosy about trends. The fast fashion industry relies on an impossibly fast trend cycle to survive. The breakneck speed at which trends are publicized, produced, and declared “over” is what keeps quality low and the worst-of-the-worst factories in business (it is physically impossible to meet such ridiculous turnaround times and treat your workers well). It’s totally fine to pay attention to trends and work them into your wardrobe, but try to pause before bowing to the latest “must have.” Ask yourself if you truly respond to this style or are taking a magazine’s word for it. Will it look painfully dated in a month or two (or even a week or two)? Does it work well with your body type and the rest of the items in your wardrobe? Separating yourself from the trend frenzy will not only help you make smarter purchases, it will also help you carve out a personal style that’s much more unique than the constantly rotating window displays at Forever 21.
3. Replace your shopping habit with something else. Everything about the pace of fast fashion — the trend cycle, the production methods, the new items arriving every single day — requires and rewards constant consumption. I used to go to H&M and/or Forever 21 at least once a week, because there was always new stuff to buy, and it was all so cheap I figured it was a harmless habit. I ended up spending a ton of money on a closet full of shoddily made, totally generic clothes. For me, the hardest part of breaking that habit wasn’t actually about the clothes (I really don’t miss all those cheap jersey dresses), it was about the act of shopping. I really liked spending Wednesday afternoons pawing through the sale racks. I loved the fleeting high I got from making a purchase. Shopping had become so ingrained in my life and schedule that cutting back was tough. I had to find other things to fill my time and new ways to reward myself, like playing tennis, sipping coffee, people-watching, painting, and practicing the banjo. All fun, fulfilling, and (almost) free.
4. Find new sources for your favorites. Since I knew that cutting out fast fashion completely wasn’t realistic (at least not immediately), I set a goal for myself to view fast fashion stores as a very last resort. Stores like Forever 21, H&M, and Target are not banned outright, but I try to give my best effort to explore all my other options first. If I really want a certain style of blouse or a pair of jeans, for example, I’m going to do some research and see if I can find these items with a made in the USA label or from a retailer/brand who has shown a certain level of ethical responsibility. I’ve been surprised at how easy it’s been to find most things on my clothing wishlist without setting foot inside a fast fashion retailer. Do I spend a little more on each item? Of course, but the quality is better, and when I’m shopping less frequently, I’m still ultimately saving money.
5. Educate yourself. Fast fashion counts on people turning a blind eye to the repulsive practices of the industry, which means one of the best ways to curb an addiction is to educate yourself. There’s a very ugly truth lurking behind those pretty skirts and purses, and making yourself privy to that truth can be motivation enough to change your shopping habits. It’s really tough to read stories like this or this or this and still think a $5 dress is worth it. Read this book. Don’t give your money to stores that treat their employees like crap. Hold stores and brands accountable. Scout out local designers in your city and save your cash for something beautifully (and ethically) made. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: knowledge is power.