Magazine — 08.02.21
Sustainable Fashion: What’s The Deal?
Words ASHLEY HAJIMIRSADEGHI
Sustainable fashion. The word “sustainability” has had a big splash in the industry late, one that has companies scrambling to their corporate responsibility executives and demanding both internal and external change to the way things were quote-on-quote “always done.” But what exactly is it, and what constitutes falling under this umbrella of being eco-friendly?
Sustainable fashion often falls under the category of apparel such as garments, shoes, and accessories, that specifically incorporate ethical and environmentally friendly practices during every step of their lifespan. From the time the cotton is picked in the field, to the manufacturing of the garment, to shipping and marketing, everyone involved in the process is paid a fair, equal wage, and the processes used to make and ship the product to the consumer are intended to produce the most minimal harm to the environment.
While some brands have taken the step up to commit to more sustainable and ethical practices, other brands are guilty of greenwashing. Put simply, it is where companies are broadcasting their environmentally sound practices which are in fact false and superficial. One such way is companies paying for advertisements that depict the brand as environmentally friendly and, in a nutshell, quite revolutionary from their previous image. Notably, several key players in fashion are actually quite guilty of greenwashing: H&M, Uniqlo, and Lululemon.
H&M, which runs a conscious line, cannot be sustainable with the sheer amount of product produced. It takes 20,000 liters of water to produce a single t-shirt and pair of jeans. There’s another big problem with the H&M recycling program: CBC Canada discovered that the clothing isn’t actually recycled. H&M boasts through their advertisements that whenever clothing is recycled through their program, it gets repurposed into a new garment. However, the process of repurposing a garment is actually very expensive, as it requires more technical skills, nor can certain textiles just be broken down. Thus, constructing a garment is cheaper. Much cheaper. So what does H&M do with these clothing items?
Like charity shops and thrift stores often do with excess merchandise, products are shipped across waters to Africa. The second-hand clothing is then resold for a profit, which then, in turn, helps decimate the local garment industries as buyers now seek cheap overseas brands. Ghana, which receives most of its second-hand clothing from the UK, has a thirty-foot high mountain of rotting, discarded clothing. A large proportion of what was attempted to be sold on the second-hand market cannot be resold, due to the quality and upkeep of the clothing being subpar. It’s lived past its lifecycle.
As there have been some scandalous discoveries, brands which have positioned themselves as sustainable from their roots are guilty of greenwashing.
Why, do you ask? Because the problem isn’t the industry itself. It’s consumption.
In a calendar year, it is estimated that globally consumers are buying roughly 80 billion articles of clothing and that the vast majority of these items are seen as disposable. In 2013, in just the United States alone, Americans managed to produce 15.1 million pounds of textile waste, and almost all of it ended up in a landfill. By viewing the nature of these clothes as disposable, it creates a dangerous scenario, one that we’re currently living in: instead of mountains, we will soon have landfills full of clothing.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, one of the pillars they advocate for is sustainable consumption. They say the rate of goods we are consuming exceeds the planet’s natural resources, and that this in turn is causing a pollution/ waste crisis, further pressuring available resources. This then triggers a socioeconomic crisis, as it helps further exploit the lower class whilst making the rich richer, along with exacerbating the issue of unequal resource allocation.
A common argument voiced is that sustainable, ethical brands that are transparent with their supply chains and sourcing are too expensive. Or that shopping in thrift stores or charity shops similarly, comes at a high cost. But a key thing to remember is that we don’t truly need a closet full of every new passing trend, or five different variations of a black dress. By making more mindful, sustainable decisions and being aware of your consumption, not only are you helping to protect the environment, but you’re also choosing pieces that you genuinely and wholeheartedly love.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is is a writer and artist based in Baltimore and New York City. Her work often deals with intergenerational trauma, utilizing cinema from a cultural, sociological, and socioeconomic lens, and the impacts of urbanism and loneliness. An undergraduate at the Fashion Institute of Technology studying International Trade, she hopes to advocate for sustainable and ethical practices in the global marketplace.
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