How can the fashion industry be more sustainable?

A woman asking,

Wait, I know there are problems with my car and my food, but you’re telling me now I have to be worried about the clothes I wear?

Mmmm, yes, sorry to break the news. But we can fix this.

Ok, hit me with it.

A woman saying,

What do I have to know about the impact of our clothes?

  1. It’s a big part of the climate crisis, somewhere between 4-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  2. About ⅓ of the weight of our clothing is chemicals. And those chemicals are not being well managed, meaning they are ending up in our rivers and oceans.

  3. The dominant fiber type in our clothing today is polyester, a fossil fuel-based plastic that is shedding microplastics all over the world and even in our bodies. 

  4. Apparel is a leading sector in child and forced labor. 

What?! How did it get this way?

It’s a little thing called fast fashion.

A definition of fast fashion: inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass market retailers in response to the latest trends

Think Shein, Boohoo, Zara, H&M...it's a business model populated only in the last twenty years. It introduces thousands of new trends on a continuous basis so that we conceive of clothing as something that should be changed all the time, instead of products to enjoy and get use out of for years.

To get us all those cheap clothes, companies have cut costs and set off a global race to the bottom finding the places where resources — natural and human — could be maximally exploited.

Ugh! Should I feel guilty about all of my purchases?

No, you shouldnt!

A man in a court room wearing a hoody. He gives the peace sign, while jurors behind him hold up

Consider all of the advertising and messaging that you're exposed to that tells you, “Buy me, buy me, buy me!” Social media and the attention economy are built off of advertising dollars with this messaging. So it’s far from entirely your fault. And besides, feeling guilt doesn’t solve anything.

Ok, what's the solution then?

Legislation!

Nancy Pelosi at the US House of representatives. She holds a gavel at the speaker's chair.

Forget the companies pitching you on “sustainable fashion”. They may just be trying to sell you yet another thing. And creating fashion is not growing trees!

Clothing production always has an impact, and at the moment, none of those words are regulated, leaving the term “sustainable fashion” all but meaningless.

Instead, what we can do is to get legislation passed that would require companies to operate in a less impactful way. This is what The Fashion Act is advancing in New York.

It’s like what California did in setting fuel efficiency standards in the auto sector. Like referees updating the rules to clean up a sport, they said that if you want to sell a car in California you must meet these environmental standards from now on. And from that, we have the rise of Tesla and the rest of the industry turning to electric cars.

We can do the same for the fashion industry.

But I’m not a legislator, so can I even do anything?

Yes, you can!

If you want progress to happen, contact your legislators.

Individual outreach matters and can be just the thing to get legislators on board, the bills made into law, and get to solve some of our greatest challenges. 

Look up who your legislators are. Google is very useful for this!

Wherever you are in the world, call them, or if that’s not your jam, email them, or tweet at them. Tell them you're their constituent (ahem, their boss) and that you want to see climate action legislation for the fashion industry.

A woman in a clothing shop dancing. The text reads,

Take Action

A woman dancing to the text

That’s it, world problems solved!

Ok, not exactly...but pressuring legislators to enact sustainable fashion legislation is a step in the right direction towards climate action.

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This Byte has been authored by

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Maxine Bedat

Director, New Standard Institute. Author UNRAVELED