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Fashion Should Not Cost the Earth

Daniela Hernandez-Camacho


Image via EcoWatch.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the fashion industry is the second biggest consumer of water and is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions. This represents more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

Our addiction to consumption will eventually cost us the planet. Fast fashion is now an important political issue that everyone should be aware of. However, boycotting Forever 21 will not be enough to solve the problem. This industry has grown exponentially in the past few years. We, the youth –their target market –, are responsible for being aware of the terrible harm done by fast fashion companies and the consequences of our spending.

The more you want, the more you waste

We all love shopping, at least a little. Everyone wants the newest trendy clothes at the cheapest prices. New season, new styles, buy more, buy cheap, move on, and throw away: this is the pattern that society enforces on us. We also know that the expense isn’t always the best option. However, we need to acknowledge and understand the consequences of our human addiction to shopping.

It has been revealed in recent years that some fast fashion companies are guilty of throwing out and destroying clothes that were not sold. As the UN Environment Programme says: “The annual Black Friday sales on 25 November are a reminder of the need to rethink what is bought, what is thrown away, and what it costs the planet.”

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UNEP partner, also found that a truckload of abandoned textiles (whether they are defective or unsold) is dumped somewhere randomly or burned every second. According to The Salvation Army Thrift Store, they diverted almost 80 million pounds of textiles from local landfills this year. It is also estimated that people are buying 60% more clothes than before the fast fashion boom and are wearing them for shorter periods of time (i.e., even less than their planned obsolescence). So, the next time a fast fashion monster company claims they are eco-friendly, ask yourself first: “Are they as perfect as they seem?”

The repercussion on low-income countries

Whether in factories in a well-developed country or in a low-income country, big companies always manage to bypass laws – and the fast fashion industry is no exception. A perfect example of this issue is Made in Bangladesh, a Fifth Estate documentary by CBC News that brought the working conditions of textile workers in that country to daylight. 1100 lives were lost when a Joe Fresh factory in Bangladesh collapsed on underage, overworked factory workers. Similar situations have happened all over the world, but this particular event caught the attention of the media, and it stirred up controversy.

Yet, here we are, 8 years after this incident, and no one seems to care or remember. The fact that this accident could have been prevented makes it really important and hurtful. Not only is the workplace environment a safety hazard for workers, but they are also not paid minimum wage.

According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, the factory workers producing H&M’s clothing retail make on average 750 kr (Swedish krona, CAD $86) monthly. However, the living wage in Bangladesh is almost triple that, at 2083 kr ($239) per month. Fast fashion factories have the power, money, and control to do what they want. How can they have it? We, as consumers, give them the power to continue mistreating workers for our insatiable consumption.

What can YOU do?

Reading all of this can be overwhelming, but YOU have the power to change this destructive behaviour. How can you become the most environmentally friendly version of yourself?

Firstly, the greatest impact you can have on the environment as an individual is to reduce your clothing purchases. Before buying something, ask yourself, “Will I wear this item more than 30 times?” If not, do a favour to the environment (and your bank account), and walk away.

Secondly, shopping at thrift stores more often is an affordable and environmentally friendly option that almost everyone can do. If your excuse is that you don’t like to wear other people’s stuff, well, you have a laundry machine, so throw it in there and wash it.

Thirdly, donate as many textiles as you can! Even personal items like towels, women’s bras, and socks are needed everywhere. This will ensure that textiles are separated into their appropriate waste streams instead of ending up straight in the landfill.

Lastly, wash your clothes in cold water and line dry as much as possible. Ayesha Barenblat, CEO of Remake, a global advocacy organization fighting for fair pay and climate justice within the clothing industry, said, “Microplastics are entering our soil and water through the way we wash our clothes.”



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