Fashion Affliction

Fashion is one of the largest industries to ever exist. Some consider fashion an art, some consider it a statement, and some just like to buy clothes because of the affordable availability and marketing appeal! Of course, clothing is necessary, but the consumption of such goods has gotten out of hand, especially since the invention of “fast fashion”. The biggest problem with fast fashion has been its harmful effects on the environment. Waste and chemicals from the production and disposal of clothing, shoes and accessories, and their by-products, pollute the land as well as the air and water. This makes discussion on the subject imperative! Keeping our planet clean is a goal set for the very purpose of preserving life on Earth. Luckily, with efficiency in design and eco-friendly practices, designers and consumers can work together to find solutions to the environmental havoc caused by the fashion industry. We all know the three “R’s”: reduce, reuse, recycle. These actions can greatly reduce the waste and pollution produced by fashion’s factories. But there is more to sustaining the environment than that! It is also important to use nature-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, or vegan leather and it is important to remember, that as designers and consumers, we have a responsibility to make a difference in the world. Fast fashion has contributed to detrimental environmental issues due to over consumption by the public and pollution from the industry. Green fashion habits can help reduce the fashion industry’s negative impacts on the environment.

Before all else, one question needs to be answered in order to understand the information that follows: what is fast fashion? According to Luz Claudio with the Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), it is “Clothing [produced] at increasingly lower prices, prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable. Some call it ‘fast fashion,’ the clothing equivalent of fast food.” (The Legacy of Waste Couture). In simpler terms, fast fashion is an industry that mass produces clothing very quickly and at very low cost. The fast fashion business has a revenue of over 621 billion dollars a year, globally (Strijbos). However, revenue is not the only concern. The industry needs to be more conscientious. It leaves a pollution footprint at each step of the clothing’s life (Claudio).

These polluting footprints come in many shapes and sizes. One such footprint is left from industry pollution in the production of the material created in mass quantities. The harmful effects of fashion seem to be impossible to stop, or to even slow down. “Why should I care?” you may ask. Consumers should review some facts. Fast fashion is the second largest polluter in the world (Sweeny). The consumption of these materials sold in stores like: Forever21, Zara, Target, and H&M, is a start to this issue. Because these trendy styles are so affordable and easily accessible, buyers flock to such stores. Roughly 80 billion articles of clothing are purchased from the fast fashion industry yearly (Chung).  Manufacturing leads to excess soot in the air; dyes and chemicals in the water; and pesticides in our farming procedures. Plus, natural resources like oil and water are being used in high amounts. The production of polyester requires petroleum. According to Technical Textile Markets, “The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil” (Talk).  In addition, tons of water are required to make and dye fabrics of all kinds.

The next eco-harmful step taken is the distribution of these goods. The carbon output reaches new heights when the stores receive their shipments all across the globe; when consumers at home shop online and receive packages from the company’s headquarters; and when the people of the world go out to all the stores to shop while driving in their cars that need fossil fuels to run.  This high use of gasoline is an often ignored environmental issue.

Finally, the most complex step of all, is the consumption of these fast fashion products. First of all, consumer purchasing of these items in large amounts increases the demand for garments and accessories. When the demand increases, production increases. But the sad thing is that most of these purchases will eventually end up in landfills. The clothes sold in these fast fashion stores are typically just following trends and will go out of style within the next year. However, since the clothes were so cheap, the owner has no problem disposing of them. Each year, billions of pieces of clothing are produced worldwide, and after their short lifespan, three out of four garments will end up in landfills or be incinerated. Only a quarter will be recycled (Chung). These actions result in air or land pollution.

Now consider the environmental perspective regarding water usage, pollution, and waste. Consider the production of a t-shirt, for example. One t-shirt alone takes 2,700 liters of water to manufacture. This is the amount of water an average person will drink over 900 days! (Chung). Thus, fast fashion uses millions of tons of water daily. Furthermore, according to the nonprofit Earth Pledge, today some 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles. These chemicals wind up in the air, water and soil. Domestically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one-quarter of all pesticides used nationwide go toward growing cotton, primarily for the clothing industry. Like other chemicals, pesticides show up in the land, water and air. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers many textile manufacturing facilities to be hazardous waste generators and in developing countries, where the majority of textiles are produced, untold amounts of pollution are likely being deposited into local soils and waterways. In regions that can hardly stand further environmental insult” (Talk).

Not only that, but with all the work and pollution that goes into making the world’s speed fashion products, one would think that those large companies would make the most out of what they have. Well, think again. An estimated 400 billion square meters of textiles are produced annually, while 60 billion square meters are left on the cutting room floor. That could cover the state of Indiana twice. Why waste? Why can’t these companies use what they have left over? Or maybe the change has to come from the consumer, in purchasing from the right types of companies. If the people of our world don’t make fashion decisions based on the well-being of the earth, the environmental harm will continue.

Though many do not want to admit that the damage occurring to this planet is real, the evidence is clear. Fast fashion is harming humankind and nature through air pollution, water pollution, and land pollution that take over the property that belongs to us all. Due to the soot and chemicals that escape the factories, our air supply is becoming more and more dangerous. The chemical submissions and dyes from the industry contaminate our water supply by the tons! The forests that act as homes to thousands of animal species are diminishing along with the clean oxygen that those trees release, just to build more and more shops and factories. These shops and factories take up the land that could be used to build more homes, or grow and provide fresh produce. And, the disposal of unwanted garments adds to the land pollution due to solid waste. The atrocities need to come to a stop in order to keep our planet out of peril.

Some analysts say that less than one percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a greener shirt (Talk). This is a huge stumbling block in a profit-driven society. So, if the industry is not moving quickly enough to green up, consumers must do their part. The next question to ask would be, “What can I do?” The first answer is simple: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The number one thing consumers can do to help the environment is to buy less. In recognizing the concept of supply and demand, buyers must demand less production. Just reduce the demand, and the supply with follow suit. This action can be difficult for the real fashionista who has a passion for clothing and accessories. But the solution is to buy mix and match pieces that, when worn strategically, appear to be different outfits. Minimizing excess reduces the numbers of products manufactured and therefore alleviates the pollution associated with the production.  

Reuse is becoming more and more popular with stores like Plato’s Closet and other resale shops. Consignment stores have also enjoyed  increased popularity. Not only does reuse help the environment by producing less waste, it can save the shopper a lot of money since used items are less expensive than new ones. Other ideas for finding lightly used items are yard sales and thrift stores. Some thrift stores, like Goodwill, help fund local or national relief efforts. Sometimes a creative buyer can find great retro fashion items at rock bottom prices. Reusing garments can be helpful on many levels, it can be eco-friendly, budget-friendly and fun!

Recycling in regards to fashion can go in two directions: using recycled materials to produce fabric, and using existing fabrics to create new fabrics. The first method produces fabric like Newlife/ Recycled Polyester which is made from recycled plastic bottles. The second method is more popular because of the abundance of used fabrics that are already out there! For example, Brentano fabrics produces new fabric from old textiles like cotton, nylon and polyester. “Use of recycled fibers reduces waste destined for landfills and also preserves resources such as oil and energy needed to manufacture new materials (“Fabrics”). It is also possible to send in old clothing items and shoes to be recycled into entirely new products! Blue Jeans Go Green is a company that performs denim recycling and turns your old holey jeans into insulation. Nike came up with the Reuse-a-Shoe campaign which is where the public can donate their old shoes back to Nike which will use the rubber to build such things as playgrounds and tracks.

The second answer is to simply buy clothes that are made from organic material. Usually when someone plans to go shopping for something that they plan to keep for a long time, they do a little bit of research beforehand. Why can’t clothes shopping be the same? Consumers can do research about the clothes they intend to buy and make sure they meet green requirements. Researching the fabric used to create their desired product might be the first thing one should search, especially when going at it from an environmental standpoint. In this case, the shopper should stay away from the most widely used fabrics, polyester and nylon, because petroleum is needed to produce these. The consumer should also stay away from leather (because methane is released from the cows), and even cotton (which is farmed with heavy pesticide application). The eco-friendly types of fabrics are made from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, and yes recycled polyester.

Although the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluting entity, there are ways consumers can prevent it from becoming worse. By paying attention to how items are being made, what is being purchased, and how much is being sold, consumers can have a positive impact on the greening of fashion. It can be as easy as checking the tags on the trendiest fashion pieces and finding alternative shopping options. If the fashion industry will not willingly reduce it’s pollution footprint, consumers must do more to limit the demand for fast fashion. Buyers can be choosy about the products they purchase. And consumers can reduce the amount of clothes they buy each year, reuse clothes that have been worn, and recycle the clothes that they no longer wear. Just by following three simple and eco-friendly steps, purchasers can help fashionistas go green. The fashion industry has a huge impact on the natural world in which we live. Pollutants, extreme water usage and the increasing supply and demand for fast fashion has made the industry an enemy to the environment.

However, it is possible to enjoy fashion and be conscientious about the carbon footprint we leave behind. Establishing a series of green habits can help reduce the damaging impacts of fashion manufacturing. Shoppers should do homework about the products they choose and the companies they patronize. And always reduce, reuse and recycle. It is possible to love fashion and love Earth!


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