Mention fashion and the environment in the same sentence and images of scantily clad models, running through fields and rivers, laughing, as they kick up water, spring into my mind. The clothing they are advertising billowing sexily behind them, encouraging you to dress up and join in with their high jinx.
But black smoke billowing from factories in the far east does not. According to Eileen Fisher, fashion is the second dirtiest industry in the world, behind oil.
Behind the fashionable facade
You see fashion is nothing but a long supply chain: starting with the raw materials, and the transportation of said materials and ending with the gorgeous couture that you see sweeping up and down the runways, of the world’s most fashionable cities, twice a year.
And let’s not forget about disposable fashion, which cheap brands are encouraging consumers to embrace. The reason fashion is one of the dirtiest industries is the carbon footprint that it leaves in its wake. And I’m including the pesticides used on the cotton farms to grow the cotton and the toxic dyes used to color materials here too.
So what is being done about it?
The fashionistas changing fashion
Designers such as Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren are leading the charge and encouraging change in the fashion industry, with smaller brands such as Study NY, following suit, keen to make fashion, not waste.
The only way any reasonable change in the cycle is going to be brought about is if consumers start demanding it. But that leads to a catch-22 because we consumers also want to look good. And if clothing options aren’t available which are both sustainable and fashionable, which way do our values then fall?
The clothing industry is estimated to be worth a whopping $3 trillion. And has been the reason why so many once third world countries are now building strong economies, for example, China, Bangladesh, and India.
The clothing industry has been vital to these countries and without it, they would still be struggling to break through. But with every cloud having a silver lining, so the opposite is true. In encouraging these nations to grow and prosper, we have inadvertently allowed our environment to bear the brunt of their development.
So what is the solution?
We can choose to make alternative choices, such as wearing clothes for longer and choosing quality over quantity. We can buy local and eschew cheaper, imported options. We can shop for second-hand clothes and breathe a new lease of life into a pre-loved garment. And we can opt to wear sustainable fabrics, such as organic cotton and organic linen, over man-made fabrics.
Change is possible in the fashion world, and if each of us plays our part, the cumulative effort will make a positive impact on the environment. Through our clothing choices, we can bring about a better life for the animals who are negatively impacted, for the humans who have to work in the supply chain and for our earth which bears the brunt of our decisions.
Fashion is beautiful on the outside, it should be beautiful on the inside too.