Missoula businesses fight ‘fast fashion’ and disposable clothing

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A woman looks at second-hand clothes offered at a thrift store in Missoula. (Current file Martin Kidston / Missoula)

The fashion industry has developed a business model of producing inexpensive clothing that is short lived, forcing consumers to buy more. In the United States, consumers’ fast fashion habits consume more clothes than in any other country.

The fashion industry thrives on this model, but it’s not so good for urban landfills.

In an effort to waste less, Missoulians are looking for ways to breathe new life into old clothes, and businesses are taking note. According to EPA data from 2018, about 70% of all clothing produced in a year will end up in a landfill. This equates to 9 million tonnes of clothing thrown away in the United States each year.

Much of the fault lies with the fashion industry. Over the past two decades, she has produced excessive amounts of inexpensive clothing that quickly goes out of style or just doesn’t last.

Consumers can make the difference in making the clothing industry more sustainable. When it comes to clothing, buy less, buy better, repair, recycle, and buy from responsible retailers can all help divert clothing from landfills.

Second-hand and resale clothing stores give lightly used clothing a second life and prevent it from going straight to the landfill. Second-hand clothing stores have become a big business in Missoula, with at least 15 different retailers located in the city.

Alice Wimett owns a restyled clothing exchange in Missoula and has been in business for nine years. Her store buys used clothes from the community and resells them.

“I think a lot of our customers are aware of the environmental impact and the added benefit of being more profitable,” said Wimett.

Thrift stores became much more popular last year when the pandemic hit, with many consumers being forced to cut spending. According to a 2021 report from online retailer Thread Up, 33 million consumers purchased second-hand clothing for the first time in 2020.

Second-hand stores allow consumers to shop in a more environmentally friendly way without breaking the bank.

“Our customers are looking for quality brands without the retail price,” said Wimett.

Tony Montoya opened Pink Elephant Exchange, a second-hand vintage clothing store in 2020. The store sources largely from the community of Missoula. Montoya said he often finds himself searching for clothes belonging to someone in their 60s or 60s to list them in his store.

More and more people, especially the younger generations, are realizing the impact that excessive production of cheap and trendy clothes has on the environment. In 2014, the average consumer bought 60% more clothes than in 2000, but kept each garment half as long, according to the World Resources Institute.

Asked about his motivation for opening Pink Elephant Exchange, Montoya said: “We weren’t here to save the planet, but it has become that.”

So what happens when you have an unwanted hole in your favorite jeans or the zipper comes out of your winter jacket? Instead of throwing them away, you can take your damaged clothes to Merry Bobbins.

Bethany Ensluy has owned and operated Merry Bobbins for 10 years and does everything from alterations to custom tailoring.

“I mend, mend a lot of denim, I put a lot of zippers in the jackets in the winter,” Ensluy said.

Ensluy’s work area was strewn with various repairs. On the table was a pair of ripped crotch jeans, a bad spot for a hole, but an easy fix. Among the repairs completed was a denim jacket, brought in for a hole in the chest, and now sewn with the barely noticeable patchwork.

Repairing old clothes is a great way to extend the life of a part that might otherwise go to waste.

Re-wearing and buying used clothing is becoming the new normal as consumers shy away from fast fashion. The used clothing market is expected to double over the next 5 years, according to Thread Up’s 2021 resale report.