Clothing Fashions, Bargains and the Environment

Who doesn’t love a bargain either by rummaging through the reduced sale items, discovering a new outlet store, shopping in a favourite low cost clothing store or even in the aisles of the local grocery store. We are notified of sales and reductions, and multiple purchase discounts through our email  in-boxes.  Shopping at online stores means we can buy our bargain clothing without even needing to leave our home – virtual rummaging!

Fashions used to change with the seasons, which for most of us meant four fashion seasons.  Now it seems that there are micro seasons – with releases of new fashion items, promoted by celebrities, fashion columnists, bloggers and vloggers on the internet, TV shows, Movies, or magazines. Whereas designers and retailers used to rely on the changing season launches, there is a now steady stream of fashion released throughout the year, as designers and retailers compete to keep us buying new clothes.  Originals and their cheaper copies are available within days of being released, meaning fashion is now accessible to everyone – available in all sizes, colours and to fit most budgets.   Fashion does not have to cost a fortune, cheaper clothing sources can keep us up to date and on trend. And that’s good news, right?

Unfortunately it isn’t all good news. Many of these fashion industry developments are actually bad news for the environment – from the sources of the raw materials, to  the energy used for manufacture and transportation.  Locations of cheaper manufacturing are usually far from the consumers, where there is access to a cheaper work force.

“Clothing is not designed to last for long, and that is not good for the environment- fashion and e-commerce have presented people with more shopping choices than ever before, in turn causing more waste as more and more clothes are being discarded for new items. In fact, the average U.S. citizen tosses around 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles a year.”

Cheaper clothing is not always  good news for the workers involved in all stages of production either,  due not only to the environmental implications, with dangerous, toxic materials and manufacturing processes,  but has a human cost  by not even providing many with a living wage.   “The garment industry is a major employer across the world – in Asia for example over 15 million people are employed by the industry.  With global brands making millions in profits every year this booming industry has come to rely on, and exploit, the cheap labour of millions of garment workers whose wages fall far short of a living wage.

The right to a living wage: A living wage should be earned  in a standard working week (no more than 48 hours) and allow a garment worker to be able to buy food for herself and her family, pay the rent, pay for healthcare, clothing, transportation and education and have a small amount of savings for when something unexpected happens.

The lack of a living wage means many garment workers are forced to work long hours to earn overtime or bonuses and cannot risk refusing work due to unsafe working conditions or taking time off due to ill health.   The low wages mean that workers often have to rely on loans just to make ends meet and have no savings to use if they find themselves out of work.


What can we do to remain stylish whilst taking care of the environment and clothing workers? 

Often the smallest changes can make a big difference.  Consider the following for ideas on improving the carbon and human footprint of our clothing choices.

  • Reduce consumption. Do we need a constant supply of new clothes?  Choose a smaller number of new clothes that can be accessorized for a different look.  Sort through closets before a shopping trip to see what we actually need.  Buy key items which can be dressed up or down.   Accept that not all fashion suits everyone. Find styles and colours that suit.
  • Organise clothing storage. Declutter and store where clothing can be seen and used.
  • Choose quality over quantity. If we choose clothing made from better quality fabrics, with good techniques, it will last longer, and look better for longer.
  • Do we need to buy new? Could we buy second hand, from thrift shops, auction websites?  Quite often better quality, branded clothing is available second hand, and still looks good.  Some of those who follow the fashions will be casting out anything “last season”, based on colour or style. Others may have over bought, had a change of weight, or clothing needs.   Second hand clothing can then be bought at a fraction of the original price tag.
  • Organize a clothing exchange with friends or local community groups.
  • Take care of our clothes, so that they last longer. Use good laundry practices, make minor repairs.
  • Make our own, or adapt our clothes. By adding embellishments we can personalize them and adapt the clothes we already own.
  • Don’t send any clothes to landfill. We can sell them, hand them on or swap them. We can donate to clothing banks for use by others or we could hand them on to those that we know. If they do the same, it’s a double win!
  • Consider renting or borrowing outfits for special occasions
  • Buy locally produced clothing
  • Choose organic fabrics.

“Conventionally grown cotton uses about one pound of pesticides and fertilizers to make a single T-shirt. Some chemicals are carcinogenic, so buying conventional cotton products means exposing workers, wildlife, and water to these pollutants. Choosing organic cotton will be help rid the planet of 25 per cent of the insecticides and more than 10 per cent of the pesticides used around the world.

  • Check out the ethics of clothing stores and sources, and choose to purchase those which support a living wage, and fair trade options.


And what of the bargains?  If they seem too good to be true they probably are. Much of the cheaper clothing sold is produced cheaply specifically to go on “sale”.  Sometimes there are real bargains – end of lines, seasons, slight seconds etc.  Avoid obvious clothing sales and cheaper outlets.   If we care about the planet and everyone living on it, we can make good choices.  We can look good without copying the styles of the celebrities and following the trends of discarding clothing.

Maybe one day this will be the latest fashion – to consume less, and wear quality clothes that suit us. Until then, stay strong, take care of your clothes, share them around,  and look great!

Like what we’re doing? Want to share your story or tell others? Do you have a green business in Calgary and want to get in front of a large local audience? Let’s build a green community together!