Practical Ways You Can Fight Fast Fashion

Young women look through thrift store clothing racks.
Students browse items for sale at the Her Campus semi-annual thrift store.

The convenience and low cost of fast fashion clothing are attractive. The 92 tons of waste it adds to the environment is not. Here are ways to combat the eco impact.

Fast fashion burst onto the consumer scene in the 1990s as some companies began focusing  on profits to be made by quickly manufacturing low-cost and low-quality clothing based on runway trends.

While some consumers relished this, ensuing years have revealed the practice has a significant effect on the environment — a sentiment more and more shoppers share.

“There is so much waste,” noted Alyssa Nee ’24.

Nee and fellow students, Julia Clarke ’25 and Will Sampson ’24, are working to identify ways to reduce fashion excess and educate their peers and the public on how small actions can make a difference.

“Rather than throwing something in the trash, consider whether it is still usable. Would someone else wear it? Can it be cut into rags for cleaning? We don’t need to guilt people into making changes. We’re all consumers and aren’t perfect, but once you start making incremental changes it can snowball,” Clarke said.

According to Good on You, an organization that researches and ranks environmentally and socially responsible fashion companies, worldwide the industry creates roughly 92 tons of textile waste annually. This amount is projected to increase by an additional 57 tons of waste created annually by 2030.

In the U.S,. nearly 14% of discarded clothing and shoes are recycled with roughly 12% shredded for furniture stuffing or cleaning cloths; only 1% is used to make new clothing, according to Good on You.

To improve the process, Ellis Jones, associate professor of sociology, said the basic recycling infrastructure and associated economic system needs updating so that it can handle the demand.

The percentage of items recycled versus what is sent to the landfill is much smaller than many expect. The same goes for the amount of usable recyclable material.

Ellis Jones, associate professor of sociology, sustainable shopping expert
Shop Sustainably
Tips and tricks to empower yourself in your purchasing choices
  • Don’t overbuy: Buy only what you need 
  • Know your brands: Unsure whether the brand is ethical, do some research. (resource: “The Better World Shopping Guide”)
  • Thrift: Help the environment and your wallet
  • Borrow clothes: Share with friends and accept hand-me-downs
  • Buy quality items: Buy clothes and materials that last
  • Upcycle: Repair clothes instead of throwing them out
  • Rewear clothes: Most materials do not need to be washed and dried after a single use
  • No trend victims: Buy timeless, not trendy, clothing 
  • Capsule wardrobe: Develop a closet with quality basics
  • Get creative: Need clothing for a specific event? Don’t impulse buy! Borrow, upcycle, thrift, instead
  • Avoid online shopping: Shop in person and know the return policy
  • Talk your friends: Share what you’ve learned

Compiled by Julia Clarke '25

Progress is slow, but it’s starting to be made, as small domestic incubator textile recycling and manufacturing businesses come into the market, noted Jones, an expert in corporate social responsibility, sustainability and ethical consumerism.

“It’s hard to constantly talk about the doomsday effects of fast fashion, so when you find a spark of hope that something good can come from it, that stands out,” said Clarke, who spent time in the foothills of Western North Carolina at Industrial Commons and its partners during a spring immersion trip in 2023. While there, Clarke was introduced to the Carolina Textile District and Material Return, two businesses focused on establishing sustainable and reliable domestic supply chains and the recycling of clean old socks to create new products, respectively.

“They are solution-focused and working to rebuild the economy in that area by finding ways to improve and support local industry,” she said.

On Mount St. James, roughly 10,000 pounds of clothing was collected in May 2023 when students moved out of dorms and apartments at the end of the spring semester. That material was donated to organizations that partner with thrift stores in the region and textile recyclers in the Northeast.

Follow the Material

Knowing where the materials are going is key and shopping local thrift stores is a good way to start, according to Nee, a sociology major. While donating materials makes consumers feel better about their choices, there is not an accurate understanding about the donation-based economy structure, according to Jones.

“The percentage of items recycled versus what is sent to the landfill is much smaller than many expect. The same goes for the amount of usable recyclable material,” he said. 

After learning of the environmental impacts, Nee began researching the effects and started to notice how her patterns were contributing to the problem.

“By going to a thrift store, you’re doing your part to help the environment, save money and appreciate what is out there,” she said. With this in mind, Nee has established a business plan to create a small thrift store on campus. The initiative will partner with the semi-annual Her Campus pop-up thrifting event, with the plan to eventually become a working thrift store for the Holy Cross community and the neighborhoods around the campus.

In addition to shopping more with a thrift-conscious mindset, consumers should also think before they buy, Jones said. Once people decide where to spend their money, they should do a quick check for environmental certifications, such as B Corp, which indicate the company they’re purchasing from are not greenwashing their products—advertising that a product is environmentally friendly when it isn’t, he said.

“Look for ways to approach consumerism in a more environmental and ethical manner,” said Jones, author of “The Better World Shopping Guide,” a resource that considers various companies and products — from clothing to technology to airlines to food — and ranks them based on their social and environmental responsibility.

He emphasized the importance of consumers using their voices by making strategic decisions on who to buy from and what to buy that collectively could affect change not only environmentally, but politically and economically.

Eco-Friendly Business

Sampson, a political science major focused on sustainability, who has studied regulations and grant funding for businesses, started examining how corporations could use opportunities to invest in renewable energy to make products more cost feasible and environmentally responsible. When he met Ted Pidcock ’88, Sampson heard about Pidcock’s company Chillybears and its initiative to renovate an old mill along a river in Southern New Hampshire. Sampson knew he wanted to be part of it.

“You can revitalize a property and do something incredible for the community, the business and the environment. I’ve always been interested in the beauty of nature and preservation and projects where you can make those connections are worth the investment,” Sampson said.

Pidcock’s proposal includes renovating the Wilton, New Hampshire, mill to design a manufacturing center that produces more energy than it consumes. The mill would serve as  a foundation for Chillybears, a decorative apparel company. The investment in the 93,000-square-foot space includes an expansive roof-top solar array and the restoration and use of the dormant hydro-electric infrastructure on-site to provide clean baseload power. The property will provide space for residential units, a retail story and manufacturing of first-run clothing and upcycled products, such as tote and duffle bags made from products that cannot be sold as it be mixed-use with retail.

“It’s not just about making a profit; it’s about having a purpose. I can make a meaningful impact and have my business be something positive,” he said.