Material Matters: Fast Fashion


down-jackets-1281699_1920As part of an ongoing focus on our daily material consumption habits and the effects on our environment, I’m following up last month’s Material Matters post with a spotlight on the Garment Industry, our “unconscious” consumerism, and some good players in the field  who are disrupting the Fast fashion trend by giving us ethical, sustainable options we can live with.

Fast fashion has taken hold over the last decade and a half. Some call it disposable clothing – threads made from cheap materials marked at a low price point, making them easy to discard. Fast fashion may be cheap, but it is expensive to the environment. 

According to Greenpeace, global clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014. The average person buys 60 percent more items of clothing every year and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago, generating a huge amount of waste. As little as 15% of unwanted clothing gets donated or recycled, and due to the poor quality of fast fashion, much of the donated 15% is not fit for resale. Instead, this “scrap textile” is downcycled to rags or insulation. The remaining 85% of discarded clothing goes directly into the garbage. And keep in mind, with the prevalence of synthetics, much of that landfill-bound clothing will not biodegrade for 200 years. More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States. And just as with food waste – all of the resources and by-product waste that went into the construction of those garments gets trashed as well. If the average life of clothing was extended by just three months, it would reduce carbon and water footprints by five to ten percent, as well as waste generation. The recycling of two million tons of clothing per year equates to taking one million cars from U.S. streets.


washing-machineSince the 1990’s, when a significant percentage of the US textile industry was outsourced to other countries (primarily China, Cambodia, and India), polyester has overtaken cotton as the fiber of choice. It’s understandable – synthetics are cheaper to manufacture – as well as the outsourcing of labor being a better bargain for the textile industry. Polyester is essentially a plastic fiber made from petroleum and chemicals. And continually washing plastic garments releases synthetic micro fibers into our waters. Fish and other marine life – including plants – absorb the synthetic material and it cycles back around to us. In addition to micro fiber shedding, the toxic, textile chemical dying process is the 2nd leading source of water pollution after agriculture. 70% of China’s rivers and lakes are contaminated by toxic dyes and chemicals.

yoga-wearBecause active wear is no longer considered “specialized” clothing – but rather a daily uniform for most active people – it ends up compounding the synthetics problem, because most yoga, running, and general workout clothing are primarily made from synthetic materials and are washed more frequently than your average acrylic sweater.

There are a number of synthetic options, such as rayon and nylon, but the preferred alternative—because it’s cheap—is polyester. It is estimated that more than 98% of future fiber production will be synthetics, and 95% of that synthetic fiber will be polyester.

  – Bain, Marc. If your clothes aren’t already made of plastic, they will be. Quartz.

man-sewing-beltThe other ugly by-product of fast fashion garment production is an impoverished labor force combined with unethical manufacturing practices. We occasionally hear of the factory fires and devastating accidents, as well as certain celebrity clothing lines getting caught up in the fair trade scandals – but little attention is paid to the day-to-day human cost of cheap labor in the global garment market. “Sweat Shop” is the term used to describe brutal, unsafe working conditions operating with a low-wage workforce. Workers in these conditions (80% of which are women) are often exploited with little or no leverage available to better their conditions. There are also reports of child labor being common throughout the industry.

Industry Leaders

At the recent COP24 conference in Poland, high-end, ethical designer Stella McCartney challenged her colleagues in the fashion industry to take responsible, ethical control of their entire supply chains. This includes monitoring the sourcing, manufacturing and design to ensure every step of production is sustainable. Look for garment companies dedicated to Fair Trade, B Corp Certification, Cradle to Cradle, GOTs & GOL’s standards.



Stella McCartney at COP24 Dec '18

Stella McCartney at COP24 Dec ’18

McCartney also stressed transparency regarding production and business practices. Transparency is vital because it allows the consumer to understand how their clothes were made, and empowers them to make informed purchasing decisions. 

Consumer’s conscious-consumption is critical in sending a message to fashion industry leaders – an industry that will be responsible for one quarter of global carbon production by 2050 if practices do not change immediately. The COP24 conference provided a platform to encourage industry leaders to sign on to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action developed by the UN Climate Change organization. The 2018 charter identifies ways in which the broader textile, clothing and fashion industry can move towards an holistic commitment to climate action with a vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

When Stella McCartney came on the scene with her sustainable, ethically produced designer line, I’m certain that she elicited a collective eye roll from the fashion industry at the time. But here we are 17 Years later, and not only does she have a top brand – but more and more designers and brands are standing on her ready-to-wear shoulders offering up environmentally responsible, if not slightly more affordable options. 

Ethical Clothing Brands

Slow fashion giving unsustainable Fast fashion a run for it’s money

screen-shot-2019-01-23-at-9-36-57-pmFlowerIconTinyEileen Fisher

Considered a long time leader in ethical fashion, Eileen Fisher has been dedicated to a fair trade supply chain as well as environmentally responsible sourcing of materials. One of the highest quality garment makers in this category – an Eileen Fisher capsule wardrobe is definitely a long-game acquisition.


Committed to total transparency, Everlane reveals true cost, sourcing, and manufacturing practices for each item in their inventory. A fresh, minimalist style (for men & women) makes Everlane pieces timely as well as responsible.


The Cuyana collection is characterized by high-end, classic pieces. Their foundational credo is “Fewer, Better Things”.  Cuyana offers a ‘Lean Closet’ program available at checkout. They will provide you with a linen bag to fill with clothing items that are no longer of use to you. Mail the bag back with said items and you will receive a $10 credit on your next purchase.

FlowerIconTinyscreen-shot-2019-01-24-at-12-10-04-amWhimsy & Row

Trendy staples is the best way to describe Whimsy & Row’s designs. This California company uses deadstock materials and limited run batches to comply with their environmentally responsible philosophy of capturing and upcycling remnant materials while adhering to fair labor standards.




As the name suggests, this B Corp company deals in the finest Egyptian cotton. Dedicated to high quality manufacturing and nurturing support of their farms and factories, Kotn is aiming for 100% organic cotton from their supply chain in the next five years.


FlowerIconTinyAlternative Apparel

screen-shot-2019-01-23-at-9-33-25-pmThis certified Green Business offers casual basics for men, women & youth made from sustainably sourced, natural materials. Alternative Apparel’s attention and accordance to Fair Labor practices support their credo that clothes shouldn’t come at the expense of our planet or people.




This LA company of trendy women’s wear also offers a Bridal department. Every Reformation item includes a ‘refScale’ that tracks the environmental footprint by adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, gallons of water used, and pounds of waste each item generates. Dedicated to fair employee wages, benefits and a sustainable working environment.


A B Corp certified company that is dedicated to 100 percent non-GMO, organic cotton apparel. PACT’s comfy undies & tees are matched by their comfy prices.

FlowerIconTinyOutdoor Voices

This TX company offers functional alternatives to the active wear game offering sustainably sourced merino wool and recycled polyester made from water bottles. Outdoor Voices is committed to ethical practices and a sustainable workplace environment.

screen-shot-2019-01-23-at-10-44-55-pmFlowerIconTinyGroceries Apparel

Organic + Recycled + Made in California – that’s Groceries Apparel motto. Focusing on human empowerment, organic and recycled ingredients, and local, fair, and responsible manufacturing, Groceries Apparel “Seed to Skin” certification is the first of its kind and represents a new standard for the apparel industry.


Able challenges you to build an ethical wardrobe. Check out their amazing bags and denim. This B Corp certified company is dedicated to protecting and investing in women because of the belief that women will heal the world. By publishing wages, they are making transparent their pledge to a fair working environment. Based in TN, Able employs women globally.

FlowerIconTinyTodd Sheltonscreen-shot-2019-01-23-at-11-12-00-pm

Todd Shelton represents the best in quality of ethically produced menswear including American made denim. This East Rutherford, NJ company is committed to sustainable practices by not only purchasing fabrics from countries with similar human rights – and labor & environmental regulation enforcement as the US –  but by also creating a culture within their company to respect the environmental impact of over-manufacturing and the financial benefits of fewer clearance racks.


High quality and well priced, Naadam has created the only cashmere yarn that is Cradle to Cradle certified, which evaluates & sets a high standard to protect the earth and basic human rights for how the product is made. Bonus points: Naadam’s Gobi Revival Fund supports 1,000 nomadic herding families in Mongolia and has provided veterinary care to over 250,000 goats.

FlowerIconTinyUnited By Blue

This active wear brand removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every item they sell. Untied By Blue offers inventory for the whole family, environmentally conscious consumption couldn’t be any easier. This B Corp company puts people and planet first while screen-shot-2019-01-23-at-11-53-46-pmencouraging people to enjoy the planet – responsibly.


Tags: , , ,

About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *