Faster Isn't Always Better

Faster Isn't Always Better

Published by Ted Rogers on Aug 29th 2019

Faster Isn't Always Better

How fast fashion is filling the landfills

Posted at 10:00 - 26th August 2019- Ted Rogers

In the apparel market, there are companies (H&M, Forever 21) that create their business model based on the idea that fashion moves fast and will only get faster. In that regard, there is no reason to wear your clothes more than a few times, the trending prints have changed, and it’s time to buy more. Great! Sales figures get a bump for these retailers. But there’s more to the story. What’s been left behind in the wake of this consumerism is an increasingly important issue. Trash. Waste. Garbage. There are many ways to describe it. But the destination for these pieces remains constant; the landfill. Onto the next fashion trend. Forgotten and out of mind.

Or is it…

This issue has been buzzing around the apparel industry for some time now. In the 2013 New York Times article by Avis Cardella, journalist Elizabeth Cline speaks about her book “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion”. Cline notes that “because of low prices, chasing trends is now a mass activity, accessible to anyone with a few bucks to spare”. Cline ascertains that “disposable clothing” is damaging to the environment, the economy, and our internal well-being. In the book she presents data that support her views. The data is eye opening.

As Americans, we make less of our clothing, wear it fewer times, and throw away more volume of clothing than ever. In 1990, Americans made roughly 50% of the apparel purchased stateside, that figure is 2% now. We rely heavily on foreign countries to manufacture these pieces. A 2018 U.S. Department of Labor study found evidence of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and other countries. In this industry, women between the ages of 18 and 24 make up 80% of the labor market. Often making less than a living wage. A study in Bangladesh noted that the monthly income for a garment worker was about $96. A person in that location would need about 3.5 times that amount to live a decent life with basic facilities.

Once these products are made, shipped, and sold; we utilize them less. The clothing utilization, which is a figure for the number of times a garment is worn before being discarded, has dropped 36% in the past 15 years, worldwide. This represents $460 Billion (with a capital B) dollars of value lost globally by throwing away clothes that could continue to be worn.

Since 1960, textile waste has increased 811% and most of this increased waste has ended up in landfills. Let that sink in for a second. When normalized with the US population growth, a disturbing trend emerges (graph - right). Currently, we send about 100 pounds of textiles to the landfill per person. We are slated to trash roughly 19 million tons of textiles in 2020, almost 120 pounds per American. Of that waste, less than 33% will be recycled or used in energy recovery to power our grids. This is assuming that current trends persist.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

This textile waste, when sent to the landfill, negatively affects our environment. We are creating more landfills to keep pace with the increased volume of waste that Americans create. In terms of the sporting goods market, unfortunately the effects are amplified. The materials used in most sporting goods are synthetics derived from fossil fuels and degrade in similar fashion to plastics. That is, that the plastic or synthetic fabric is reduced in size but is not biodegraded on a short time scale. Evidence that this type of microscopic fiber ends up in more than the landfill is mounting.

A recent study by Gregory Wetherbee entitled “It is raining plastic” has found microplastics in rainwater across Colorado. These findings are accidental in nature, as Wetherbee was analyzing the samples to study a type of nitrogen pollution. Finding the plastics was a surprise to him. He goes on to say “I think the most important result that we can share with the American public is that there’s more plastic out there than meets the eye. It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow. It’s a part of our environment now.” Sherri Mason, a microplastics researcher at Penn State University, remarks that 90% of plastic waste is not recycled, and as it slowly degrades it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. These particles get incorporated into water droplets when it rains and then wash into rivers, lakes, bays and oceans and then filter into groundwater sources.

This is where you, the consumer, has a decision point. Do you agree or disagree with this practice? If you agree with blatant wastefulness and pollution, feel free to close out the window, I believe H&M is having a sale today. If you don’t agree, however, and want to know what can be done, read on.

Here at Aero Tech Designs, we are committed to providing long lasting, high quality sportswear that is meant to be used, cold laundered, air dried and reused many times. Our goal is to create products that can serve the customer for many years and miles of usage. Buying quality apparel that can be used and reused many times over reduces the volume of textiles that end up in the land fill. If you buy a cheap pair of shorts that only last half a season, a consumer will use 20 pairs over the course of ten years of riding. Whereas, two or three pairs of high-quality shorts would last that same amount of time. This results in an 88% decrease in landfill waste. In addition, the cyclist would be saving a significant amount of money. This was explored in Terry Hatchett’s Men at Arms in the form of “Captain Samuel Vimes’ Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness”. If a cyclist purchased a pair of cheap $15 shorts twice a year, at the end of ten years they would have spent about $300 dollars. If the conscious consumer purchased two or three pairs of high-quality shorts, they would have spent about $200. This smart consumer would also have a better-quality pair of shorts throughout the 10-year duration. For our situation, the smart consumer would have spent less, created less waste, been more comfortable, and supported domestic manufacturing with one decision point.

So how can a consumer take these ideas and apply them to their purchasing habits? Do your research on the brand and the materials. Some brands are only concerned about bottom line profit and the sales volume that supports that need without regard to the amount of waste produced as a result. Avoid these companies. Look for long lasting products that have the reputation for durability. Favor quality over cost. The materials that make up a product can vary wildly between companies and model lines. Do not be afraid to call the company as ask questions about the construction and manufacture of their products.

We are proud to offer US made, high-quality products to our customers. We use stronger threads, exceptional fabric, and comfortable, long-lasting chamois pads. This makes for a durable and reliable product. We also offer an unconditional guarantee on our products, often we can repair issues and return to the consumer rather than send the piece to the landfill. We offer this service because we stand behind our products and the customers who see value in what we provide. Be the change that you want to see in the world then share the knowledge.





Ellen MacArthur Foundation “A new textiles economy” 2017



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Ted's Thoughts

Ted Rogers is the Director of Operations at Aero Tech Designs where he works to produce the highest quality US-made apparel on the market. He completed a B.S.Eng in Mechanical Engineering and a
Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. Ted enjoys hiking, biking, paddling, and camping in the summer months and tinkering in the garage during the winter. He
currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife, Andrea and their doodle, Luna.