By Courtney Jones & Morgan Ginn
The culture of the fashion industry today is a “wear once and throw it away” culture. We buy things to say something about who we are, to speak for us. And although we seem to know a lot about what the clothes we wear are saying about us, we don’t seem to know a lot about the impact they are having on our environment.
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. Let that sink in. Fashion is the second biggest polluting industry, only next to oil. Oil people! Damn.
This may come as a shock, and the big reason for that is we cannot see the effects of our consumerism first-hand. 98% of the clothing we purchase in the United States is made abroad, leaving only 2% that is actually made in the states. Because of this we aren’t seeing the consequences of our consumerism. This is why there is a dire need in our world for transparency.
Have you ever thought about the environmental impact that goes into making just one article of clothing? The pair of jeans you are wearing right now most likely used 3,625 liters of water, 3 kilos of chemicals, 13 square meters of land to grow the cotton, and 400 mega joules of energy ,which is similar to keeping a light bulb on for 116 days. We just hit you with a lot of numbers so maybe read that one more time to fully take in how much of our resources we use for clothing. Got a handle on it? Well it doesn’t seem to matter because, after all that, the United States throws away 1 million tons of materials annually. The fashion industry’s current footprint is unsustainable. We must change our ways to consume less and make things last longer. We must learn how to add value.
We’re all guilty of buying clothing, letting it sit in our closet, letting in stack up, never/barely wearing it, and then doing a mass clean out and throwing it all into garbage bags to be transported to a landfill somewhere.
We have to start giving a damn about the impacts that our clothing is having on our Earth from the very beginning stages of production to the end of its lifecycle.
We can begin to add value through increasing the quality of our clothing which starts with the materials used to make our clothes. Due to the high demand of fast fashion, natural fibers have been replaced with synthetic ones. These materials hurt our environment. For example, Polyester, one of the most common materials used to make our clothing, is made from petroleum. Just think about that sitting on your skin for a moment.
These materials not only hurt the environment but also the farmers and communities in which these materials are grown. The pesticides used in cotton farming are extremely toxic. In fact, 3 million people are poisoned by pesticides every year. If you don’t consider yourself an environmentalist what about a humanitarian? Cotton farming is linked to cancer in farmers in the US and in India, farmers are committing suicide at a higher rate because of debt caused by the price of cotton seeds and pesticides. (The True Cost documentary gives a really good look at this, and honestly if you haven’t already watched it, we highly recommend.)
Why would farmers, those who are most dependent on natural resources, be willing to harm their land? Well wouldn’t you if it was between that and wondering where your child’s next meal was going to come from. Farmers and factory workers are paid criminally low wages. The same industry that is keeping so many of the world’s people poor is also destroying the environment. We have to support organic farming which means paying a little bit more for quality, fairtrade, and organic goods that are going to last.
Through supporting fairtrade, organic, and second-hand clothing you are making a difference. There are always critics who would like to tell you otherwise but don’t listen to the haters, these are likely the same people who don’t believe in climate change *insert eye roll*. This is our only livable planet, we have to take care of it.
As we have said before, the road to conscious consumerism is a journey and we’re all on it. Over the month of July we are going to explore steps we can take to reduce our footprint and consume more consciously. We will also be introducing you to some companies that are making fab products while also taking care of our earth. Over the next two months we’ll also dive into how the fashion industry not only affects our earth but also our air and water supply.
Take this short footprint calculator to see how many planets it would take to support everyone that lived a lifestyle like yours. While it does not specifically focus on clothing, it is important to be aware of how our actions in all aspects of life are affecting the planet. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/resources/footprint-calculator/
And as always, we are not experts by any means, so here are some resources that helped us write this piece, make sure to check them out!