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November 29, 2020 5 min read

Guest Post by Joy from the Sustainable Jungle blog & podcast

Green is the new black.

Which is to say sustainable and ethical fashion is trending. Folks are flocking to Fair Trade, buzzing about B-Corps, and ogling organic fibers.

But do people really know what these buzzwords mean and why they’re so important for fashion industry reform?

Some consumers do, but many people don't appreciate the lasting impact of their clothing choices.

Whether you’re a fashion fanatic or just looking for an eco friendly gift for someone that is, here are a few justifications for why we need to spend the time to make conscious clothing choices and support ethical online stores.

Avoiding fast fashion is no longer a luxury, hipster thing to do; it’s an environmental necessity.

1. Excess and Overconsumption

Take a look in your closet. How much do you actually wear?

Each person in North America averages 80 pounds of new clothing purchases every.single.year. That amounts to 80 billion pieces we consume globally.

To match the demand, clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014 and is expected to increase by another 60% by 2030.

2. Disposable Over Durable

That’s what most fashion is designed to be.

So not only are we consuming more, we’re consuming poorer quality stuff which forces us to consume more when it inevitably wears out in a short period of time. But who cares when a new skirt only costs $10?

Thus the never-ending “replace-don’t-repair” cycle of Fast Fashion is born.

Slow fashion, on the other hand, looks to put an end to this cycle by promoting timeless, well-made designs and versatile wardrobes. But if the clothing consumption figures haven’t convinced you why slow fashion is necessary, hopefully the following points will.

3. Textile Waste 

Numbers 1 and 2 lead to a whole lot of waste, from fabric trimmings to unsold deadstock to the over 15 million tons of clothing Americans throw away each year.

Fashion is a fickle friend, indeed.

And if you thought recycling was the answer, it is sadly far from the solution we need. Textiles as it turns out have one of the poorest recycling rates. 87% ends up in landfills, 64% of which are made of plastic and will never biodegrade. The remaining 13% is either resold or recycled, a percentage that needs to be much much higher.

4. Water Waste

Shocking as all that is, it only gets worse when considering the waste from other manufacturing inputs. 

Water waste is the most notable, especially given it’s a limited, life-sustaining resource. 

The fashion industry is actually the second largest water user, consuming annually an amount equal to 5 million people (about 93 billion cubic meters).

This is thanks largely to its continued reliance on traditional cotton, the world’s thirstiest crop. On average, it takes 700 gallons to make a single cotton t-shirt and 2000 gallons per pair of jeans. No wonder Asia’s Aral Sea, a common source of irrigation water for regional cotton farming, has shrunk 15%

5. Pollution

Chemicals are as synonymous with fashion as Coco Chanel.

At raw material sourcing, there are pesticides and fertilizers; at fabric milling, formaldehyde and heavy metal-rich dyes and plasticizers; and in the finishing stages, carcinogenic PFC water-resistant treatments.

That same cotton t-shirt soaking up so much water? It’s also soaked with 17 teaspoons of chemicals. 

This is why organic and sustainable fabrics are so important.

Not only is fashion consuming the planet’s precious water, but it’s polluting what’s left. This happens at all stages, from factory chemical runoff to microplastics shed from synthetic fibers (like fleece)every time a plastic based garment is washed (which then gets eaten by fish and in turn by us!).

6. The Environment

Collectively considered, it’s hardly a wonder the fashion industry is the second dirtiest industry behind coal and accounts for a whopping 10% of global CO2 emissions. 

For reasons 1-5 along with petroleum fabrics (i.e. nylon and polyester), shipping emissions, and astronomical amounts of methane greenhouse gases rising from those hotel-sized heaps of discarded clothing, fast fashion is putting our planet on the fast track to disaster.

Global warming may be out, darling, but climate change is here to stay on the runway.

Unless we do something about it and start supporting ethical brands trying to make climate change so last season.

7. Human Rights

While the environment is certainly one big cumulative reason to support sustainable fashion brands, we can’t forget about the human side of things.

Lucy Siegal famously wrote, “Fast fashion isn’t free.  Someone, somewhere, is paying.” When it comes to fast fashion, it tends to be a whole lot of someones.

Around 150 million work in connection with the fashion industry across its many stages. Be honest: have you ever thought about how many steps it took to make that t-shirt? The fashion supply chain includes a lotof steps: raw material farming, fabric milling, designing, sewing, packaging, and distributing. 

Along that big, complex chain, things fall between the cracks, resulting in poverty wages, hazardous work conditions, child labor, human trafficking, forced overtime, abuse (verbal, sexual, and physical), and discrimination. All worsened by the fact that fashion usually outsources labor to third world countries with few labor rights and protections in place.

For example, all those chemicals we mentioned above? Imagine the health impact that would have on farmers and fabric processors who are exposed to them day in and day out. In a study on Pakistani cotton pickers, researchers found 61% had related health problems.

Supporting artisans through Ocelot Market provides a key solution in the fight against the fashions industry’s injustices and lack of transparency. They do so by ONLY selling ethical brands that provide detailed descriptions of their supply chain, back up ethical claims with third-party certifications, or both!

FINAL THOUGHTS ON WHY SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL FASHION

All that should have you running from the runway, but don’t take your heels off to make a break for it just yet.

There are other options: that is brands and small-scale artisans (like those supported by Ocelot Market) who are making better choices with more than just profit in mind.

While brands have the responsibility to create a sustainable fashion industry from the inside, as consumers it is our responsibility to demand they do it from the outside.

It’s high time we stopped incentivizing fast fashion and started re-designing our (slow) fashion industry for a better more sustainable future for all.

 

Thank you Joy & Amber from Sustainable Jungle!

Follow their journey: @sustainablejungle & online