Invest in Quality, Invest in the Future
I originally started this by stating my disbelief that, depending on what metrics are being used, the clothing industry is ranked as the second largest polluter in the world, but since then I've read a few articles that have called for people to stop using that "statistic", and I put statistic in quotes because it turns out that there's no actual empirical data to support the statement. The reason this is a problem, and many argue that it doesn't matter if the ranking is 2nd or 10th, it's still a huge polluter that should be addressed, but the people who ask that we don't use it state that it raises false flags, discounts our arguments by using inaccurate statements and dissuades us from prioritizing other industries that actually do contribute more pollution. So for starters I'd like to join the people calling for us to use the most accurate information available and avoid using hyperbole and inaccurate statements when they're really unnecessary considering the information we have should be bad enough to spur any conscientious recipients into action.
It turns out that my surprise was somewhat unwarranted but it really shouldn't have been surprising to discover that the clothing industry was ranked first, second or sixteenth, because in recent years a number of brands have implemented a policy of releasing 52 "micro-seasons" a year with new products being added weekly.
Fast-fashion has become a common buzz word within the zero-waste and environmental community but the average person, who may even bring their own reusable shopping bag to carry their purchases rather than taking a single-use plastic bag, doesn't think twice about the environmental impact of the pants or shirt they're buying. But in a world where you can get a brand new shirt for less than $10, many of us don't really value our clothing and often treat it as disposable.
Why would you bother putting the effort into getting a grease stain out of a shirt that cost you $10? If you've had it for six months you likely already consider it to be old and you've definitely gotten your money's worth out of it. Maybe you'll donate it, but then you think "who wants to buy a second hand shirt with a stain on it?", so maybe you'll turn it into rags for cleaning around the house, possibly you'll drop it in one of those "complete the cycle" greenwashing scam bins, or maybe you'll check the material tag and, if it's natural fibre throw it in the compost bin, but more likely than not you're going to decide in the moment that none of that is really worth the effort and throw it in the trash, where it will sit in a plastic bag, in an anaerobic environment, and take a lot longer to break down than in any of the other scenarios.
If that shirt was instead a really well constructed piece, made from high quality materials, and stylish (rather than fashionable) you would be far more likely to have either been more careful to begin with, using an apron while cooking or a cloth napkin on your lap while eating, or you would put far more effort into laundering it properly to remove the stain and keep the piece.
One of the easiest ways to limit your own impact on the environment through your interaction with the fashion industry is to only buy high quality garments that are made to last, and then take care of them. I'm not saying you need to live like great-grandma on the farm and only have a summer dress, a winter dress, and a Sunday dress, but we could all probably do with far less clothing than we have. In the long run, although each individual piece is going to cost you more to purchase, you will end up saving money because you'll be investing in higher quality garments and you'll be invested in keeping them is the best condition possible so they last.
I am absolutely not saying you should go through your closet and throw away, or even donate, every piece of fast fashion you own and replace it immediately. The answer to over-consumption definitely isn't more consumption, and with a recent uptick in donations thanks to some joyful inspiration a lot of thrift shops are overwhelmed by clothing donations and unable to keep up with processing it so even more stuff than usual is being diverted to secondary streams, sold for rags or sent by the container-load to "underprivileged" areas/countries and disrupting the local economies in those areas.
What I am saying is, as you decide to add new articles of clothing to your closet, be thoughtful about things you're buying and consider things like what kind of material it's made from, where it's manufactured, whether it seems like it's put together well.
There are a number of resources online regarding how to assess quality of clothing, how to read the grain of a fabric, what types of seams are best for long-term durability, what the materials are actually made from, etc and I recommend spending a bit of time doing some research so you can make the best decisions when choosing your clothing so you're only buying items that are made from quality materials, with superior craftsmanship, and made to last. Thinking about the life-cycle of everything you buy can be overwhelming but I'd argue that it's a necessary inconvenience to prevent a catastrophic future.