For sustainable fashion advocate Kelly Drennan, the stats on textile trash are daunting.

“In Canada, we buy 60 per cent more clothes today than we did 20 years ago. And, what’s worse is that we keep them for half as long,” she says.

Drennan, a systems thinker and thought leader, has spent the last two decades disrupting the fast fashion narrative and promoting sustainability in the fashion industry. As the driving force behind the leading Canadian non-profit organization, Fashion Takes Action, Drennan works tirelessly to champion sustainability, ethical practices, and circularity across the entire fashion supply chain. She leverages collaboration, research, and education as powerful tools in her mission.

Recently, Drennan brought her wealth of knowledge to Wren Montgomery's HBA2 Corporations and Society class, shedding light on the inherent risks fast fashion poses to global sustainability. While offering a comprehensive overview of the critical issue, she also provided actionable steps for both businesses and individuals to employ to help unravel the fast fashion industry, one thread at a time.

Falling apart at the seams

What is fast fashion? Coined by The New York Times in 1990, it's the swift production of cheap, trendy clothing, where speed and low costs take precedence over durability and sustainability. But what happens when those stylish pieces go out of vogue or swiftly deteriorate?

Today, approximately 92 million tonnes of clothing are discarded globally annually, with Canada contributing 500,000 to 1 million tonnes. To put this into perspective, Drennan highlights that for every second of every day, a garbage truck full of clothing is sent to landfills or incinerated. The factor behind this excessive waste? The pursuit of trends. "To stay on top of the latest trends, major retailers, including Zara and H&M, churn out more than 100 new items weekly,” said Drennan. “But, the most prolific offender, Shein, releases 10,000 styles per day.”

In addition to the high-volume production of clothing, the material used is equally vital. While natural fibres emit carbon dioxide and methane upon disposal, synthetics – constituting 65 per cent of the average wardrobe – linger indefinitely in landfills.

Slowing down the business model

Drennan contends that systemic issues plague the fashion industry, yet change is achievable through a reimagining of industry norms. To foster sustainability, without significantly compromising profits, Drennan advocates for firms to adopt the practices of a circular business model by implementing five key steps:

Reduce the stock: Opt for quality over quantity by departing from the mass production model through careful reassessment of traditional forecasting.

Consider product design: Invest in sustainable textiles, like cotton, hemp, bamboo, and Tencel, while also replacing buttons and zippers, to enhance product longevity and environmental impact.

Establish take-back programs: Emphasize the circular business model by establishing take-back programs, enabling consumers to return used items for recycling or repurposing.

Integrate upcycling and recycling: Minimize the need for costly, virgin resources by transforming used products into new, higher-value goods.  

When all else fails, downcycle: Convert heavily-used materials into goods of lesser quality or value – such as insulation or filler.

The 7 Rs: Strategies for consumers combatting fast fashion

While the fashion industry is pivotal in tackling the environmental consequences of fast fashion, Drennan emphasizes that consumers share a substantial responsibility. She encourages individuals to embrace the seven Rs when making choices about their future wardrobe:

Reduce: The first step in fighting fast fashion is to reduce the volume of clothing purchased. Invest in higher quality pieces and resist the urge to make impulse purchases. 

Reuse: Consumers often wear just 20 per cent of their wardrobe 80 per cent of the time. Drennan suggests regular closet audits, including donating, handing down, or participating in clothing swaps. She also encourages challenging the stigma around repeating outfits and the constant desire for the newest trend.

Repurpose: Transform your clothing into something new, such as tote bags or wall art, giving them a fresh lease on life.

Repair and care: Prioritize your clothing care; master skills like sewing on a button, fixing holes or hems, removing stains efficiently, and washing garments properly.

Resale: Extend the life of your used clothing, while earning money, by selling them online on platforms like Poshmark, Depop, and Facebook Marketplace.

Rental – Support the sharing economy: Embrace trends without a full commitment by renting from clothing companies or borrowing from friends.

Recycle: For items that can't be repaired, donated, or resold, recycle through textile recycling programs, available through select cities or at donation depots, like Goodwill.

To learn more about fast fashion and Fashion Takes Action, visit:

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