Sustainability in Fashion and Why it Matters
With the increasing threats of climate change, global warming, and pandemics, the implementation of sustainability efforts across all industries and individuals is becoming less of a “nice to have” and more of a “if we don’t make some serious changes NOW, we are all screwed.” Is it more expensive? For now, yes. But like most things, the higher the demand for something, the more companies will listen and better processes/technologies will be developed to inevitably reduce the cost and fulfill that demand. There are so many things we could cover about this, but for now, we’re going to focus on the sustainability efforts in the fashion industry (or lack thereof). There is a lot to say here, but we can dive deeper into specifics in future blog posts.
First, let’s go over the impact that fashion has on the planet as a whole. It is the 2nd largest polluter in the world, just behind the oil industry. Which makes sense if you think about it because 99.9% of people (and some of your pets) wear clothes. About 20% of water pollution is from dyeing and treating textiles (we’ll cover the chemical treatments in more depth in another blog), and the industry uses around 400 billion gallons of water every year. On top of that, many of the textiles manufactured today are made of synthetic materials, polyester being among the highest, which is essentially a form of plastic and non-biodegradable. These synthetic fibers account for most of the microplastics floating around in our oceans that get ingested by animals and eventually by us.
A huge contributor to this gorging of resources is the rise of fast fashion which got its start as far back as the 1800s. The new machinery of the Industrial Revolution paved the way for increased production and reduced costs of clothing, but real mass production of “standardized” clothing started just after WWII. People now had the convenience of buying their clothes off the racks instead of making them at home. Fast forward to today, and the industry is pumping out 150 BILLION garments per year, which equates to about 20 new items per person…and 85% of those garments end up in landfills. We’ve become addicted to “stuff” to the point of buying things that we almost immediately forget about after purchase. It ends up hanging in the closet with the tags still attached until we decide to toss it or donate it (which by the way, still almost always ends up in a landfill). And let’s not forget the impact cheap/fast fashion has on the laborers who make it. Just know that the $10 trendy top you bought (and will probably only wear once) was made by someone who barely makes a livable wage and made with the lowest quality raw materials. More than likely, you wouldn't even be able to wear it more than a couple of times because it will fall apart before you get the chance. Basically, fast fashion is a lot like fast food…it’s fast, cheap and really bad for you and the environment.
Ok, so now that we’ve covered the doom and gloom, let’s talk about what we can do to help change it. First of all, buy less stuff! Don’t be a slave to all the trends that change on a monthly basis and then become obsolete in a matter of weeks. Instead, opt to buy classic silhouettes that are considered more timeless and can be worn for years instead of days, or pieces that are very unique that resonate with you in a special way. Quality over quantity is key here. You will spend more on higher quality clothing, but you will be buying a lot less, which will most likely save you money in the long run. Versatile clothing made by skilled, fair-paid workers and with premium materials will last a lot longer and give you more bang for your buck. And when you do buy, start reading the care labels like you would the nutrition labels at the grocery store. Choose products with more natural fibers or blends that use recycled materials, or that are made domestically and aren’t treated with toxic chemical finishes that promise things like wrinkle and fade resistance. There is no perfectly sustainable clothing (at least not yet), but by looking for any one of these options before you decide to purchase is a step in the right direction. Making these changes on a large scale can greatly reduce the negative impact the fashion industry has on the world. If you want more information and insight about this topic, watch this incredible documentary called The True Cost https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaGp5_Sfbss. Being more sustainable goes far beyond just recycling our glass and plastic containers. We all have a responsibility to help curb this serious issue that is already affecting our health and the health of our planet.