Fashion is the second largest industrial polluter on the planet.
The University of Cambridge’s Centre for Study of Existential Risk (CSER) investigates threats to humanity posed by technology and human activity. At the top of their list, climate change firmly rests as the greatest self created risk to our civilization. Fossil-fueled industry and overconsumption have danced together to create exponential global environmental changes. The top industrial contributor to climate change is intuitive to many—oil. The second is often a surprise: fashion.
Fashion is the second largest industrial polluter on the planet and among the top exploiters of people globally. It’s the second greatest contaminator of the Earth’s freshwater supply. A t-shirt made from conventional cotton requires 2,700 liters of water, or one person’s drinking water for 900 days. The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. A quarter of the chemicals produced in the world are used in textiles.
Microfibers that shed from synthetic clothing account for 85% of the man-made material found along ocean shores, threatening marine wildlife. Annually, 150 billion garments are produced and most end up in landfills. Over 60% of the world’s clothing is manufactured in developing countries. Garment workers—80% of them women aged 18-35—earn as little as $21 a month. Many support their children and families using their wages. Eleven percent of the global population of children are engaged in child labor, many in the garment industry.
The environmental and ethical deterioration caused by fashion is astounding and begs the question: How do we fix it? The good news is that if a problem is manmade, it can be man-solved. Industry follows market trends and won’t become part of the solution unless consumers create demand for sustainability and social impact.
Consumerism must lead fashion out of planetary and ethical degradation. Conscious consumerism is the utilization of personal economics toward brands that entrench environmental and social solutions into their business models. Consumers are the fulcrum in reshaping fashion by creating market demand for businesses to pursue positive impact along with profit.
Conscious consumerism is a burgeoning trend in business and buying. In a Nielsen survey, more than half of online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. However, conscious consumerism needs to flourish more rapidly to meet the pace required to fix our great planetary and humanitarian crises.
Innovations in fabrication and supply chains have created a thriving global community of social and eco-conscious fashion brands that require consumer demand in order to reshape industry. There is a new generation of emerging designers that redefine design. Brands like Indigenous use organic textiles and fair-trade supply chains to support local artisan communities. Indigenous is listed on B-Corporation’s Best of the World List that honors the most socially and environmentally impactful companies in the world.
Sustainable fashion retailers are capitalizing on the fast-growing trend in sustainability while making it easier for consumers to shop. Modavanti is a retailer that allows consumers to shop fashion brands by traits like the use of recycled materials, zero waste, fair trade and more.
Redefining the Value of Style
For these brands and retailers, beauty isn’t merely at face value. It’s sewn into every stage of the garment’s production and supply chain. Sustainable fashion is redefining the value of style and is betting on the conscious consumer to grow in scale and power. Across the world, sustainable fashion brands and retailers have created more options for consumers to vote for the future of our planet. With a simple Google search, consumers can find a slew of ethical and sustainable alternatives for their wardrobe.
Change doesn’t come overnight, but it begins with all of us leveraging our day-to-day clothing purchases to support brands that solve humanity’s struggles. Consumers raise their voices with their wallets and can meaningfully impact climate change via fashion. By expressing an interest in brands that couple design with transparency, ethics and a regard for our environment, we can safeguard our inner and outer humanity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: gregory_lee