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Conscious Clothing Choices

Avoid fleeting fashion fads, and focus instead on long-lasting, eco-friendly attire to combat the waste of the clothing industry.

| November/December 2019

 Photo by Adobe Stock/Roxana Jifcovici

The fashion industry often comes under intense scrutiny for perceived failings in diversity, workers’ rights, and animal welfare. But while we focus on these issues, we often overlook an equally important problem: fashion’s environmental impact. The clothing and textile industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. Not only does it contribute 10 percent of total global carbon emissions, but also a whopping 20 percent of global wastewater. (It takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to produce just over 2 pounds of cotton — enough for a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.) And that’s not to mention the approximately 15 percent of manufactured fabric that’s left on the cutting room floor.

Worse, it’s not only clothing production that causes waste. Per person, consumers throw away an average of 70 pounds of shoes and clothing annually, 95 percent of which could be recycled instead. And the retailers? In July 2018, Burberry admitted to burning $40 million in unsold clothes, accessories, and perfume instead of selling it off at a cheaper price, in order to protect the brand’s exclusivity and value. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 10.5 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2015, the most recent data available. Even designers of eco-friendly and vegetarian labels, such as Stella McCartney — who famously shot a 2017 fashion campaign in a Scottish landfill to highlight the issues of consumer culture and waste — can’t counteract that alone.

The Factory Defect

The level of waste apparent across the fashion industry can be traced almost directly back to the emergence of our modern-day idea of “fast fashion,” in which new trends move rapidly from catwalk to closet. Until the mid-1900s, most shoppers bought clothing in small quantities from large department stores that sourced apparel from manufacturers. But alongside the emergence of textile mills and factories in developing nations, such as China, in the 1970s retailers realized they could control their own manufacturing and distribution processes at a fraction of previous costs, allowing larger orders to be placed and larger shipments to be made.

Photo by Getty Images/zoranm

Today, computer technology and outsourced production have brought clothing prices down to a level that would’ve been unthinkable a mere 50 years ago. This mass-produced clothing also means that brands can release many changing styles for new fashion “seasons” more frequently throughout the year, enticing buyers with the latest and greatest in fashion-forward attire, even if that fashion only lasts a month. Its affordability means shoppers don’t have qualms about purchasing a garment they plan to wear just once or twice before losing it to their closet, or, more harmfully, disposing of it completely.

10/10/2019 9:23:35 AM

Note than line drying your clothes helps make them last at least twice as long, as opposed to using a clothes dryer. Plus you will save electricity.

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