Let’s recount what we went through during just the past 5 years – a pandemic, wildfires, storms, earthquakes, and soaring temperatures; and not to forget, a climate report that signaled ‘code red for humanity’. Our way of living has been causing unprecedented and irreversible damage to the earth, mostly because we live as though we have unlimited resources. This is far from true. A mind-boggling 100 billion clothing items are produced annually. Overproduction and overconsumption are leading to a rapid decline in our earth’s natural resources. So what role can sustainable fashion play in the larger scheme of things?
What exactly is fast fashion?
Think Zara, H&M, Forever21, and other such brands. Fast fashion can be defined as trendy, cheap clothing that takes ideas from current runway trends and produces clothing at a breakneck speed. As per Earth.org, clothing sales doubled from 100 to 200 billion units a year, while the average number of times an item was worn decreased by 36% overall. It also propagates the idea that an outfit shouldn’t be repeated, so people tend to discard their clothes only after a few wears and they end up in a landfill somewhere. It creates a constant sense of need to stay on top of changing trends.
How does fast fashion harm the planet?
Fast fashion players are pressured to reduce costs and increase turnaround time by speeding up production. This often comes at the cost of ethical and sustainable practices. The industry produces over 92 million tonnes of waste per year. Often, they use cheap, toxic textile dyes that make the fashion industry one of the largest polluters of clean waters. According to the UN Environment Programme, 20% of global wastewater comes from textile dyeing. Apart from this, polyester is the most used which is made from fossil fuels, which further contribute to pollution. Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, says Forbes, and each clothing item takes 200 years to decompose. In fact, fast fashion is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions annually. Even “organic” fabrics aren’t harmless. Cotton is an extremely water-intensive plant. Most of the cotton growers are from developing countries and the demand for this fabric places an enormous burden on the country’s water system.
To keep costs low, these companies employ workers for extremely low wages and oftentimes in dangerous environments. In a Garment Worker Diaries study conducted in April 2020, only 3% of Bangladeshi garment workers said they were eating an adequate amount of food. This often comes with exposure to toxic chemicals which coupled with long hours can have catastrophic effects on their physical and mental health. They may also employ children.
Sustainable fashion is the future
To preserve the world and undo years of damage, we need to stop mindless consumerism and demand better from the fashion industry. Here are a few ways you can lead a more sustainable yet fashionable lifestyle and give more to the cause:
Need, not want
The most sustainable decision for this cause is to not buy clothes that you don’t need. Instead, repair your existing clothes and take better care of them so that they last longer. Did you know that washing clothes release over half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean each year? Wash your clothes less often and save water, and preserve your clothes for longer – win win! You can also upcycle your old clothing items and make something entirely new.
Borrow or rent
Have a big occasion coming up? Instead of buying a fancy new outfit that you will wear only once, borrow from a friend or rent it!
Three out of five fast fashion items end up in a landfill, says Clean Clothes Campaign. Thrifting is fun – and sustainable! Go to online thrift shops and buy pre-loved or vintage clothing that you can get at throwaway prices! A good way to know if you’re actually buying second-hand is to do a thorough check. Often with cheaply made clothes or fast fashion that’s simply being resold, you can tell if it was mass-produced because the stitching will be undone after wearing it a couple of times. The material will feel flimsy and the tags may still be intact. A true thrift item may have obvious signs of wear but should still be in wearable condition. If you have clothes that are still in good condition but no longer fit you (or you’ve grown bored of), give them up to thrift stores or donate them to those who need them. Some online stores thrift stores that ship all over India you can check out are Lulu Thrift , and Allure Thrift Closet, and Panda Picked Store.
Jeans are too frayed to wear? Cut them off to make shorts. Is your favorite cotton t-shirt too far gone? Make rags to wipe off spills. Are too many old t-shirts gathering up? Make a fun DIY project and make your very own personalized quilt!
And if you do need to buy…
Do your research and buy the best quality that you can afford. Purchase staple pieces that are always in fashion, and build your wardrobe using them. For example, a white shirt, blue jeans, or a well-fitted blazer. Buy from companies that are transparent about where they source their materials from, how they minimize the impact on the environment, and if they have Fair Trade policies in place. A few brands in India that produce sustainable clothing are No Nasties, Nicobar, Cotton Cottage, Okhai, and Upasana.
According to Ellen McArthur Foundation, by 2050, the fashion industry could be responsible for 26% of the world’s total carbon emissions. Sustainable fashion cannot be a fad or a passing trend but the need of the hour if we’re to save the earth.