Why Sustainable Fashion Matters + What We Can Do About It

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Living Zero Waste Plastic Free Blog Why Sustainable Fashion Matters + What We Can Do About It

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on September 7, 2020.

It’s that time of week again, friend! It’s Make Waves Monday 🌊

It’s also Labor Day here in the States, and TBH I never knew the history of Labor Day. So I looked it up.

Did you know that Labor Day was established in the 1800s in response to 12-hour work days, six days a week? The first Labor Day celebration sounds pretty similar to what we see today - parades, picnics, and the day off from work. But, interestingly (albeit perhaps not so surprisingly), when Labor Day was first established as a national holiday, it was mostly lip service from the government. It was nearly five decades later that minimum wage, mandated shorter work weeks, and child labor laws were established.

As I pondered the meaning of Labor Day, and how I could honor its roots through this weekly outlet, I was reminded of fast fashion.

If you’re not familiar with fast fashion yet, hello! and welcome to the eco-community! The term fast fashion refers to clothing that is made quickly and inexpensively to keep up with rapidly-changing trends.

I used to be allllll about cheap clothes. Catch me at the clearance rack piling up $5 t-shirts and $10 jeans. ✌

But now I cringe at the thought.

Side bar: I recognize completely that the cringes come from a place of privilege. Fast fashion is a symptom of larger systemic issues that cannot be solved overnight. My intention in sharing this information is not to shame or pretend that everyone can afford slow fashion. My intention is to share knowledge, raise awareness of global environmental and human rights issues, and work towards a more sustainable future for all living things. As always, do what you can, when you can, where you can. Take what you need, and leave the rest.

Think about it this way. If a shirt is being sold for $5, how ethical and sustainable could the conditions in which that shirt was made be?

I used to imagine our clothes were made by big industrial machines. But they’re not. They’re made by real life, living, breathing, humans.

And those humans are working in conditions no one should ever be working in. Crumbling buildings, toxic fumes, poor wages, and prevalent child labor.

And while we used to have four seasons - spring, summer, fall, and winter - fast fashion has intentionally designed 52 micro-seasons. This means that nearly each week, fashion brands can say “Oh yeah remember that t-shirt you bought last week that was soooo in? It’s so yesterday. Buy this new t-shirt so you can be in again.”

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Fashion Blog
I couldn’t resist a So Yesterday gif...


What happens to the clothes of yester-week? Many fast fashion retailers literally set them on fire so they don’t “ruin their image” with steep discounts to move inventory. They would rather destroy their clothes than sell them.

So people across the globe are making our clothes in terrible conditions, for basically nothing, at increasing rates, and then what isn’t sold of their work is incinerated. And on top of that, because clothing is so cheap, we treat it as such. When something’s “out of style,” we toss it. (The average American throws away 80 pounds of textiles each year.)

But why? How the actual heck did we get here?

“In the 1950s, if a woman wanted to purchase a ready-made dress, she could spend about $9 (or $72 in today’s dollars) to order an item from a Sears catalog. Today, a shopper could walk into Forever 21 and buy a simple dress for about $12.” - Terry Nguyen, Vox, 3 Feb 2020

The cost of living in the last several decades has increased dramatically. Adjusting for inflation, home prices have risen 73% since 1960. Rent has increased 46%. Public college has increased 213% just since the late 80’s. (source)

Yet clothing prices have plummeted.
And clothing consumption has skyrocketed.

We can no longer afford basic necessities like housing and education on a minimum wage job, but we can afford a stuffed closet full of clothes. And that makes us feel good. So we keep buying. And fast fashion keeps delivering.

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Fashion Blog
from the documentary The True Cost


So what can we do?

First and foremost, buy less. Buy something because you love it, and can see yourself wearing it over and over and over again. Don’t buy something because it’s cheap.

When you do need new clothes, opt for secondhand. Secondhand clothing doesn’t have to be hand-me-down, out-of-style, musty, dirty, or any other stigma around shopping secondhand.

Most of my wardrobe from the last several years is secondhand.

Here are my favorite ways to get started:

Swap with friends! A friend texted me one day, “Hey I’ve got a bag of clothes I don’t wear any more, wanna take a look?” Girl’s got style so I said yes, obvi. And now I’ve got jeans that make my booty look fantastic (I have zero shame in bragging 😆), a super cute maxi dress, a pair of boots, and a casual bag. The clothes I didn’t choose, and a few I added in, were passed along to another friend who picked what she wanted, added some of her own, and passed the bag on to a neighbor in her Buy Nothing group.

Attend or host a clothing swap. This is basically the same thing as swapping with friends, but a bit more organized. I attended a clothing swap last summer hosted by Restyle Clothing Company and The Chaya Movement here in Tacoma, and for $20 I got two of my now-favorite tops, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, some killer heels, two summer dresses, and a bralette.

Support a local consignment or resale shop. My personal fave in Tacoma is Restyle Clothing Company. Any time I’m in need of new clothes, my first stop is Restyle. I’ve actually lost track of how much of my wardrobe has come from Restyle… And if you need some styling advice, Kirsten is incredible. I’ve walked in with pieces from my closet before with a sad face and a “Kirsten I need help! I don’t know what to wear this with!” and she’s hooked.me.up.

There are so many great things about supporting local consignment shops...

  • By shopping local, an average of 68% of your dollar stays in your local economy.
  • You’re supporting a person, your neighbor, not a corporation. And I guarantee that real person is going to do a very real happy dance celebrating your purchase the second you walk out that door.
  • The person who actually brought the clothes to the shop will get a portion of the sale, too. So you’re directly helping the business owner and your neighbors.

Check out an online consignment shop. My personal fave is thredUP. Two of my favorite jumpers came from thredUP. They’ve got great prices and, again, you’re helping real people clean out their closets and make a little cash money on the side. (If you shop using this link you’ll save $10 on your first order. In full disclosure, I’ll also receive $10 after you place your order. I only ever promote brands and businesses I use and believe in fully!)

Wanna learn more about fast fashion (and the alternative slow fashion)? Here are my fave resources.

Do you have any tips for finding quality secondhand clothing? Comment them below! 👇

Have a great week, friend, happy Labor Day, and I’ll see you again next week 💙


  • Spiffy Meds

    Sustainable fashion is incredibly important for our planet’s future, and your blog beautifully captures why. The fashion industry has a significant impact on the environment, and promoting sustainable practices can make a real difference

  • chiaraandcoaustralia

    I love the insightful content on sustainable fashion in your blog! It’s crucial to spread awareness about the impact of our choices, and your commitment to eco-friendly practices is truly commendable. Keep inspiring others to make mindful choices in the fashion industry. Kudos to your team at A Drop in the Ocean Shop for making a positive difference!

  • Vardhman

    Raising cloth, also known as “raising nap” or “nap raising,” is a textile finishing process that involves lifting the fibers of a fabric to create a soft and fuzzy surface. This process primarily targets fabrics made from natural fibers like cotton, wool, and sometimes synthetic blends. The goal is to enhance the tactile properties of the fabric, providing it with a plush and velvety feel.

  • Li Kian Lee

    I donate my clothes to the needies.

  • Tanya B.

    I, too, thought clothes were made in mass in factories. Thank you for this post! You provide some good alternatives. I also appreciate your recognition that not everybody is privileged enough to participate in slow fashion. I’ll definitely do more where I can!

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