116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last week in New Delhi, Hindu worshippers waded past clouds of toxic foam in the black waters of the Yamuna River to complete a sacred tribute to the sun god. The irony was that the sun could not be seen during the 4-day festival due to a heavy layer of smog. The foam is a normal sight in the Yamuna. It is a product of the haphazard dumping of wastewater from the area’s textile factories, sewage, and garbage into the sacred river.
East Asia is the home to the production of fast fashion. The fast fashion industry was built on a revolving door of trends moving at warp speed. Foreign laborers whip up garments from cheap fabrics and the consumer can try the latest trend risk-free by buying a $20 dress. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused textile production to halt, China’s C02 emissions fell by 25 percent.
The environmental impact of fast fashion expands past polluted waterways and disorienting smog, but for the sake of simplicity, know that the current processes of the fast fashion industry are unsustainable.
A garment spends a majority of its life span waiting to be worn. Meanwhile, we spend our lives accumulating and throwing away more stuff. In 2018, about 12 million tons of textile waste was thrown away in the US. Collaborative consumption is the key to ending this cycle.
I rent my clothes — and I’m not alone. A recent study by Washington State University found that Gen Z adults are focused on maximizing usage over ownership of clothes. By sharing a closet, the need to mass produce batches of clothing decreases.
As a young professional, my closet has undergone tumultuous changes while on a college budget. I was tired of accumulating cheap clothes and re-wearing the few professional outfits I had to work.
Last year I began a clothing rental subscription through Rent the Runway. RTR founder Jenn Hyman dreamed of a “Closet in the Cloud” that was filled with designer clothes, shared by all, and owned by none. The closet is filled with clothes for women in the workforce, wedding guests, expecting moms, vacationers, gym sharks, trend followers and setters, and environmentalists.
Though it was another monthly expense, it immediately paid off. Iowa weather is unpredictable so I’d rent a coat to transition through seasons. I rented dresses for events instead of buying something I wasn’t guaranteed to wear again. Finally I was wearing quality clothes that fit my style and ever-changing needs without accumulating more. I could keep clothes for as long as I wanted and I could pause my membership for free. Best of all, when I wasn’t renting an item it was being worn and loved by someone else.
Renting is a circular process that extends the life of clothes as opposed to an ownership-based cycle that ends in clothes being thrown away, donated, or recycled. 83% of RTR members say they have consumed less fast fashion since joining.
I’ve since tried out another service, Nuuly, that has a closet of new, vintage, and upcycled clothes for its members as well as a resale marketplace called Nuuly Thrift. Nuuly partners with brands that are environmentally conscious and socially responsible. The company also uses energy- and water-efficient cleaning processes.
I want it to be normal for people to rent clothes and share closets. Fast fashion is deplorable and unfortunately, the countries home to clothing production are not doing enough to regulate the evil actions of the fast fashion industry.
While thrifting is better than buying new, renting is the best option to wear “new” clothes. Thrifting doesn’t actually reduce consumption and it takes away options for low-income shoppers.
Fast fashion is deplorable and it isn’t being held accountable by the countries where clothes are produced. While fast fashion sped up the trend cycle, demanding eco-friendly and socially conscious small batches will slow clothing production.
There are rental options for all genders and budgets, but renting may not be feasible for everyone. If it makes sense for your lifestyle, you can be a part of a movement of people changing consumer habits that will improve environmental and working conditions across the world.
Bailey Cichon is a Gazette digital intern and senior at the University of Iowa studying journalism and American studies.