By Sophia Pan, contributing author 

Companies launch blowout sales, customers flock to the goods, and the earth’s needs are temporarily forgotten. These eye-catching deals exercise more power than ever, urging us to bulk buy for the holiday season and convincing us the savings will be the biggest then. As Black Friday is approaching, it is important to acknowledge the devastations that come alongside mass production, corporate politics, and materialism. In this article, we’ll discuss the standoff between retail tendencies and environmentalism. By the end, you’ll have a better idea of how fashion affects the planet, and how you may want to go about this year’s Black Friday!

One specific industry is well known for its reduced prices and seemingly good deals: the fast fashion machine. Companies such as H&M release a new line of clothing every week, while discounting previous styles for record low deals. The clothes end up sitting in the backs of our closets, tearing after a few wears, and getting transported to the landfills. Textile production involves a multitude of unsustainable industries: factories are powered by coal, cotton and leather are commercially farmed, and polyester (a reliable synthetic fiber for clothing) originates from petroleum. Polyester can take 200 years to decompose, and on average, clothes are only worn seven times before being discarded. 

How are companies able to decrease their low prices? Corporations minimize production costs by outsourcing labor in sweatshops and using poor quality materials. As reported by Fashion Checker, 93% of brands aren’t paying garment workers a living wage. These ethical concerns go beyond low salaries, as safety hazards and corrupt management are just a few other violations that are consciously performed. 

The issue is, however, that fast fashion is cheap and accessible. For most people, a $5 shirt that can last three months is more of a steal than a $50 shirt that can last thirty years. In part, this could be because our psychology tells us that short term gains are more rewarding. In addition, companies, media, and influencers are constantly telling us that we need more. 

The first way to combat this is to demand for a corporate shift. While it is less heard of, there are growing brands that are proving their retail competitors that ethical and sustainable fashion is possible. Companies are beginning to emphasize on-demand production so that surplus is avoided. Natural materials are becoming more favorable, both for the earth and for the comfort of the consumer. See here for some brands that aren’t too harsh on the wallet, nor the planet!

Even so, curated sustainable fashion brands are generally pricier and less accessible to the greater public. In the environmental advocacy narrative, the weight of an environmentally conscious choice should not fall upon the individual. If it is possible to vote with your dollars and say no to fast fashion, that is a great responsibility to take upon! Otherwise, thrifting/buying second-hand, upcycling clothing, and buying less are great alternatives. 

And if you can, say no to Black Friday! As the holiday runs on overproduction, each transaction is burdensome on the planet. Trucks are shuttling back and forth on warehouses, websites are crashing, and discounts are on the basis of buying more than you would’ve needed to begin with. While the ideal solution is for companies to say no to Black Friday (ex. Patagonia), this initiative is not actively pursued in the corporate world. Therefore, we may need to channel anti-consumerism to generate a larger push against the holiday. Some tips include 1) buying what you need a little before the sales, 2) Asking yourself twice before you commit to buying, 3) Seeing if you actually have a need for the quantity you are buying (did I need to buy 2 pairs of jeans just to get 2 more for free? Maybe I only need 2 pairs of jeans to begin with!), 4) Gifting experiences rather than items, and 5) Refusing Black Friday altogether. 

An alternative to buying items is giving back to the community. Giving Tuesday is a worldwide movement that promotes generosity, encouraging those who are able to seek out opportunities where they can provide assistance for the greater good. Any form of giving is acceptable, be it through donations, helping out your neighbor, or other forms of charity. This year, Giving Tuesday will be on Nov 29, 2022. At Our Climate, all gifts up to $500 will be matched. If you are able to do so, please consider making a donation here. 

Please see here for Climate People’s selection of nonprofits that are partaking in climate action if you need help deciding which organizations you’d like to contribute to!  

Thanks for reading this post, and let us know what your favorite alternatives are to fast fashion and retail!

Sophia Pan is a Sustainability Consultant at an environmental services company, and has recently joined as a volunteer for Our Climate. She hopes to integrate environmental advocacy throughout every aspect of her life, be it through animal rights eco-education.