The environment is a hot topic in fashion lately. Whether we’re looking for sustainable fashion alternatives or examining the impact that fashion production can have on the environment, consumers are more concerned than ever before about fashion’s environmental impact. As a fashion lover, you might be wondering what you can do to help support eco-conscious fashion practices in your own life. The bands and stores we purchase our clothes from can have varying levels of impact on the environment, which means where you shop does matter. Yet, what about when we compare designer clothes and mass retailers — is one better for the environment than the other?
Unfortunately, fashion’s supply chain can be confusing to follow, making it difficult to know if your purchase is sustainable or not. When it comes to comparing designer versus mass retailers, the answer is just as complicated as the supply chains these seemingly different clothing producers use.
You’ve probably heard the term “fast fashion” before — this is the title that covers anything in the fashion world that’s made in unsustainable ways and meant to be bought up and tossed out within a few years at best. Fast fashion is the real culprit behind the environmental degradation caused by the fashion industry, and it’s not as easily identifiable as it seems.
While designer clothes might not feel very “fast” because the price makes you plan to hold on to the item longer and the quality may be much better, fast fashion production methods are still used to create many designer items. This dirty secret came to a head when the Rana Plaza factory fire exposed the dangerous and inhumane working conditions on Bangladeshi textile workers. It wasn’t just your typical fast fashion poster children, even Gucci, Versace, and Prada items were being sourced from this factory.
Another aspect of environmentally-friendly fashion comes down to the resources used, like cotton, leather, and polyester. These textiles are used across both designer and mass retailers, with a textile-like leather showing up in designer items more for the price point. These textiles are damaging to the environment no matter who sells them — polyester is a plastic thread that pollutes the oceans as it breaks down into micro-plastic particles; cotton requires heavy use of pesticides that harm animals and workers; the leather tanning process uses toxic ingredients that make it un-biodegradable and shorten workers’ lifespans.
Whether you shop designer or at mass retailers, the best way to reduce your environmental impact is to avoid fast fashion no matter where it’s coming from and seek out less damaging materials like Tencel, hemp, linen, or recycled textiles. We all love shopping, but the one way to truly reduce your environmental impact when it comes to fashion is to seek out second-hand items and go for quality over quantity.