The word is out: “Fast fashion” is killing our planet. Low-cost, cheaply made clothes designed to be worn briefly until styles change are terrible for the environment. Consumers are buying and discarding clothing more often than previous generations. Between 2000 and 2014, global clothing production doubled, with shoppers purchasing roughly sixty percent more garments. The fashion industry is now responsible for ten percent of the earth’s carbon emissions and twenty percent of its wastewater, making it the second largest polluter of water in the world. And, when fashion has run its course, very few of these clothes are recycled: most of them end up in landfills.
The $1.3 trillion apparel industry is complex, yet, the largest portion of the clothing industry’s environmental impact is in the manufacturing phase, not retailing or shipping. If you want to shop wisely, look for brands that are rethinking how they manufacture clothing, including radical transparency about their supply chains. With a simple online search you can see how large of a carbon footprint a piece of clothing has, from the manufacturing process to the supply chain.
More than sixty percent of textiles today include synthetics made from fossil fuels. They’re part plastic, that is. But not all polyesters are the same. The makers of rayon, also known as viscose, have often billed the fabric as “natural,” as it comes from wood or bamboo. But the raw material may be sourced from old-growth forests, and it requires powerful, poisonous chemicals to be transformed into usable fibers.
Textile Exchange and Sustainable Apparel Coalition are two organizations seeking to help consumers shop sustainably and wisely dispose of old clothing. Some of their suggestions include looking for an organically produced tag when shopping for cotton/wool clothing (greatly reducing pesticide use) or buying clothing made from recycled material (i.e. plastic bottles). When using recycled products, no new materials or energy is involved and the toxicity of production is minimized.
The first and most important step is simply to reduce one’s consumption. Instead of redoing our wardrobes every few weeks, we can buy more timeless and durable goods. We can also elect to abandon disposable fashion altogether and take advantage of secondhand retailers like Thredup and The RealReal, and EBay. Being a sustainable shopper has a positive impact on multiple levels: the environment, social institutions, your wallet, and peace of mind.
Source: Amanda Abrams, “How to Shop Sustainably,” YES! Magazine, November 29, 2019, https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2019/11/29/shop-sustainable-shopping.
Student Researcher: Kenny Fong (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)