It is widely accepted that how we dress can have a major impact on how we feel about ourselves and the way others perceive us. Less commonly acknowledged are the effects our sartorial choices have on the environment. Second only to fossil fuels as the largest global polluter, the fashion industry is responsible for nearly 20 percent of global industrial water pollution due to its printing, dyeing, and bleaching processes. This pollution can lead to sickness, disease, infections, deformities, and even death among aquatic life. Moreover, the rise of disposable clothing—cheap, mass-produced garments meant to last only until the next trend emerges—has led to 11 million tons of textile waste in the US alone. This waste often ends up in landfills in poor areas of the world, where, depending on what it’s made from, it may never decompose.
Fortunately, some major fashion brands are producing more environmentally responsible clothing. Companies such as ColorZen, AirDye, and Adidas use waterless or near-waterless dyeing technologies. Compared to other companies, ColorZen can finish cotton fabric using 90 percent less water and 75 percent less energy. San Francisco-based apparel brand ODO has a line of t-shirts and jeans that never need to be washed, saving approximately 7,200 glasses of water per garment per year (this was achieved by weaving stain repellents into the jeans as well as a small amount of silver, which has antibacterial properties). Brands such as Adidas, Nike, and Patagonia have also begun creating clothing using plastics gathered from the ocean.
Still, there is much work to be done until ethical fashion becomes standard in the industry. In the meantime, there are steps we can take as fashion consumers to help protect the environment. Become a leader of change: challenge yourself to be stylish and sustainable!
- Buy local. When you purchase domestically made clothing, you diminish the carbon footprint that comes with distribution and also support the local economy. A report from Moody’s Analytics found that if US consumers spent just an additional 1 percent on US-produced goods, it would create 200,000 jobs.
- Check the label. Opt for garments made out of biodegradable fibers such as wool and hemp. These clothes break down faster and thus have a reduced impact on landfills, whereas garments made from synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon can take up to 40 years to decompose.
- Choose quality over quantity. We are more likely to discard cheap, mass-produced items than expensive ones. Rather than spend your money on a wardrobe of disposable clothing, invest in a few timeless, high-quality garments that will last you for years to come.