Fast fashion

With the rise of disposable fashion trends, Americans are purchasing and throwing out clothing faster than ever.

About once a week, stores such as Topshop, Forever 21 and H&M restock their merchandise with the most up-to-date trends they possibly can.

A top similar to one worn by Kendall Jenner on her Instagram can be found hanging from a clothing rack just a few weeks later for about $10, a far cry from how much Jenner’s probably cost.

Before trends were set online, notable new details, silhouettes, fabrics and colors worn by models at fashion week foreshadowed what will soon be for sale in traditional retail stores and worn ubiquitously in the coming months, as decided by spectating buyers who decide what and how much their customers and stores will need.

But now celebrities and bloggers largely call the shots, replacing buyers in the front row at New York fashion week, posting constant photos of their ensembles and ultimately mangling the once rigid fashion cycle into accelerated disarray. The industry simply can’t keep up and it’s damaging both the environment and the supply chain.

As the retail industry transforms, disposal of garments and other textiles is increasing fast while continuously damaging the environment. Meanwhile, sustainable alternatives of manufacturing, reusing and recycling clothing remain widely unused.

An “insatiable consumer appetite” fueled by disposable fast fashion trends is what Tracey Martin, a Scottsdale-based sustainable designer and author who will speak in Tempe April 17, attributes the increasing rate in which Americans are purchasing and throwing out clothing.

In 2016, every man, woman, and child in the United States on average purchased 67.9 garments and 7.8 shoes, returning to almost pre-recession levels, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

Every year, every man, woman, and child in the United States also throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling.

At the end of a garment’s useful life, it’s normally donated to a thrift store, where according to Eric Stubin, President of the Council for Textile Recycling, only about 10-20 percent of what’s donated is kept, with the remaining 80-90 percent sold to textile recyclers who sort the material for highest use value — to either be recycled into rags or fiber for carpet padding and insulation and then sold commercially, or to be exported to third world countries as secondhand clothing.

But as sustainable as recycling and exporting sound, both have their limitations.

“We’re scattering our waste all over the world, and then it ends up in landfills and gives out toxic methane gas because of the chemicals the clothing’s been treated with,” Martin says.

Once in the landfill, chemicals and dyes used to treat the garments affect the disposal process as well by emitting pollutants into the air.

In an effort to mitigate fashion's environmental impact, Martin works with De La Terre Colors, a Global and Organic Textile Standard (GOT) Certified, Paris-based company that produces the only natural, plant-based clothing dye that can be mass produced for large companies.

De La Terre Colors is a small, yet effective effort toward sustainability in fashion – Martin says she’s spoke with large brands such as Levi’s and Chanel to help them understand there are options to produce their garments sustainably, with sustainable design actually on the rise.

“(Companies) have to think outside the box, because sooner or later you’re not going to have the option not to,” Martin says.

Producing clothing domestically is another approach, but certainly has its restrictions.

Angela Johnson, who teaches Fashion Design at ASU, has spent the past 15 years creating a space for those living in Phoenix to do so.

The AZ Apparel Foundation, LabelHorde, AZ Fashion Source and the City of Tempe recently opened F.A.B.R.I.C., the Fashion and Business Resource and Innovation Center.

F.A.B.R.I.C. is downtown Tempe's fashion incubator, standing three stories tall and offering local designers, entrepreneurs and students classes ranging from pattern making to photography. They can also rent time on expensive, industrial machines to produce garments indistinguishable from those professionally made.

They can even use the sourcing library – a room filled with books detailing where to purchase wholesale fabrics, what they look and feel like, who to call and which ones have low minimums or no minimums, which Johnson says cuts about six months off a designer’s planning time.

“The sheer fact that you’re not manufacturing overseas in China and making 100,000 of something is actually being responsible,” Johnson says.

Textile Recycling is another alternative, and also a profitable one.

All clothing, shoes and textiles can be recycled into either reclaimed wiping rags or fiber used for home insulation and carpet padding at textile recycling centers.

Phoenix Fibers, one of only a few textile fiber converters in the southwestern United States, is located in Chandler.

By shredding unwanted denim jeans and converting them into insulation and prison mattresses, Phoenix Fibers keeps textiles out of landfills and creates products that can be recycled again and again.

But recycling has its constraints, such as a lack of facilities to process all the clothing, and even more so, a lack of awareness.

Stubin cites the lack of awareness as the principal concern facing textile recycling, and the EPA estimates that the industry recycles approximately 15% of all post consumer textile waste, leaving 85 percent in our landfills.

Fortunately, sustainability in fashion is actually becoming trendy, as mentioned earlier by Martin.

Patagonia, a trailblazer in retail sustainability, promises customers their garment's longevity, but also encourages them to repair their clothing and offers tips online how to do so, such as replacing a zipper or patching a hole to lengthen the garment’s lifespan, necessitating less purchases. Oddly enough, this approach at discouraging sales actually resulted in a sales increase for the company.

They've also made strides toward gaining awareness; educating customers by having them pledge to buy only what they need and vowing to eventually recycle their clothing.

At the individual level, shopping consciously is a simple way to be sustainable – at thrift shops, or for high-quality staple pieces that will last a while, rather than a $10 t-shirt made to last only five washes.

“The fashion cycle has got to slow down, because the way it is now, there’s almost 52-56 collections a year,” Martin says.

“It becomes a disposable product, rather than one that stays with you. A celebrity based fashion industry is just not sustainable.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @HaileyMensik1 on Twitter.

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