Crisis in Our Closets: Understanding the Environmental Impact of Your Clothes

With the new year setting sail into February, it is time for a reminder. It is time to minimize and downsize. Time to take a lesson in the art of living with less. Clear out your closet, declutter your workspace, and find balance in dereliction.

It is time to become aware of the industries we support through our dollar, especially the ones we advertise on our bodies.

Let’s talk clothes:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The U.S. apparel industry is a staggering $250 billion business with the average American family spending $1,800 on clothes, annually. An entire year’s worth of clothes you might only wear once, might never get around to exchanging for a different size, might stay forever on your hanger with a price tag still attached, all disguised as the latest in trending fashion. The truth is most of the money we spend on clothes is not based on need but on desire, and desire typically finds itself drowning in a landfill somewhere between a dirty diaper and a plastic Sprite bottle. And this happens more often than you think: every year the average US citizen dumps 82 pounds of textile into the landfills – totaling a mass of 136 million tons for the entire country. In 2017, 3 million of those tons were generated by Arkansas alone. 

The term “fast fashion” has flooded the consumer markets. A contemporary term for the rate by which trends pass throughout the apparel industry, “fast fashion” is the materialism equivalent to fast food. It is created on a global assembly line with extensive health and environmental repercussions but without all the dead chickens. In order to expedite and inflate the success of the business, big apparel companies have outsourced all of their production. More and more, we see this ever-changing megacorp find new ways to meet the increased rate of production – a demand they created – at the cost of the livelihood of others. For example, the typical garment worker in Bangladesh works for two dollars a day in unsafe, chemically infused environments with limited power to unionize. They then go home to their villages located in the crest of the cotton fields where toxic insecticide is used to ensure the product’s value. These insecticides have been revealed to show a dramatic increase in cancers, mental illness, and birth defects consisting of mental retardation and physical handicaps. Fast fashion is crippling our land, our developing countries, and general well-being.

Here’s how you can help combat the industry:

In order to be more sustainable in our personal lives, we can follow Sarah Laarovic’s “buyerarchy of needs”. First, we need to ask ourselves the question: “Can I use what I already have?” If the answer is no, then can borrowing or swapping with a friend solve the dilemma? If the answer to both of these questions remains a negative, you’re next best option lies in the eclectic depths of vintage felicity.

Below are some tips and benefits of taking a plunge into the world of second-hand clothing.


When you shop “thoughtfully”, your decision to buy becomes less about money and more about whether or not you’re going to wear the item in your everyday wardrobe. This means you have the opportunity to double the lifetime of a shirt. When you thrift shop, you are cutting the environmental impacts of those items in HALF. Less planting and plucking, less insecticide, and less pollution. Even better, it allows you to cultivate a unique style while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine it similar to adoption: you get to give an old pair of pants the hope of a new home. It may have a small hole in the corner and smells of your grandmother’s perfume, but it has SEEN things. It has lived a life beyond your own. It has character.

Check out local spaces such as Potter’s House, Fayetteville Funky Yard Sale, Cheap Thrills, Goodwill, Plato’s Closet, and Daisy Exchange for a refreshing selection of the newly old and a chance to find your “forever fashion”.


Although “shopping thoughtfully” places less of a focus on money, it doesn’t hurt that the prices come at a more than affordable price. In most thrift stores like GoodWill or Savers, you will find clothing cost categorized by cut and style. For example: all jackets will be $4, all pants will be $3, and so on.

If you aren’t looking to spend the cash, you can check out the U of A’s Boss Hog program. This program provides professional business attire for men and women alike. Fill out a request form or schedule an appointment with to take a look at the campus clothes closet the next time you find yourself going in for an interview.


Try your best to find clothes that can satisfy the bulk of your outfits. Whether it is a pair of black boots, your favorite belt, or a colorful cardigan, these will be items you can wear with almost anything you throw on. This way you can cut the $1,800 clothing budget I mentioned earlier in half, if not more!


Did you just move into your first apartment? Are you looking for a book for class? Thrift stores can outfit more than your closet, they can furnish an entire living space or even a personal library collection. Currently, my house is sporting a red suede sofa in near perfect condition that my roommate and I hauled off the side of the road. 


On the flip side of the coin, you can retire your clothes and give them the chance to find a new home.  As they say, one wo(man)’s trash is another wo(man)’s treasure. GoodWill offers a great tip on how to decide when and what you should donate should the time come. Start with all of your hangers facing away from you, then every time you take an item out of your closet put it back facing the opposite direction. At the end of the year, you will have a simplistic way of knowing what gets worn and what doesn’t.

You may find yourself wondering just where your old clothes go once they have left the confines of your closet and have re-entered the world of retail. As they sort through their items, anything not “sell-able” will be sent to material recycling. So instead of mucking up a landfill, they could be utilized in the creation of a new carpet or car upholstery.

Don’t take part in the global assembly line. Don’t perpetuate the harmful conditions imposed on our Earth and our fellow communities around the world. YOU are the consumer, YOU have the power to change our industries. Show them what you want by voting with your dollar.

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