Tell us: We live in a world of consumers. Everywhere we go there are advertisements for clothes, shoes, and anything beauty. Throughout the course of the year we get to watch Paris fashion week, New York fashion week, Milan fashion week, and more. Fashion is a forever growing industry that doesn’t seem to stop. Companies force new clothes on us weekly, causing us to feel pressure to keep up with the ever changing styles. Fast fashion is taking over developed countries. But do people ever stop to think of where their clothes are coming from? Most people seem to have an idea about factory conditions in other countries, but don’t seem to realize that the clothes they love so much are killing our earth. The fashion industry is releasing chemicals into our soil and water and greenhouse gases into our air. I wanted to look into exactly how the fashion industry is harming our earth, while also looking at ways we can fix it.
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Deep Dive: The fashion industry is the second largest contributor to pollution behind the oil industry. This is something that people tend to overlook, but there are many sources outlining the environmental impacts. Deborah Drew wrote “The Apparel Industry’s Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics” which takes a deep dive into all of the ways the production of the clothes we wear are hurting our earth. Drew highlights the world of fast fashion that we are living in, where a new trend is out nearly every week. People are buying more clothes, wearing them less, and throwing them out at an alarming rate. Clothing companies put pressure on people through advertisements, media, etc. to make consumers feel that they need to buy these clothes. This may seem like no big deal. When we think of pollution wer think mostly of plastic bottles and gasoline or CO2 emissions. We don’t even stop to think about how our clothes were made and what kind of impact that has, or where our clothes go after we throw them out.
Drew discusses these exact things in her article. To grow enough cotton to make one T – shirt farmers must use 2700 liters of water (Drew). On top of this, the cotton industry needs to use pest/insecticides. Cotton accounts for the use of about 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides globally (Drew). After cotton production there is even more pollution that happens. Textile production uses about 5 trillion liters of water each year for fabric dying (Drew). Grown fabrics, like cotton tend to use a lot of water and pesticides to produce. We may think that man-made fabrics like polyester are better. However, these fabrics also cause problems for our environment. Drew points out that about 1.5 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases were released into our atmosphere due to polyester production. It isn’t hard to see that we simply can’t win when it comes to our love for fashion.
In Patsy Perry’s article The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion, there is focus on textile dyeing and how the dyes and chemicals used affect not only our water quality, but the people who come in contact with it. Perry mentions that textile dying is the second largest water polluter. Clothes are often produced in countries where there are limited laws on chemical disposal. The chemicals used to dye fabrics like polyester or cotton are dumped into local rivers and lakes. Local people end up getting sick from this water that they use to drink, cook with, and clean.
Perry also mentions that many countries have been testing the chemicals used on clothes to see what their impacts are. Come of these chemicals have been seen to be toxic, carcinogenic, bioaccumulative, and hormone disrupters. The way our clothes are produced doesn’t just harm the earth we live on, but hurts our wildlife and even ourselves. Even organic fabrics have an impact on their environment. Organic cotton cuts out the use of chemicals during farming, but the fabric still has to be made and dyed and sewn (Perry). There are so many options when it comes to buying clothes, and if we want to shop smart, how do we know where to start?
Perry talks in her article about ways that we as consumers can help make a difference. She points to the brand Patagonia because of their use of recycled fabrics. Patagonia and other brands are making polyester out of recycled bottles, recycled cotton, and organic cotton (Perry). It is brands like these that make the smallest footprint. There are charities, like Love Your Clothes from Wrap that teaches people how to shop smartly, what brands are best to buy from, gives education on the production process, and teaches the right way to dispose of your clothes (Perry). We can also look to buying more from consignment or thrift shops. There are options out there that help you reduce your footprint. However, overall it is important for us to simply limit what we wear. We first need to stop buying so much, and wear what we have longer.
Take Away: I believe that becoming educated on a subject is the first step to improving in that area. After reading about the environmental impacts of the fashion industry, I realized that there are actually a lot of ways that we as consumers can help make a change. Limiting or consumption is the first step, and it is a really simple one. We don’t need to be buying new clothes every week or month, instead we need to be owning clothes that will last, that we like, and that will be worn more than once or twice. If everyone limited their consumption of clothing, companies would be forced to slow down production. Consumers can also take things another step forward by putting pressure on companies to change their ways. Once upon a time, Nike almost went bankrupt due to people boycotting their use of sweatshops, and they cleaned up their act.
Consumers have all of the power when it comes to the profit that companies earn. We can choose to only buy from companies that track and limit their environmental footprint. We can buy from consignment shops, or do clothing swaps with our friends. We can even put pressure on political figures to ensure that companies follow laws. There are plenty of ways that we can enjoy the clothes we love, while also making sure our earth is healthy. I will go forward limiting my consumption of clothing, and making sure to only give my money to brands that deserve it.
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