Gender and Waste; The vicious cycle of the fashion industry

Nicole Spakman
6 min readApr 6, 2022

I have always been very expressive and intentional with my clothing, even as a kid. As a little girl, I used to sit on the changing pad and point to the items that I wanted to wear that day. From the age of four, my mom had little to no influence on what I was wearing. At this time, I loved to experiment with all the clothes I could find. Looking back at that little girl, I noticed many changes within my representation from where I am now. The older I got, the more pear approval I was seeking. Slowly my alternative way of dressing got overshadowed by brands and the typical feminine dress. However, I became more aware of my queer identity at a certain point, and this shift in perspective towards my sexuality changed my intentions in dressing. I stopped following trends and second-hand shopping became my regular practice. This change made me aware that I have been pressured to look, shop, and dress a certain way throughout time. Marketing strategies had reinforced a binary model in me.

This insight made me wonder how the binary construct within the fashion industry influences our choice in style and our shopping behavior. How does the binary model influence the waste economy that we live in right now?

The origin of the binary model within fashion
The binary model within fashion has not always existed in such a powerful way as seen today. The split between masculine and feminine originates in the notions of etiquette, gender relations, and sexuality from the nineteenth-century European Victorian era. These ideas had a significant impact on the radical split of gender. They created specific roles, looks, and locations for each gender. Clothing was used as a guide to create order within the sexual division achieved by society. These notions of dress intensified even more during the Industrial revolution. The work, social and homely spheres separated because of the transition from hand-made to machine-made goods. The men went to a factory to work, and women stayed home to care for the home and children. Through this change, femininity became a display of status of their partner. Hence the man was seen as the essential earner, while the woman was seen as the shopper. This split became the slogan of consumerism. The development of advertising reacted to this societal shift by making masculinity and femininity traits for particular products. Masculinity became associated with practicality and utility, while femininity became associated with beauty (Craik, 1993). As a response, even shops began gendering departments to display their so-called ‘gendered’ goods.

The current performance of the binary model in the fashion system
In today’s fashion design and advertising, it is clear that the previously discussed gender associations still exist. It is not hard to find examples at all. When one walks into a clothing store like H&M, one can easily find the difference in reference. The girl’s areas are filled with glitter, bright colors, and statements on kindness and beauty. However, the boy’s section tends to stay neutral, or filled with earth tones, while displaying messages of power and coolness. Even within adult clothing, the separation is apparent. When looking at the suit in womenswear, the focus is on creating an image to be admired. The suit is designed to draw attention to the body by showing more skin or enhancing an hourglass figure. Contrastingly the suit in menswear is focused on the man in the suit. Enhancing their active role as professionals by centering the attention on the face to display social status (Lantz, 2016).

In today's society, consumers are continually judged upon their appearance, especially since the start of social media. Because of the continual critiquing, one becomes sensitive to it. The consequence of this awareness is that the consumers change their appearance to align with the created stereotype. Subsequently, because of the success in sales, Clothing brands and marketing bureaus started to use these constructed stereotypes repeatedly, creating a vicious cycle that produces the gender norm.

No climate justice without gender justice
It has been made clear that the gender construct has gotten stuck in a feedback loop. The goal of the gender-construction in the fashion industry is to create duplication within the production system. The duplication of products created the idea that every product has a primary purpose and meaning. The goal here is to make the consumer believe that one needs more products to get the same result. An example is that it becomes harder to pass on a product within the family line because of the heavy gendering and the societal pressure to align with gender norms. The goal here is to bend the consumer into believing that products, like a t-shirt, are products that you use up, instead of use. Through this process, the idea is created that a product can be used up, or in fashion terms, be out of fashion. Inevitably producing a consumption ritual based on newness and change rather than stability and durability.

The consequence of this practice is that the fashion industry becomes a threat to the environment. The problems are found deep within the industry, starting at the production. Many products are produced with materials that significantly influence the environment through fast fashion. For example, 400 billion square meters of textile are made from different materials within a year. However, 60 billion square meters of these textiles end up on the cutting room floor without being used. On top of that, from the 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year globally, 75% end up in landfills. (Fashion for Good, 2018)

Clothing landfill @ Thailand

If we sum up this information, one can see the connection between gender and nature. One system of oppression is mutually reinforcing the other. In other words, the construct of gender intensified by the advertising industry stirs the consumer into a shopping habit that is built upon norms of conspicuous consumption, which means that the Western society feels a constant urge for new things as a status display. As a result, the industry leans towards fast and cheap production to keep up with this urge for continuous change. Which in return then has significant consequences for the impact on the environment.

It is noteworthy that the seats for the decision-making on climate justice are filled mainly by white, western men. Because of this, marginalized groups' experiences, ideas, and opinions are mostly overlooked. While at the same time, a big part of this group is dealing with the consequences. Think of pollution, droughts, and rising sea levels. This occurrence is quite strange since women of color have been at the forefront of the climate demonstrations (Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy). So if one thought about solutions from a queer ecofeminist perspective, it would mean that liberating consumerism requires liberating gender and rewiring the oppression it creates onto nature (Gaard, 1997). Or in other words, by excluding marginalized groups from the forefront of justice, the problem rarely changes, especially when they’re so narrowly connected to the problem itself like the LGBTQIA+ community is to the gender binary model.

This Literary research has been the start of Recon the Label, a sustainable clothing label that creates fluid uniforms. To break free from the binary structures within the fashion industry, the wearer shapes the suit rather than the suit shapes them. So Recon the Label makes an inclusive uniform that the wearer can continuously renew. Intending to create timeless fashion and, by this, extend its lifespan. Besides that, the uniform is produced from recycled material with a zero-waste approach. To ensure that all fabrics are reused.

The modular uniform of Recon the Label

Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy. “Climate Justice”,

Craik, Jennifer en Pierre Ferrari. The Face of Fashion. Taylor en Francis Ltd, 1993.

Fashion For Good. “The Five Goods”, 2018,

Gaard, Greta. “Toward a Queer Ecofeminism”. Hypatia, vol. 12, nr. 1, 1997.

Lantz, Jenny. Trendmakers: behind the scenes of the global fashion industry. 2016, Bloomsbury.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Routledge, 1899.