Writer Rachel Greenley joins us to share what she learned about fast fashion while working at a seasonal warehouse job processing returns for a big online retailer. She has the unique perspective of working in both the corporate office and warehouse of the same company. Experiencing both ends of the business only underscored the complex, grey areas within retail and our society. If you have not read her essay, This Is the Reality of America’s Fast-Fashion Addiction, go read it NOW! Also: Amanda welcomes us to the year of Earth Logic.
Go follow Rachel on Instagram: @rachel_greenley_words
And check out these books recommendations from Rachel:
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
Having and Being Had, by Eula Biss
Nickel and Dimed (20th Anniversary Edition): On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Welcome to Clotheshorse, the podcast that hasn’t worn a body con dress since going to Homecoming at another school in 9th grade.
I’m your host Amanda and this is episode 151, the first episode of 2023!
I’m back after taking a few weeks off to rest (spoiler: I didn’t rest) and have a vacation in Japan with Dustin. It was great! And if you’re interested in hearing more about my trip, you should listen to episode 69 of The Department, where I talk about the trends I observed while I was there (including a huge expansion of secondhand shopping), along with some stories from my trip. I was recently informed that I do NOT do a good enough job of letting you know that I have another podcast, so here I am telling you that I do a second podcast with my friend Kim. It’s called The Department, and it’s all about trends and how they define the world around us. It’s about all genres of trends: social, food, style, economic, and so much more.
Okay, enough about that. I am so excited to get this year started with a very special guest, writer Rachel Greenley. I stumbled upon Rachel in late November, after the “algorithm” served me her New York Times opinion piece “This Is the Reality of America’s Fast-Fashion Addiction.” It explains–so eloquently–what Rachel learned about fast fashion while working at a seasonal warehouse job processing returns for a big online retailer. I would urge you to read her piece before listening to this episode, because I think you will get much more value out of our conversation! The day I discovered this essay, I read it about half a dozen times, because I knew it was going to be transformative for so many people who had never before considered the words “fast” and “fashion” as a pair. You may recall that I also posted about it on instagram. Anyway, that IG post connected me with Rachel and I was beyond delighted when she agreed to be a guest on Clotheshorse! I am so excited for all of you to meet her!
Before we jump into that, I wanted to give just a tiny taste of the direction I am planning for Clotheshorse in this new year. If you follow the Clotheshorse account closely on IG, you have already heard me talk about this. It is the Earth Logic Plan.
The Earth Logic Plan was developed by world-renowned researchers and professors Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham, and it is designed with two undeniable facts about our current situation:
Communities are coming together (frequently online, but also IRL). And these communities are developing out of the knowledge that we CAN change the world and shape the future that we want, if we all work together to make it happen. That’s what the slow fashion community is, right? And ultimately, the slow fashion community is just one part of a larger community/movement focused on environmental and social justice.
The time is NOW to make these changes. We can no longer procrastinate, waiting for some unspecified date in the future when it will be time to work on saving the planet. The work has to start immediately.
Through the specific lens of clothing, we know some pretty hard facts that must change immediately. On average, Americans buy about 70 new articles of clothing each year. If you’re listening and saying (a bit smugly) “well, I’m Canadian or British,” I want to assure you that your fellow citizens are buying a similar amount of new clothing on average. If you’re shocked by that or you haven’t bought new clothes in years…remember that this is an average. That means if you bought no new clothes this year, someone else bought 140 garments.
Over the past 15 years, the amount of clothing produced each year has doubled, while the amount of time we actually wear a new item has dropped by 40%.
We know that the overconsumption is having a profound negative impact on our planet and its people, exhausting resources, consuming water, releasing an incredible amount of carbon, and impacts the lives of millions and millions of workers around the world, along with the people who just happen to live in the areas around the factories and facilities that are part of the apparel supply chain.
We need to change this immediately.
Okay, now that we know WHY Earth Logic is so important right now, what is it?
Earth Logic puts nature, our planet, and its people first. This is a departure from “Growth Logic,” which has been the status quo for decades. That approach focuses on profits and constant economic growth…and that’s both on a business level and a governmental level. Even our elected leaders march toward an economic growth model. Each year, countries plan to be more productive, and make/sell more stuff, fuel more consumer spending.
Rachel and I are going to talk about that a bit from a business perspective in today’s conversation. But ultimately, the goal of any large business, retailer, brand, etc out there right now is growth year over year over year. Meaning: this year we have to do more sales than we did last year, and next year we will do more than this year…and on and on. When I say it out loud, it is preposterous! Why would we expect infinite growth in anything? But that’s the way just about any industry works, and as a person working within the fashion industry for so long, it was just assumed that I would have to sell more stuff next year at a higher profit. Meaning: more stuff would have to be made, and it would have to be cheaper than it was last year. And next year it would have to be even cheaper. Spread that expansion in sales and reduction in cost over 20-30 years, and now you understand why clothes are cheaper now than they were in the 90s, even though everything is a lot more expensive.
Now, the Earth Logic Plan first arrived in 2020, but I just learned about it in late 2022, as people are still talking about it. It’s a pretty dense report, super academic, and I honestly think it’s just been taking people this long to digest and reflect on it.
Here’s what I love about Earth Logic: while so many conversations about slow fashion, sustainable fashion, etc focus on shopping–where to shop, where not to shop, brands you should support, brands you shouldn’t shop–It’s all about shopping! Earth Logic shifts away from the “where/what to buy,” and says “BUY LESS.” Like a lot less.
Earth Logic has a bold target for us: buy 75% less brand new clothing. If we use the 70 garments per year as a jumping off point, that means buy about 18 brand new garments this year. Anything else has to be secondhand or upcycled.
That’s a serious change, right? But as Mathilda Tham (one of the creators of Earth Logic) said, “For many years we’ve been dressing like we are somehow separate from the Earth. But our fate is tied to the health of the planet and this means we need to change.” And it’s true. Greenwashing campaigns (and many brands in the sustainable space) offer us the illusion that we can continue to buy 70 brand new articles of clothing each year without consuming resources or having a negative impact on our planet. And it’s just not true. We just don’t need that much brand new stuff in our lives, even if it feels like we do.
But cutting our consumption of brand new clothing by 75%? That feels like a Mt. Everest-sized task. Yet I fully believe that we can get there really fast and still have a great quality of life. Still feel like we are looking our best. Feeling confident. Feeling happy and fulfilled and all of the things that we want to feel when we buy new clothing. If you’re already there, like you haven’t bought new clothes since high school or you only shop secondhand 100% of the time or you sew all of your clothing…congratulations, that’s great! But that doesn’t mean you get to pat yourself on the back and smugly sit the rest of this out. Nope, the work is just beginning. We have to help others get there, too. This means sharing our expertise and educating those around us. It means leading by example, both IRL and on social media. It means having some conversations with our family and friends that might feel awkward. It means stuffing away any judgemental feelings and approaching others with open ears and compassion. It means recognizing that for far too long, knowledge and skills have been a privilege, rather than a given.
Kate Fletcher said, “The Earth Logic Plan is about rooting fashion in creativity, community, curiosity, courage and care. It is about caring so much about saving this planet that we commit to changing fashion. If we are serious about saving our beautiful planet and future generations, we need to be brave and commit to changing fashion. Every action counts, there is no time to waste.”
That’s why the focus of this year’s content will be adapting Earth Logic into our wardrobes and lives. Here’s my commitment to all of you:
I will continue to unpack the reasons we overconsume and how we can change our behaviors around shopping and clothing. Our first audio essay opportunity for this year will be about retail therapy and how shopping became a coping mechanism for many of us. We’ll be dissecting how shopping became a hobby, a social activity, and a means of self care, all rolled into one.
I will work to shift the narrative from “what/where to buy” to “why you don’t need to buy.” I will share more ideas for expressing ourselves creatively with the clothing we already own. We will debunk the myths and fashion “rules” that keep us shopping!
I will feature content that helps all of us make our clothing (and other stuff) last longer, including laundry advice and mending resources.
I will continue to explore the #SecondhandFirst way of life!
I’m always skeptical of black and white thinking.You know like “this is right/this is wrong.” Because unfortunately we’re all living within a system where nothing is purely “good.” And the purely “bad” exists, but even digging into the layers there would probably uncover someone along the way with good intentions. As I have moved through life, gotten older, experienced more things, and really taken the time to reflect on what I know and what I have yet to learn…I have recognized that most of the answers are found in the grey areas. And if we want to find them, we have to get comfortable with the realization that the answer is complicated. Nothing is simple. But we are going to keep working to find the solutions together.
And that’s really a great transition into my conversation with Rachel, whose current mission is diving deeper and deeper into those grey areas. Let’s meet Rachel!
Thank you to Rachel for spending some time with me. It was an absolute pleasure and I think I could talk to her for hours every week. Hopefully Rachel will return for a visit when she has finished her next project! You can follow Rachel’s journey into the grey areas on Instagram @rachel_greenley_words. I will be sharing that link in the show notes, along with her essay and all of her amazing reading recommendations. I will also be sharing more information about Earth Logic. Lots of homework this week in the show notes!
It’s that time again, when I remind you of just how powerful we are as a community! We all have an impact on the planet and the people around us. I have two huge examples for you:
Amazon wouldn’t be the massive juggernaut that it is if everyone hadn’t started shopping with them regularly. I know that I was a part of that. It started with “well, I don’t have a car and I need to get cat litter ” and over time turned into “it’s also where I buy vitamins, soap, sheets, shampoo, etc.” Multiply that behavior by millions of people, and suddenly…you have Amazon as the biggest retailer of clothing (and other things) in the U.S.
LET’S TALK ABOUT KEURIG MACHINES. You already know how I feel about those (also, the coffee they make is just not that tasty). But if you have never heard of them…they are the instant-ish coffee machines that brew single cups of coffee or tea using these little plastic cups . The cups are ostensibly disposable, but we know nothing is truly disposable. And for the most part, these plastic cups are NOT disposable. About 25% of American homes use a Keurig, and most use them multiple times a day. That’s 75 million households using these K-cups. Well, it’s not surprise that the amount of K-Cups trashed into landfills could wrap around the planet more than 10 times!
Here’s the thing: yes, it sucks that places like Kohl’s only offer Keurig machines. Yes, it sucks that you can also buy them from Amazon, you can get the K-cups just about anywhere…yeah, it seems really unfair that so many of these things are for sale right now. That companies continue to create these little non-recyclable cups, when there are many far less wasteful ways to make coffee. And yeah, Keurig is working on a takeback program, other companies are working on compostable cups, etc…but at its core: the Keurig-ification of coffee creates an awful lot of waste.
So yeah, it sucks that Keurigs are so profitable and companies keep selling them to us. But here’s the thing: we made Keurig popular. 25% of American homes bought one! Or two! Gave them as gifts! Tossed out their regular coffee makers! People loved the convenience of Keurig and bought into it. And continued to buy into it. There are enough K-Cups in landfills to wrap around the planet more than 10 times because people bought and used that many of them! They could have stuck with a regular old Mr. Coffee with a filter and a bag of Folgers or whatever. They could have gone the pour over route. They could have had instant Nescafe. But consumers chose Keurig and companies leaned into it, making more types of machines, creating new variations and flavors in the coffees, and customers kept on shopping. If the Keurig had hit the market and no one liked it. Thought it seemed kinda dumb and wasteful. Or admitted that the coffee was kinda meh at best…that would have been the end. No K-Cups wrapping around the earth. Retailers and manufacturers would have moved onto something else. That’s how much power consumers have. That’s how much power we have! We get to say what gets made, how much it costs, and how long it sticks around as a popular item.
That’s why I also believe that we have the power to move things in another, more sustainable, more ethical direction. Because I’ve seen how our collective consumption habits have created entire trends, industries, and companies.
This is where “progress not perfection” comes into play. Acknowledging and accepting that we are not set up for an easy “best” or “perfect” choice is important, but surrendering to that and giving up is not an option.
Make decisions thoughtfully. Assume the responsibility for the lifespan of the things we buy. Know that nothing is actually disposable. Buy less. These things are impactful, especially when we are modeling this behavior for those around us and educating others. Significant change will require a larger societal behavioral shift. That starts with us! Social trends start with a few, spread through more and more groups, until they become second nature for everyone. We can do it!
One person can’t change the world alone, but real change WILL happen when we work together!