Aligning Fashion with Environmental Issues – The Santa Clara

The adoption of sustainable practices is necessary for the future of fashion

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to escalate, environmental issues are becoming a dire problem. In learning to cut down and be mindful with the resources we consume, attention needs to be paid to the clothing we wear, and how it is produced and resourced.

Our clothing is a stunningly superficial, yet paradoxically deep marker of ourselves. Although some may disregard it as mere decoration, it speaks volume to who we are as people, our interests, our cultural identities and the practices we choose to endorse.

The Internet-based fashion world of today requires us to evolve constantly to stay on trend. Considering social pressure and the need to make a statement it can be hard not to lean into consumer culture. In fact, the garment industry is the second-most polluting industry, second only to Big Oil. Evidently, our insatiable need to constantly buy new clothes can cause problematic repercussions on the environment.

What stands to threaten our environment with the consumer culture of the fashion industry?

The internet has created a launching pad for the industrialization and globalization of the garment industry, and made a niche for fast fashion brands in the retail market. Fast fashion brands are retail stores that sell inexpensive clothing at rapid rates to meet the demands of the cycling trends, including Fashion Nova, Shein, Zara and H&M.

While this type of clothing may seem alluring to young audiences yearning to fit with the current trends, the clothing sold on these sites is often in poor condition and made with synthetic fabrics. These synthetic fibers include polyester, nylon and rayon unlike typical natural fibers, these take a long time to degrade.

Another issue arising with fast fashion retailers is that they mainly operate in developing countries where the minimum wage to produce these garments is set at a fraction of the wages made in more developed countries. In addition, the conditions of these manufacturing plants are often unsuitable places to work in, with many workers conditioned to work extensive hours to meet the demands of consumers. Clearly, the organization of fast fashion brands generates environmental issues which intersect with social justice issues.

By buying from fast fashion brands, we are endorsing exploitative and harmful environmental practices.

Instead of opting to buy affordable clothing from fast fashion retailers, a better option may lie in thrifting. Thrift stores sell clothing without adding additional waste into the environment by relying on clothing of other consumers. Buying from such stores breeds cyclical rather than linear production of clothing. Furthermore, as trends often cycle, it is easy to find clothing that matches both old and current trends at affordable prices.

If one prefers only to buy new clothes, there are retailers that are starting to create sustainable clothing, said to be produced with ecological integrity and social justice in mind. While high end brands such as Gucci, Chloe and Stella McCartney are at the forefront of the sustainable fashion movement, mid-range brands such as Levi’s, Everlane and Uniqlo have also made strides towards sustainable fashion.

Although some clothing brands may advertise themselves as sustainable, it is necessary for consumers to be able to recognize truly sustainable practices. Customers can make tactful choices by investigating where the materials come from and where the garments are produced. Clothing made from waste fabrics, recyclable fabrics or biodegradable fabrics are considered sustainable, as they do not add additional waste to the environment.

Sources like the Fashion Transparency Index (released annually) and sites such as Rank a Brand and Environmental Working Group provide information on which brands have made sustainable initiatives and where consumers should be shopping for sustainable clothing.

In the enduring mission to mitigate greenhouse gasses and consumption, consumers have the power to save the environment by adopting sustainable practices.

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