Shopping is second nature to me; I’ve loved fashion for as long as I can remember. My closet is a like a home to me; it’s a way to express myself and find joy in something as simple as a perfect pair of jeans. Like many of us at Tulane, I think it’s fair to say that style is not only a passion, but a way of life. But this passion for fashion comes at a cost.
Fast fashion is the mass-production of cheap, disposable clothing. This means that the quality of our clothes is declining, and as a result they don’t last long. With countless new collections released each year, we feel constantly out of date. In trying to keep up with trends, we are encouraged to keep buying more.
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. As the industry grows, the environmental damage increases, with production, manufacturing, and transportation accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions. The industry’s environmental impact includes water pollution, with untreated toxic waste waters from textile factories dumped directly into rivers, the use of fertilizers for cotton production accounting for 20,000 deaths of cancer and miscarriages a year, and around 700,000 individual microfibers, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors from washing clothing made of synthetic material (polyester, nylon, etc.) being released into our oceans, eventually reaching our food chain. These substances, which should be banned but currently aren’t, are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of millions of people who rely on major water sources. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe.
Additionally, extreme water consumption (20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton), overgrazing of pastures for cashmere and wool, soil degradation from fertilizers, rainforest deforestation caused by wood-based fibers (rayon, viscose, etc.) and coal-powered countries like China, Bangladesh, and India are supported by fast fashion. This extreme stress put on the environment not only contributes to climate change but also presents a major threat to global food and water security.
To make matters worse, the fashion industry also presents major human rights violations with unsafe working conditions, as well as working hours from 14 to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, totaling to 96 hours per week. Not to mention child labor is abundant in the industry with 168 million children in the world forced to work.
So how can we change this? Or, at least, not be part of the problem? The first step is building awareness and having the will to change. One of the most significant changes we can make is buying less. However, when we do go shopping, we should buy better quality clothes from sustainable brands, made of natural materials (linen), semi-synthetic, and recycled fibers, and produced in countries with stricter environmental regulations and powered by more renewable energy. The next step is to think twice before throwing out clothes. Instead of having them pile up in the landfill, donate your clothes to your friends, family, neighbors, textile recycling bins, or to charity.
We don’t have to compromise our sense of style to make a difference. As the effects of the fashion industry are becoming apparent, more people are turning to resale, consignment, and thrift stores for their fashion needs with unique pieces at prices much lower than retail value. Renting clothing from companies like Rent The Runway is becoming a huge trend in the age of sustainability. Conscious collections are also offered by some major brands like ZARA and H&M, but it’s important to be wary of the intentions of these collections.
While consignment and resale companies promote reusing goods, they also leave out important steps in changing the way we look at our economy and truly giving our clothing the happiest, longest life possible. In a linear economy, our items follow the cycle of take, make, use, dispose, pollute; the lifespan of a garment is very short and wasteful. Whereas in a circular economy, items follow the cycle of make, use, reuse, remake, recycle, and then starting the cycle over again. The best way to support the circular economy and prolong the life of our clothing is to try to repair or redesign them.
Upcycling or refashioning an outdated piece of clothing and turning it into a contemporary item is a great way to make your closet one-of-a-kind. Companies like COUTUREDossier provide refashion services to both clothing and handbags as a way to give new life to vintage pieces, supporting the circular economy and saying no to fast fashion. Ahead of the sustainability movement since 2010, COUTUREDossier will redesign your dated garments creating trendy and chic, modern outfits.
It is important, however, to understand that many people don’t have the resources or money to spend on sustainable fashion all the time. But for those of us at Tulane who can afford to be conscientious shoppers, we should take advantage of this new movement in fashion. As we think more about helping the planet and being more conscious of our habits’ effect on the environment it’s important for us to look to these new forms of fashion as a trend that will always be in style.
Cover Photo: Good Housekeeping