Halloween or Halloshein?: How to have a spooky and sustainable Halloween

October 31 is right around the corner, and whether you’re prepping for a chill night handing out candy to trick-or-treaters or a frightening weekend out on the town, one thing is required for both: the costume.

Specialized costume stores like Spirit Halloween and Party City have capitalized on the cultural obsession with dressing up, offering thousands of cheaply made costumes and accessories. PrettyLittleThing and Shein, newer online retail stores that have influenced the creation of the term ‘ultra-fast fashion,’ have also jumped on this trend.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of cheaply-made costumes are churned out by the fast fashion industry, worn once by consumers, and then thrown away.

This is why it’s no surprise Halloween has become such a massive industry. According to a recent Hellosafe report, Canadian consumers are expected to spend $1.64 billion this year during the Halloween season — a 21.5 per cent increase from last year — with costumes making up 47.5 per cent of that budget.

And since most Halloween costumes aren’t reworn or repurposed past the one night they’re worn, they generate a lot of waste — a 2019 study found that $7 million of costumes are thrown out each year in the UK alone.

The unsustainable nature of this holiday is exactly the reason people like Sarah Little, the founder and creative director of the ReLove Market, a Victoria-based premier secondhand and vintage pop-up market, are advocating consumers take a more sustainable approach to the costume planning process.

“We’re spending all this money on costumes that are made from garbage materials. They’re not built to last more than that one night, so that feeds into fast fashion,” said Little in a video interview with The Ubyssey.

Little, who also serves as the BC Event Coordinator for Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement, has been helping organize zero-waste Halloween costume swaps around Vancouver. They even partnered with UBC to host one on campus on October 20.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get the conversation going, to get the idea in people’s heads that you can pretty much repurpose anything as long as it’s in good condition,” Little says about the events.

“Why should we exempt Halloween costumes from that, especially when that’s something you wear once a year? How many costumes do we end up throwing away?”

Little acknowledges the allure of shiny synthetic Halloween costumes, tempting in their pre-put-together convenience, but stresses that sustainability doesn’t have to sacrifice fashion.

Instead, she argues that putting together an outfit all on your own through thrifting or upcycling clothes can be personally and creatively-fulfilling.

“I challenge everyone to use that model for their costumes moving forward,” Little said. “Just go out and there and get inspired.”

If you’ve already succumbed to the pre-made persuasion Spirit Halloween or Shein costumes, don’t worry. No one’s innocent when it comes to fast fashion — especially the giant retailers themselves. Plus, as Little suggests, everyone’s sustainability journey “always starts with baby steps.”

Save your costumes for next year and organize a swap in your community or drop them off at your local thrift or consignment store. Try your hand at thrifting a piece and building a costume around it with materials you already have.

Or, you can attend Fashion Revolution Vancouver’s upcoming mending workshop that Little is helping organize, which will take place sometime during February 2023, and learn how to repurpose and repair clothes you already own.

So while you’re digging in your closet to find the piece that inspires the costume-to-end-all-other-costumes and come across the skeletons back there, don’t let fast fashion be one of them. Hang em’ up as decor and have yourself a spooky and sustainable Halloween.