If this crazy time we are living in has taught us anything, it’s that we must take care of ourselves and one another. With this comes taking care of our planet, too. Our Earth is currently undergoing some rapid changes, some irreversible and highly dangerous for the future of our planet. Greenhouse gas levels are rising, ice caps are melting, and heavy air and water pollution is making Earth more and more uninhabitable as we speak.
One of the leading culprits of Earth’s environmental changes? The Fashion Industry. The Fashion Industry around our globe has contributed greatly to the emissions and pollution filling our air. And we don’t have much time to fix these problems. So from now until forever, fashion sustainability can not be ignored. Here are some reasons we must start fighting for a sustainable fashion industry in our own lives, some examples to follow, and ways to do it on our own.
Let’s start with some basics…
What is the greenhouse gas effect and why is it so dangerous?
The greenhouse gas effect works like, well… a greenhouse. When the sun’s radiation and heat waves enter our atmosphere, it allows plants to grow and keeps the Earth’s temperature warm enough for us and all of our furry (and scaly, and slimy, and plant-y) friends to stay alive. Our atmosphere, however, contains gas particles called greenhouse gases- including water, CO2, and methane- that trap heat within them. Some of these gases are needed to keep our Earth warm enough, but too many of them (which our atmosphere now has) causes heat levels to rise far higher than safe for our environment. The overabundance of heat-trapping molecules is what’s causing our poles to reach higher temperatures than ever before, ice caps to melt, and countless other domino-effect changes. Remember the movie 2012? Like that type of domino effect.
Car exhaust, agriculture practices, and, weighing in at the second most polluting industry, fast fashion are all contributors to the greenhouse gas overabundance.
So, what is Fast Fashion? And why is it the worst thing possible for the Fashion Sustainability Movement?
Fast fashion is the reason H&M tops are less than 10 bucks. It’s the reason Zara racks are filled with in-season clothes seconds after the season hits. It’s the reason so many clothing items can be bought, sold, and thrown away without second thought. Fast fashion is the term describing quick rates of turn-around, from the runway to creation to making it in-store (and finally, in your closet).
The reason fast-fashion (or much of mainstream retail fashion) is so cheap and convenient for consumers is because of the many dangerous practices used to produce the clothes. The reason the clothes are so cheap: the textiles and fabrics used contain cheap and toxic dyes and chemicals. Textile toxins are a primary reason fashion is the second most polluting industry. Dyes are especially potent in contaminating water and air around the world.
The reason fast-fashion is so fast: countless hours of underpaid labor. Many fast-fashion retailers outsource their production to places around the world- places with little to no work condition rules or regulations. Women, men and even children are forced to work long (and often unpaid) hours- usually around 14 hours per day, 7 days per week. Many production sites are located in unsafe buildings where employees are crammed, have limited lighting and often no ventilation. These conditions are completely unsustainable and unethical on top of being plain out unsafe for the workers to function in. The labor aspect of the fashion industry is not always accounted for when looking at fashion sustainability problems. But we must take note of the exploited and mistreated workers when discussing this topic. Because sustainability and ethical production come hand in hand.
It’s obvious that we should start focusing on fashion sustainability. Not only is it terrible for those working the hard jobs to keep fast-fashion running, but it is putting the world (and therefore our lives) in harm’s way too. So, here are some easy steps that you can take to adopt fashion sustainability practices in your own life:
1. STOP SUPPORTING FAST FASHION RETAILERS
I’m sorry. I know it’s so easy to run into the mall and hit up Zara, H&M, Gap and more all in one, cheap, convenient go. But supporting these brands is only enabling the dangerous and unsustainable practices so dangerous to the movement of fashion sustainability.
2. SHOP BRANDS WHO SUPPORT FASHION SUSTAINABILITY
Some brands have included fashion sustainability practices for years, even if their customers didn’t know it. Eileen Fisher is one brand that has focused on fashion sustainability in a variety of ways since 1997. Some of Eileen Fisher’s initiatives include sustainable practices with materials-organic and recycled fibers (like the organic cotton shirt shown below), chemistry- certified dyes, and human rights- supporting women and girls around the world.
3. SHOP AT LOCAL BOUTIQUES OR SMALL BUSINESSES IN YOUR AREA
Shopping local is a great way to give back to your community by supporting the very businesses that make it special. Plus, these boutiques and smaller stores will often have a more select set of clothes on the rack. Want to show your individuality? Zara’s not the place to do it. But your very own hidden gem of a shop might be!
Thrift shops, consignment shops and second hand stores are great ways to find special items and support fashion sustainability. Reusing clothes in this way prevents brands from having to produce more and more pieces (especially if many of us adopted this practice!). Thrifting can be another way to hone in on your fashion originality. Grab a vintage jacket no one has seen for years, pair it with something you already have and voila! A brand new outfit to make a great statement (both fashionably, and sustainably!).
One really fun way to recycle clothes without spending any money at all: diy what you’ve got. Take a piece that you haven’t worn in a while… maybe it’s an old sweater, a (pit-) stained shirt, or (my favorite and most frequent option) pants that have turned into floods. Grab some scissors, ribbon, or whatever craft materials you have on hand and change the item into something totally new.
6. FIND FASHION SUSTAINABILITY GROUPS, NETWORKS AND EVENTS
Finding a community or group that works toward fashion sustainability is another great way to get involved in the movement. Erin Pouba, a student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, has been focused on fashion sustainability for a few years now. Her website, https://empfashion.com/, where she shares blog entries about fashion sustainability discussions and ideas, is also the landing page for her own designs. When designing, her fabrics are carefully chosen and scraps are even preferred, so as to minimize waste. This August, Erin and her friend Emma Hughes put on a sustainable fashion show. The ~virtual~ show displayed looks from both Erin and Emma, *like Erin’s polka dot shirt, shown below (so cute!)*! You can find them both (and info about the show’s video) on instagram! @emp.fashion & @estudios.22 !
Getting involved in a group of both designers and consumers focused on fashion sustainability is a great way to start changing your own fashion habits. The environment and those working in the fashion industry need us to shift our support to brands who show efforts towards fashion sustainability in every aspect of their business. As consumers like us move towards a more sustainable lifestyle, more brands will have to follow suit as well. So let’s make the change purchase by purchase to start focusing on fashion sustainability (and therefore, basically save the world).