Adopting sustainable practices is necessary for the future of fashion
As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, environmental issues are becoming a major issue. Learning to reduce and be aware of the resources we consume means paying attention to the clothes we wear and how they are produced and sourced.
Our clothes are a surprisingly superficial, yet paradoxically profound marker of ourselves. Although some may view it as mere decoration, it says a lot about who we are as people, our interests, our cultural identities, and the practices we choose to endorse.
Today’s internet-based fashion world forces us to constantly evolve to stay on trend. Given the social pressure and the need to make a statement, it can be hard not to lean into consumer culture. In fact, the garment industry is the second most polluting industry, just behind Big Oil. Of course, our insatiable need to constantly buy new clothes can have problematic repercussions on the environment.
What threatens our environment with the consumer culture of the fashion industry?
The Internet has created a launching pad for the industrialization and globalization of the apparel industry, and created a niche for fast fashion brands in the retail market. Fast fashion brands are retail stores that sell cheap clothing at quick rates to meet the demands of cycling trends, including Fashion Nova, Shein, Zara, and H&M.
If this type of clothing may seem attractive to a young audience wishing to adapt to current trends, the clothing sold on these sites is often in poor condition and made with synthetic fabrics. These synthetic fibers include polyester, nylon, and rayon unlike typical natural fibers, these take a long time to degrade.
Another problem that arises with fast fashion retailers is that they mainly operate in developing countries where the minimum wage to produce these garments is set at a fraction of the wages paid in more developed countries. Additionally, the conditions in these manufacturing plants are often unsuitable workplaces, with many workers conditioned to work long hours to meet consumer demands. Clearly, the organization of fast fashion brands generates environmental issues that overlap with social justice issues.
By buying from fast fashion brands, we are endorsing exploitative and harmful environmental practices.
Instead of opting to buy affordable clothes from fast fashion retailers, a better option may lie in savings. Thrift stores sell clothes without adding additional waste to the environment by relying on the clothes of other consumers. Shopping in these stores results in cyclical rather than linear production of clothing. Plus, since trends often change, it’s easy to find clothes that match past and current trends at affordable prices.
If one prefers to buy only new clothes, there are retailers who are beginning to create sustainable clothes, said to be produced with a concern for ecological integrity and social justice. While high-end brands such as Gucci, Chloe and Stella McCartney are at the forefront of the sustainable fashion movement, mid-range brands such as Levi’s, Everlane and Uniqlo have also made strides towards fashion sustainable.
Although some clothing brands may present themselves as sustainable, there is a need for consumers to be able to recognize truly sustainable practices. Customers can make tactful choices by investigating where the materials came from and where the garments were produced. Garments made from fabric waste, recyclable fabrics, or biodegradable fabrics are considered sustainable because they do not add additional waste to the environment.
Sources such as the Fashion Transparency Index (published annually) and sites such as Rank a Brand and Environmental Working Group provide information on brands that have taken sustainable initiatives and where consumers should buy sustainable clothing.
In the ongoing mission to mitigate greenhouse gases and consumption, consumers have the power to save the environment by adopting sustainable practices.