Scrolling through social media, my feed is filled with posts about sustainable fashion. Yet amidst the headlines, it can be difficult to break down the issue. What does sustainable fashion mean and why should we care? After oil, the fast fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter. Fast fashion stores include Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters, and Topshop. These stores release new designs every two weeks that are often made unethically through an unsustainable supply chain. Fast fashion culture has largely been pushed by marketers convincing consumers that they need a new outfit for every occasion and social media post. It’s easy to introduce a new trend and watch it rapidly and organically grow, only to introduce something new a month later.
Yet the numbers of the fast fashion industry are terrifying. The average t-shirt uses upwards of 600 gallons to produce and 1,600 chemicals in the dyeing process. Moreover, a t-shirt often travels up to 3,500 kilometers before it lands in the hands of a consumer. We consume 400 per cent more clothing today than we did 20 years ago. Not only is fast fashion hurting our environment, but it’s hurting people. Workers in Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh are forced to handle highly toxic dyes, placing them in severe health risks. In the process, the toxins used in the dyeing process pollute the sole drinking water source for millions.
While the facts are startling, there is much opportuning for reformation in the industry. However, permanent change involves a transformation of the entire supply chain process including the types of fabrics used, the type of dyes used, practices within factories, and the transportation process. Examples of sustainable fabrics include cotton, hemp, linine. Such fabrics grow naturally and decompose at a rapid rate. Other fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and spandex can take up to 200 years to decompose.
Much progress has been made. Innovate technologies are being introduced to recycle and biofabricate organic materials. Likewise the consignment market is estimated to reach $64 billion dollars by 2030. Yet sustainable fashion is expensive and the average consumer can’t afford a $200 t-shirt. Fast fashion retailers are able to manufacture t-shirts for $5 and while they may not last as long, they are affordable. Fast fashion companies are continuing to grow, and the global fashion economy is speeding to the point that it is cancelling out the progress being made on the sustainability front. These fast fashion companies need to be held accountable for their unethical practices. This involves more mindful purchases from consumers, as well as holding our government accountable to implement environmental and working standards.
As a whole, the fashion industry will require much change in the coming years in order to be an inclusive, ethical, and sustainable place. Sustainable fashion starts with us, the consumers, and it’s evident that there’s much we can do to illicit the progress we want and ensure a habitable planet for future generations.