In my big move to decrease my carbon footprint, a few big areas of life availed themselves as real issues that have never come to my attention in such a big way. One of the biggest turned out to be one of the largest polluters on the planet— fashion. Specifically “fast fashion”– inexpensive and trendy pieces we grab and wear a season or two before it a. falls apart or b. is no longer in fashion and gets donated if it’s even viable to donate or hits the trash.
The mass production leads to clothing waste that, according to an article more than two years ago in Newsweek (*the problem has since escalated), “In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person. The EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.”
With all things to do with eco-friendly living and sustainability, it may be tempting to say the very true statement: “I’m just one person, so what can I do?!”
Voting with your dollars, changing your habits, inspiring others by your example… all of it!
It’s really catching on!
My sustainable fashion switches have not only been great for the planet and saved me tons of $$$ in the process. They have also been moves toward a more refined sense of my style, greater magnetism and all kinds of creative energy.
First, let’s look at why fast fashion is problematic. I am all about getting a great deal but there are many great deals to be found without continuing to support the machine of pollution and waste and much more I wasn’t fully aware of.
There’s a High Cost of Cheap Clothing
Clothing that is cheap usually has a low production cost, but leads to higher amounts of pollution, and in many cases the labor involved is unethical.
It can be Unethical.
Cheap clothing is usually produced in poor countries where the cost of manufacturing clothes is low and the and the laborers work for extremely low wages. Since these are usually far off, poor regions, it can be difficult for companies to track and regulate the working conditions for these workers. Companies may be unable to ensure the workers are working humane hours, getting paid decently or working in safe environments. In these countries that are poor and not quite developed, an estimated 40 million people sew more than 1.5 billion garments in 250,000 factories and sweatshops each year.
It can create incredible pollution and waste of resource.
Fashion brands that crank out low cost clothes rely on low quality fabrics such as cheap low-grade polyester and cotton. Cotton crops are one of the most pesticide intensive crops on earth. One pound of cotton requires 1/3 a pound of pesticides. Cotton is also a water intensive crop. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans.
The Aral Sea in Uzbekistan went from being the 4th largest lake in the world to a now desert due to cotton production. In the 1960s this area rerouted waterways to facilitate the production of cotton. It is now known as the Aralkum Desert and its dust is heavily polluted with pesticides and herbicides (from cotton production) – powerful airstreams resulted in this toxic desert dust being found in the blood of penguins in Antarctica, fields in Russia and forests in Norway.
Genetically modified cotton was first used in 1995 and now, in the U.S and India, it accounts for 95% of all cotton grown. The fashion industry is said to be the second most polluting industry right behind oil.
Clothes with cheap price tags are made for only a few wears- they are not designed to last long and may fall apart easily. This means that they usually cannot be handed down to friends or family or even given to thrift shops for resale. They usually end up in the trash and eventually a landfill.
Other problems for cheap clothing are toxic dyes and chemicals use to dye clothes and leather.
There are also dangers of synthetic microfibers. Polyester, nylon, acrylic are all forms of plastic they now make up 60% of the materials that make our clothes.
Microfibers are tiny threads that shed from fabric. Washing machines do not have filters small enough to capture microfibers, so when you wash your clothes, the microfibers that are released from the clothing eventually end up in your local water treatment plant, where 40% of them are released into our lakes, rivers and oceans. On average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash, and older jackets shed twice as much.
Synthetic microfibers run the risk of ruining our food chain. Since they are small, they are easily ingested by marine and wildlife. These synthetic fibers can bioaccumulate, and can leave higher up the food chain animals with high concentrations of toxins in their bodies. A recent study found around 73 percent of fish caught at mid-ocean depths in the Northwest Atlantic had microplastic in their stomachs. And, a recent PLOS study found that the average person ingests 5,800 particles of synthetic debris a year. Research also suggests that microfibers could be our biggest source of plastic in the ocean.
Clothes made from plastic bottles in an attempt to upcycle and use fewer resources, leave us with similar problems as explained above. They also pose another alarming problem. When plastics are heated they can release toxins so wearing and sweating in clothes made from plastics could burden our skin with toxic chemicals.
A few strategies that have changed my clothing consumption habits:
I donate the great stuff I just don’t wear. You can only viably donate clothing in good condition. I am almost done with this step. My closet is fairly well emptied, and I’m not adding more that I won’t wear to the pile.
Rather than dumping everything that doesn’t “spark joy” and can’t be donated, it gets recycled as much as possible.
A capsule wardrobe is where I’m leaning. You can curate a wardrobe of like 10 pieces of clothing and use them interchangeably.
Also, I stopped washing clothes that weren’t dirty. Dresses and jeans worn once for a few hours (my usual) don’t get instantly washed. Usually I can go for a few wears of a few hours before washing. I was hesitant to try this but it makes a big difference.
Clothing swaps and borrowing clothes! These are a big deal. I take advantage of these opportunities to borrow dresses for events that I know I will wear once.
You can purchase clothes at vintage stores, online swap sites or swap parties. At the online swap sites, you post a pic and description of your item on some sites you will list a price for your item. You will then negotiate a swap and mail the items to each other.
Buying vintage and second hand is forever a favorite.
Shop at 2nd hand stores and online consignment stores such as Poshmark and ThredUp . These stores carry quality, high-end clothing in nearly brand-new condition for massively discounted prices. You can also clear out your closet and sign up to sell your clothes on these sites. Once you sign up become a seller and ThredUp will send you packages to fill with your clothing.
Sustainable Fashion is also becoming easier to find.
Sustainable clothes are those items that durable and can be worn across seasons. They are made from eco-friendly fabric and/or recycled material. The workers who manufacture this clothing provide decent working conditions for employees at fair wages.
Look for eco-friendly fibers in your clothes and support brands that are super-conscious
You can also look for the Fair Trade Certified Seal. A Fair Trade label usually guarantees that all workers are paid a living wage. They must also guarantee that their factories are safe and their production is eco-friendly.
These are a great place to start.
A sign on Melrose Avenue outside a shift shop reads, “Being naked in the most sustainable fashion option. We are the second!”
I’m all for that spirit and style.
Not only has this raised my consciousness, it’s shined a light on curating my wardrobe in a meaningful way. More style, more magnetism and more fun!!!
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