Fast fashion is just one aspect of a suffocating amount of factors that can often make it feel like we have no influence as individuals to better the planet. We try to mitigate our carbon footprint with a series of small changes, but what could we be doing when governments and billion-dollar corporations still aren’t on board?
If you’re like me, particularly in times like now-just after the UN Climate Action Summit and international climate strikes-you feel eco-anxiety on a regular basis. I want to help, but how do I tackle these issues as just one person? I have good news, I think. This effort feels like something we might actually be able to control, with one of the greatest powers bestowed upon us as individuals: Consumer behavior.
There are a few things you should know. First, fast fashion is the high volume/low price model that mass-market retailers like Forever 21 and Zara use to turn out trendy clothes for instant consumption and usually near-instant dumpster habitation. Second, though this is wildly convenient, the fashion industry does serious harm to the planet.
Fashion is a monster industry. About 80 billion garments are purchased each year, a number only projected to grow, and clothing sales grew by five times in the past 25 years. Fashion retailers and manufacturers, who use a quarter of all chemicals produced worldwide, are one of the biggest water wasters in the world and kill 50 million animals annually for leather, a number frightening not just for animal lovers but for people who understand animals are an integral part of the environment. These statistics come from several major publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.
Aside from the sheer enormity of the industry, its internal practices and the style of consumption, it fuels spell trouble for the planet as well. In the United States, the average garment is worn only seven times and then thrown away (only about 1% are recycled), according to the LA Times. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions, a share worth more than that of all international flights and sea shipments combined. Also, at least 60% of fabrics are synthetic, meaning they don’t decay when they end up in our landfills. The massive volumes produced by fast fashion creates a major leftover problem too: A fifth of the 100 billion items produced yearly never sell and end up buried or incinerated. These numbers originate from numerous major outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and the New York Times.
Don’t give up and pack your bags quite yet, though. Recent trends are showing cultural changes that may promise a future without the consumption frenzy of today. In Sweden, the home country of Greta Thunberg, a new word “köpskam” has developed to convey “shame of buying.” It refers to the responsibility of overconsuming items that take a toll on the environment. CEO of HUI Research Jonas Arnberg believes it’s “only a matter of time before the term becomes a widespread concept,” according to Business Insider. We’ll see about the timeliness of the United States’ cultural response, but countries like Sweden have already seen an increase in second-hand clothing sales, particularly among the younger population.
A few paragraphs ago, I said that within the daunting mound of things killing our planet, harmful fashion practices and habits might be one thing we can change. So, what is it we can do? For one, and trust me, I hate this more than you do, don’t buy as much. Buy garments that are sustainable (check out Good on You) to look at certain brands). Take care of the pieces you already own, borrow from friends, rent for special occasion outfits and check out resources like the Fashion Transparency Index.
As is too often the case, the problem is not the lack of options we have to consume responsibly or the lack of drive from changemakers, it is just how ill-informed most of us are. So, keep up to date with ways you can limit your consumption, get creative with what you have and be weary of the tempting world of fast fashion that is, truly, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Mia Flynn is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.