Sustainable Style #2: Facing Reality

The amount of pain and environmental damage the clothing industry has caused is absolutely devastating. I will admit that writing this post has been an upsetting experience so far. It has made me realize just how terrible parts of the industry are and it has shown me just how much I need to change my own ways. I will continue to see fashion and clothing as a way of expressing myself but I think there is a better way to accomplish what I want (a better way to interact with the industry). Many of us go through life relatively unaffected my the negative impacts the fashion industry can have. This often allows us to turn a blind eye to what is really going on. The most important thing we can do is recognize issues and begin to match our behavior to our beliefs.  

The fashion industry produces 4% of the world’s waste.

One garbage truck full of clothing is burned or sent to landfill every second.

Every year the average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste.

The minimum wage for factory workers in Bangladesh is $64.

Burberry burned $40 million dollars worth of stock in 2017.

The documentary that kept coming up in my research of the fashion industry and sustainability was True Cost (on Amazon Prime right now). It is from 2015 so I can’t believe I haven’t seen it yet but I am glad I found it now. It covers a lot of ground and gives a good overall picture of the entire industry and who is impacted. It speaks to the recent move to fast fashion, from a four season turnover to constantly changing trends. As a side note, if you are not familiar with the term ‘fast fashion’ it refers to brands that are producing large amounts of clothing and selling them for low prices. The turnover for these brands is very quick since they are built on constantly creating new trends so people will continue to buy their products. The documentary also cover factory workers and how they are treated. This has received more and more attention but the working conditions of some factors are unacceptable. No one I know would want to work in such conditions, or have their children work is such conditions, therefore it is unacceptable to allow any company to permit these standards.  The film goes all the way down to the cotton industry and how fertilizers of such farms impact people.

This documentary gives a clear picture of the dangers of the industry for people. It also interviews some people who are really trying to do a good job in the industry. People who care about other people and who care about the environment. I overall highly recommend watching it! I will give a warning that this documentary shows real footage that is very graphic.

I will do a more detailed post in the future about clothing waste and how we can best go about reusing and recycling what we have but while I was researching for this I found out some things about the waste in the industry that I just had to share. Fashion houses engage in a practice of burning unsold stock. This completely appalls me, I almost have no words and I truly had no idea about this practice prior to writing this. I know that massive amounts of clothing end up in landfills every year, even from the things we donate. The waste part if the fashion industry is a huge problem and very multifaceted. We often don’t think about the waste that is generated when producing each item of clothing. That should factor in to the overall environmental cost of an item and of a company.

It is so important to first recognize that there is an issue and then focus on remedying that. I believe that companies (especially the big ones) have a responsibility to consumers, workers and to the environment. That responsibility should include both short term and long term goals toward better practices. I know that, for a company, the problems are much more complex since a priority for most is economic success. The issue is that I see economic success as a short term, immediate reward. Companies may have strategies for the next however many years that involved growth and increase in total revenue but there is a lack of vision when it comes to potential environmental or social issues. There will be no revenue for a clothing company if our planet falls apart. This sounds extreme but as a scientist and researcher I have witness many environmental issues first hand and I know just how devastating an impact humans can have on the world. It is all a circle because damaging the environment will also have negative impacts on our standards of living.

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 11.32.26 PM
From the Global Fashion Agenda 2018 Pulse Report: Four Transformational Priorities for Fundamental Change

I want to end with some final, tangible takeaways.

Buy less and buy better. I have been trying to achieve this throughout the past year but it has become so clear to me that I need to hold myself to a much higher standard and really stick to that.

Eliminate waste. I have been going through my closet recently as a part of this journey to made a more eco-conscious closet and while researching waste and what happens to clothing once donated I realized that I need to try my best not to throw away. Instead I need to find new uses for things.

Advocate for a better industry. For a few years now I have let myself believe that not causing conflict was best for my own interest and journey. I used to be very vocally passionate about multiple issues and have been criticized for that. Learning about the true issues with this industry have reminded me of how important it is to speak up and advocate for what you believe in. Change happens through awareness.

Facts and information come from the following sources:

Global Fashion Agenda 2018 Pulse Report

True Cost Documentary

Forbes article: Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret

The New York Times on H&M’s Declining Sales

Reuters Article on Burberry Burning Stock

By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of “Fast Fashion”

The Fashion Law on Bangladeshi Garment Workers

Planet Aid Article on Clothing Habits

I would really love to hear your thoughts on this subject. It can be a tough one to deal with but hearing multiple opinions is a helpful way of looking at things. Thanks for reading!

Erin

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