The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 8

Last updated on June 6, 2024.

Interior of a clothing store, upscale appearing fixtures and lighting with neatly folded and hung clothing.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay.

We know that the clothing and fashion industries have major flaws that only some companies are trying to rectify. And we, as consumers, have choices as well – one is to simply buy less. Buy secondhand when possible. Take good care of our clothes. By doing those things, we can save money and the environment.

Before wrapping up this series, I wanted to touch on a few subtopics I hadn’t written about yet. Though some topics are big enough to warrant an entire series of their own, I believe them important enough to mention.

The fashion industry releases 10% of total carbon emissions.1

Chemicals

Worldwide, we use thousands of chemicals in textile production. Those chemicals can stay in clothes, even after washing. We can absorb those chemicals through our skin or inhale them. While these are small, or even trace amounts, the accumulation of toxins over time causes health problems. This is because there are chemicals in most consumer products. “For example, formaldehyde is not only used in fashion; it’s a common wood preservative found in furniture and is sometimes used to manufacture mattresses, meaning we could be exposed to this chemical not only through our shirts but also while we sit at our desks and sleep.”2 There are also chemicals in all plastic items, including fabric.

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Companies treat clothing with formaldehyde to prevent mildew growth and parasites during transit. Clothing labeled ‘wrinkle free,’ ‘stain resistant,’ or ‘water resistant’ are treated with toxic fluorocarbons, also known as PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals.’ These are extremely toxic. Workout clothing and athletic fashion may be treated with the antibacterial chemical triclosan, which is a known endocrine disrupter.

Here are some disturbing facts about chemicals in the fashion industry:

Worldwide, the fashion industry uses one-quarter of the chemicals produced.4

The World Bank estimates that the fashion industry is responsible for close to 20% of annual industrial water pollution, due to chemicals.5

While cotton is a natural fabric, it is also known as the world’s dirtiest crop. Cotton production requires around 19 million tons of chemicals annually.6 The pesticides alone are toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization.7

Rack of t-shirts on clear plastic hangers, in order of hues, from yellow to order to red, then green to blue.
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash.

Dyes

Most dyes are synthetic, meaning made from chemicals and fossil fuels. Synthetics are popular because they dye vibrantly and retain their color. However, many of these dyes contain harmful chemicals. Azo dyes, the largest category of dyes, are carcinogenic and are restricted in the state of California and the European Union.8 In addition to the textile and leather industries, manufacturers also use Azo dyes in food, candy, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Other synthetic dyes contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, chromium, copper, and chemicals such as benzene. All get into bodies of water and harm both the environment and human health.9

“There is a joke in China that you can tell the ‘it’ color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers.” -Orsola de Castro, fashion designer and activist10

Stack of 4 pairs of denim blue jeans in different hues, white background.
Photo by Claire Abdo on Unsplash.

Example: Indigo

Indigo is a good example. Almost all of the denim we wear is dyed with synthetic indigo. Synthetic indigo is made of ten chemicals, including petroleum, benzene, cyanide, formaldehyde, etc. All are toxic or harmful to humans. The chemicals are cheaper to buy than paying a farmer to grow crops from which to harvest dyes.11

The Chinese manufacture most synthetic indigo today, and they use a chemical called aniline. It is a likely human carcinogen. “Recent reports indicate that two-thirds of aniline residue winds up in wastewater, lakes, rivers, and other waterways; on workers; and in the air that workers breathe.” The remaining third is embedded in the denim clothing sold in stores.12

Natural Dyes

Natural dyes made from plants, seeds, and fruit don’t pollute water, but many still require the use of chemical mordants (substances that bind the dye to the fabric). They can also use a lot of water. Some companies are developing dyes that use 95% less water, as well as dyes that are recycled by reusing the same water and chemicals over and over again. Another process pulverizes leftover textiles, turning them into pigment powder, and using them as dyes.13

Shelves of colorful women's shoes with sales tags on them.
Photo by Megan Lee on Unsplash.

Shoes

“When we think about sustainable fashion, we tend to overlook footwear, but the reality is that shoes are undoubtedly one of the most environmentally impactful elements of our wardrobes. Around 25 billion pairs of shoes are made each year – close to 70 million every single day.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe14

The footwear part of the fashion industry has major environmental impacts. According to Elizabeth L. Cline, “it’s responsible for 700 million tons of carbon emissions per year, the equivalent of burning more than 765,000 pounds of coal. Many of the components in our shoes, from synthetic rubber to chrome-tanned leather, don’t biodegrade and are difficult or impossible to recycle; some are made of toxic building blocks. Shoes, even cheap ones, can and should be made with more sustainable, non-toxic, and recyclable or biodegradable materials.”15

The footwear industry uses a lot of plastic for coatings, foam soles, laces, and other components. Vegan leather is usually plastic. “Some shoes comprise 65 parts…the more components and the more different materials used, the more difficult a pair of shoes is to dismantle and recycle…As many as 95% of shoes go to landfill at the end of their life.”16

What You Can Do

Buy higher quality shoes and find a cobbler to repair them as needed.17 This is better for the environment and more economical over time. Cobblers can replace soles, remove scuffs, repair buckles, snaps, zippers, and straps, and replace high-heel tips. Some can even darken the color of leather, stretch leather shoes to a slightly bigger size, and also repair and condition leather jackets and handbags.18

As consumers, we can do our part by buying more durable shoes whenever possible, and taking good care of the shoes we already own.

Recycled Fabric is Available

Some companies are trying to help the textile industry change by recycling textiles and making new cloth from them. Clothing producers can use waste from the scraps from factory floors or the leftovers that brands often burn or shred.19

A company named Evrnu takes old garments and textile production waste with high cotton content and recycles them into new fiber for cloth. Evrnu produces 80% less greenhouse gas emissions and uses 98% less water than virgin cotton. The company eliminates up to one-third of all garment waste, causes zero deforestation, and requires no farming.20

Worn Again Technologies is a company that has developed a chemical process that “converts textiles containing polyester and cotton back into circular materials.” This offsets CO2 emissions and diverts material away from incineration and landfills.21

ECONYL uses nylon from used carpets, old fishing nets, and fabric scraps to recreate nylon items, such as clothing, carpets, and furniture items.22

Other companies, such as Patagonia, are trying to do the right thing by using recycled plastic bottles to make them into fibers for their product lines. But now many companies are mimicking this practice and the less ethical ones are “buying new plastic bottles to make polyester textile fibers that can be called ‘recycled.'”23 As always, be aware of what you are buying.

Store shelves with hanging clothes and folded clothes, mostly fall colors, mannequin on left.
Photo by Burgess Milner on Unsplash.

Demand More From the Corporations

We should all demand that corporations be transparent and honest about their effects on the environment, as well as their sustainability efforts. “Few companies, both outside the fashion world and particularly inside of it, seem particularly eager to share the environmental effects of what they do because usually they are bad.”24

Many companies have a sustainability page on their website. But sometimes these are no more than public relations pages created to sway consumers into thinking the company is doing great things for the environment. “Unfortunately, these pages usually contain little or no specific information about how the company’s products are actually made,” explained Tatiana Schlossberg. They ensure transparency in their supply chain but provide no evidence or explanation of what that means.

“I shouldn’t have to find out which brand of jeans uses the least amount of water; the brands should be more transparent and tell us how much water they use, and then use much less. They are the ones who are making money from our choices, and we should not support those who don’t at least tell us what they’re doing.” -Tatiana Schlossberg, Inconspicuous Consumption25

If you’re not sure about a company’s environmental commitments or have specific questions about how something was made or chemically treated, ask the company via email, contact page, or phone. Elizabeth L. Cline wrote that “a responsible brand will make it easy to get in touch with them and will respond to your queries.”26 Further, they will be clear in their response and you’ll be able to tell if it is a stock response or a true response. If a brand turns out to be unethical, you can decide to shop elsewhere.

Remember the Human Factor

When purchasing new clothes, pause and reflect on the humans who sewed the clothes. Are they being treated well, paid well, and working in a safe environment? These days, with profits at record highs for many industries, companies have zero excuses for not caring about the people who labor for them.

Most brands contract out for production, and contractors often subcontract the work. This is where the sweatshops come in. “When caught, the brands often claim they had no idea their ‘approved’ contractors were subcontracting to sweatshops. Subcontracting is endemic in the apparel industry, creating a fractured supply chain in which workers are easily in jeopardy.”27 The right to subcontract is part of the negotiated contract, so it doesn’t seem likely that companies don’t know about the subcontracting.

David Weil, Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, wrote that today, fashion executives “dictate everything they want in their supply chain to an incredible degree…they will send back an order when the dyes aren’t right – they monitor that precisely. But somehow it’s unreasonable to make sure that there is adherence to fire emergency escape rules, and you aren’t operating in a building like Rana Plaza.”28 Companies must do better. I’ve included a list of organizations below that support textile industry laborers.

“Ultimately, brands are responsible for their massive exploitation of garment workers—creating massive profits for only a handful of billionaires and environmental harm to the planet. But added together, people still have significant power to hold these companies accountable as consumers and push for legislation as citizens.”29

Our Role

In the end, we are all responsible. But as consumers, we don’t have to tolerate the poor actions of these huge fast fashion companies. Shop less, buy second-hand, and take care of the clothes you have. If we all commit, we can make a huge difference. Ask questions, demand transparency, and don’t purchase items from companies that don’t provide clear answers. There’s so much clothing in the world that we could clothe everyone and then some. We have so many choices when it comes to clothing!

Last, learn all you can! Knowledge about environmental problems is the key. Thank you for reading, please subscribe and share!

 

Support the work of these organizations:

Asia Floor Wage Alliance

The Awaj Foundation

Clean Clothes Campaign

Fair Wear Foundation

Fashion Revolution

The Garment Worker Center

The International Labour Organization

Labour Behind the Label

No Sweat

The Or Foundation

Remake

The Solidaridad Network

Workers Rights Consortium

“It’s important that we amplify what garment workers are demanding and support the people who make our clothes by spreading their message and holding brands and the people in charge to account.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe30

 

Additional Resources:

Guide to my Clothing and Fashion Industry Series.

bluesign: This organization sets standards for chemical usage in textiles.

Fair Wear Foundation: a non-profit organization whose mission “is to see a world where the garment industry supports workers in realizing their rights to safe, dignified, properly paid employment.”

Article, “10 More Sustainable Sandals Like Birkenstocks You’ll Love,” by Isobella Wolfe, goodonyou.eco, August 24, 2023. I’ve been wearing Birkenstocks for 20 years because they support my feet and back and are just about endlessly repairable. However, Birkenstocks aren’t very environmentally friendly. Article, “How to Recycle Your Used Hiking Shoes,” by Jeff Podmayer, thetrek.co, January 18, 2021.

Footnotes:

The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 3

Updated September 12, 2023.

Cotton flowers in field with blue sky background.
Photo by Trisha Downing on Unsplash.

Are synthetic or natural fabrics better for the environment? Natural fabrics fare better, but the overproduction of both types of fabrics is the problem. The way we carelessly disregard and dispose of our clothing is a  problem too, as was emphasized in Part 2 of this article series. Elizabeth L. Cline, an expert on fast fashion and sustainability in the apparel industry, says that asking which fabric is greenest is actually the wrong question. “We need to improve the sustainability of all the materials we wear.”1

Though we all need to reduce everything we consume, understanding the differences between synthetics and natural fabrics will benefit us as consumers. If we know where something came from, how it was sourced, and how it was created and turned into fashion, we can make better choices and value our clothing more.

Natural fabrics refer to those made from natural fibers sourced from plants or animals. Let’s start by taking a look at the natural fabrics that come from plant-based sources.

“We need to improve the sustainability of all the materials we wear.” -Elizabeth L. Cline

Clothing rack with many attractive colors, small chalkboard sign indicates they are on sale.
Photo by Megan Lee on Unsplash.

Cotton

Cotton is grown all over the world, and its production provides income for more than 250 million people. There are about 35 million hectares of cotton under cultivation in the world. But it requires a lot of water, pesticides, and fertilizers.

Water

Cotton production uses 3 percent of the entire world’s agricultural water supply.2 Some experts argue that cotton is the largest water user of all agricultural production combined.3

“As much as 2,168 gallons of water is required to grow the cotton in a single T-shirt…While water is plentiful in some cotton-growing areas, almost 60 percent of all cotton is grown in regions affected by water scarcity…And while cotton could be a major source of poverty alleviation in rural and poor areas, in many places it is exploitive instead.”4

In some areas, surface and ground waters are diverted to irrigate cotton fields. This leads to freshwater depletion for entire regions, including Pakistan’s Indus River Delta and Central Asia’s Aral Sea. About 97% of the water from the Indus River goes to crop production, including cotton.5 Worse, the Indus River, upon which millions of people rely, is badly polluted with chemicals and plastic.

The depletion of the Aral Sea is one major loss. A Soviet Union project that began in the 1960s diverted the feeding rivers away from the Aral Sea in an attempt to grow cotton and other crops in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This has almost drained the Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest lake in the world. That has caused the soil to become drier and saltier, and the dry soil creates dust storms. That dust is full of leftover pesticides and fertilizers, and people in those areas have significant reproductive issues, including miscarriages and malformations at birth. In addition, “Livelihoods, wildlife habitats, and fish populations have been decimated.”6

Aerial view: The Aral Sea in 1989 (left) vs. 2014 (right).
The Aral Sea in 1989 (left) vs. 2014 (right). Image by NASA and collage by Producercunningham on Wikimedia.

Chemicals

“Conventionally grown cotton requires the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers.”7

Cotton production requires about 220,000 tons of pesticides and 8.8 million tons of fertilizer yearly. “One-fifth of insecticides – and more than 10 percent of all pesticides – are devoted to the protection of conventional cotton.”8 Those pesticides are highly toxic to human workers and animals, and they pollute the environment. Industrial and agricultural chemical poisoning are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide.9 The World Health Organization classified 8 out of 10 of the US’s cotton pesticides as ‘hazardous.’10

Fertilizers that end up in waterways create nutrient pollution, meaning those excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) allow toxic algal blooms. Those deplete entire zones of oxygen, creating dead zones, which harm aquatic species and disrupt entire ecosystems. Fertilizers also contribute to greenhouse gases.11

Approximately 16% of all pesticides are used on cotton.12 Additionally, genetically modified crops, including cotton, have made crops toxic to common pests. This has reduced the use of pesticides but has not eliminated the need for them. “A large number of farmers have adopted genetically modified cotton seeds that include a gene protecting it from the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup). That way, the fields can be sprayed with the herbicide when the plant is young, easily eliminating competition from weeds.”13 However, this has made farmers dependent on those specific seeds, which are made by the same company that makes the pesticides and herbicides.

Forced Labor

Uzbekistan, once one of the largest producers of cotton, used forced labor for cotton production until 2021.14 Today, China and India are the largest producers of cotton. Parts of China use forced labor and parts of India use child labor for cotton production. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following countries also use child labor, forced labor, or both:15

                • Argentina
                • Azerbaijan
                • Benin
                • Brazil
                • Burkina Faso
                • Egypt
                • Kazakhstan
                • Kyrgyz Republic
                • Mali
                • Pakistan
                • Tajikistan
                • Turkey
                • Turkmenistan
                • Zambia

Soil Degradation

Cotton production severely degrades soil quality,16 because of the overuse of nitrogen-based mineral fertilizers. Cotton also causes soil erosion because of the large amounts of water it requires to grow.

Organic Cotton & Other Options

We can produce cotton organically, that is without pesticides and fertilizers, and therefore more sustainably. There are two leading organic certifications: Global Organic Textile Exchange (GOTS) and Organic Cotton Standard (OCS). Organic cotton only comprises around 0.33% of all cotton grown. Those chemicals never end up in runoff or the environment. However, organic cotton still requires large amounts of water. And, unfortunately, organic often means more expensive.

Initiatives such as “Better Cotton and Fairtrade Cotton focus on better land use, water practices, and labor standards but don’t have any proven environmental benefits.”17 Better Cotton is difficult to enforce and farmers who adopt it are not subsidized. Also, it allows for genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds.18 So this is not the best initiative out there.

Cotton Made in Africa has more than 30 brand members, which supports small growers and environmentally friendly growing practices in sub-Saharan Africa.19

Recycled or reclaimed cotton sounds promising as well, but it does have drawbacks. According to cottonworks.com, “the majority of recycled cotton is claimed through mechanical recycling. First, fabrics and materials are sorted by color. After sorting, the fabrics are run through a machine that shreds the fabric into yarn and further into raw fiber. This process is harsh and puts a great deal of strain on the fiber. It is not uncommon for fibers to break and entangle during shredding. The raw fiber is then spun back into yarns for reuse in other products. The quality of recycled fiber will never have quality values equal to the original fiber. Specifically, fiber length and length uniformity will be impacted, which will limit the end-use application.”20 

“Current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable.” -World Wildlife Fund21

Field of cotton with a green cotton harvester harvesting the crop, blue sky background.
Photo by Karl Wiggers on Unsplash.

Denim

Denim is mainly made from cotton. It takes between 2,000 and 2,900 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans, mainly because of dying and finishing treatments. “In the 1970s and 1980s, hip fashion people decided that denim shouldn’t look like denim anymore, and they came up with stone washing and acid washing.” These processes use pumice (stones) and sometimes bleach or other acidic chemicals. The water used for dying and finishing is not reused or recycled, which means it ends up in the environment.22

“To achieve a faux-worn effect, jeans are sandblasted, hand-sanded, or sprayed with chemicals by individuals who inhale the fumes each day.”23

We must also consider the cost of transport for something such as a pair of jeans. There is “a big cost in getting the cotton from (for example) Texas, where it’s grown, to Indonesia to be spun into fibers, to Bangladesh to be made into denim, and sent back to the U.S. to be sold.”24

Some programs aim to reduce water in production, such as Levi’s Water<Less campaign. Their process reduces up to 96% of the water normally used in denim finishing, which is the final stage in making a pair of jeans. Levi’s claims to have saved more than 3 billion liters of water and recycled more than 1.5 billion liters of water.25 Always look at these programs critically, but if they are legit, try buying sustainable clothing.

Last, there is a recycling program for denim. The Blue Jeans Go Green program collects cotton-based denim and recycles it back to its original fiber state and transforms it into something new. The program claims to have kept more than 4.5 million pieces of old denim out of landfills.26 Denim is also a sustainable type of home and building insulation.

Man installing recycled denim insulation in a wall.
Photo by Rebecca Landis on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Bast-Plant Fibers

Bast-plant fibers include fabrics like linen, jute, hemp, and ramie. Linen is a textured fiber made from the flax plant. It is naturally hypoallergenic and is very breathable, making it a great textile for warm-weather clothes. Jute is a coarse natural plant fiber from the jute plant that is used to weave fabrics like burlap cloth. It is a popular textile to make rugs and burlap sacks. Hemp is durable, versatile, and moisture-resistant. Ramie creates strong fabrics that look similar to linen. 

These fibers are biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable. Bast fibers are collected from the outer third of the stem of a plant between the woody core and the thin outer layer. These make strong, durable, and breathable cloth.

These plants support regenerative farming, which improves the environment. “Plants used in bast fibre production are often great cover crops working in rotation with other crops, keeping the soil covered to minimize erosion and incorporating organic matter to improve soil fertility. A greater diversity of crops within a farming system not only improves soil quality, but minimizes plant diseases, further reducing the need for chemical applications.”27 They use less water, fertilizers, pesticides, and energy.

You can also buy these fabrics recycled or organic certified (see Additional Resources below). Organic means that chemical pesticides and fertilizers weren’t used in the production of the plant or fabric.28

Close-up of a Linen beige button down shirt.
Photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash.

Bamboo

While bamboo is a plant, marketers often tout it as “eco-friendly,” but manufacturers make bamboo fabric by chemically pulverizing plants and trees. This makes it unnatural. Since this fabric is full of harsh chemicals, I have chosen to include it in the synthetics part of this series (Part 5).

Read the Labels

Now that you know more about natural fabrics, you may find that reading labels will at least give you the basic information you’re looking for. Is the item you want to purchase made with 100% organic cotton, or a cotton blend? If it’s the latter, what does the blend consist of? Also, where was the item made? Was it made in a country with decent labor laws?

If there’s a fabric you’re not familiar with listed on the tag, look it up. Most people carry a smartphone with them, which offers the opportunity to look it up before making a purchase.

Overproduction

While plant-based fabrics come from the Earth, they are not always the best option because of the pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals that most producers use to grow them. But they are still better than plastic-based synthetic fabrics derived from fossil fuels.

Remember, the overproduction of all fabrics is the problem. Buy fewer but higher-quality articles when you can. Take good care of the clothing you do have, mend your clothing if you are able, and buy second-hand when you need to replace something.

In my next article, I’ll review types of animal-based fabrics. Thank you for reading. Please share and subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Website, Better Cotton. Their mission is “to help cotton communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment.”

Website, Global Textile Standard (GOTS). “GOTS is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. GOTS-certified final products may include fibre products, yarns, fabrics, clothes, home textiles, mattresses, personal hygiene products, as well as food contact textiles and more.” According to Elizabeth L. Cline, “GOTS is the most rigorous organic standard, as it covers not just the cultivation of the raw materials but the processing of the textiles as well.”29

Website, Organic Content Standard (OCS). They are “a voluntary global standard that sets the criteria for third-party certification of organic materials and chain of custody.”

Website, Oeko-Tex, “certifies that every component of the product, from the fabric to the thread and accessories, has been rigorously tested against a list of up to 350 toxic chemicals.”

Footnotes:

The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 2

Last updated on March 27, 2024.

Bales of textile recycling, colorful, Goodwill Outlet warehouse and retail store in St. Paul, MN.
Bales of textile recycling at the Goodwill Outlet warehouse and retail store in St. Paul, MN, April 2019. Photo by MPCA Photos on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Fast fashion is harming the environment, causing human workers to suffer and work for little pay, and creating a lot of waste. But just how much waste?

When we discard an article of clothing, we can sell it, give it to a friend, throw it in the trash, or donate it to a thrift store or resale shop. Reselling our clothing is ideal, as we can recoup some of the cost, and the clothing gets a second life. Children wear their clothes for a short time before outgrowing them, so often you can sell them online. Consignment stores buy clothes, but usually, only certain brands that often exclude fast fashion.

Most of us donate any clothing we can’t sell to the local Goodwill, another local thrift store, church, or local charity. However, there is so much donated clothing in the world now that we could clothe every human on the planet and still have leftover clothing. And that’s if production of new clothing stopped today!

“Buying so much clothing and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge, added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.” -Elizabeth L. Cline, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

Pile of children's clothes and shoes, colorful.
Pile of children’s clothes and shoes. Photo by Abby on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0).

A garbage truck full of clothes is taken to the landfill every second, where they produce methane as they rot.” -Georgina Stevens, Climate Action: The Future is in Our Hands

Textile and Clothing Waste in Landfills

Worldwide and annually, we throw away 92 million tons of textiles. In the US alone, “an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste – equivalent to 85% of all textiles – end up in landfills on a yearly basis. That’s equivalent to approximately 81.5 pounds per person per year and around 2,150 pieces per second countrywide.”1 The amount of clothing we dispose of has increased by 750% since 1960.2 Clothing does not biodegrade in landfills, just as most items will not biodegrade in a landfill. In addition, much of the clothing we produce is made from synthetic fabrics, made from plastic fibers (aka microfibers), which contaminate the water supply, our bodies, and the ocean.

“Textile waste is often overlooked when we think about plastic waste but it’s estimated that U.S. consumers throw away about 81 pounds of clothing every year, including large amounts of synthetic textiles made from plastics.” -Sandra Ann Harris, Say Goodbye to Plastic: A Survival Guide for Plastic-Free Living

Clothing Returns

Retailers are throwing away most of the items consumers return to the store. In the US, 2.6 million tons of returned clothing items ended up in landfills in 2020 alone. It often costs more for the company to put them back on the sales floor than it does to just throw them away. “Reverse logistics company Optoro also estimates that in the same year, 16 million tonnes of CO2 emissions were created by online returns in the US in 2020 – the equivalent to the emissions of 3.5 million cars on the road for a year.”3 Dumpster divers frequently find stacks of clothing in dumpsters behind clothing and department stores and post their finds on social media platforms.

Box with clothing donations, with "DONATE" written in red letters.
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Pexels.

Donated Clothing

“Our donated clothing goes on a journey of its own.” -Beth Porter, Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine: Sorting Out the Recycling System

Unfortunately, fast fashion has outpaced the demand for second-hand clothing. Thrift stores cannot possibly sell all of the donated clothing, so textile recyclers and rag graders have grown to help charities process the excess and keep textiles out of landfills. About half of the clothing donated at major U.S. thrift stores is shipped internationally for textile recycling.4 But the number can be even higher if items don’t sell. “Up to 80 percent of all clothing donated to charity thrift stores ends up in textile recycling.”5

Huge thrift store full of full clothing racks.
Photo by arbyreed on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Goodwill, for example, conducts an initial sort at the retail store where items were dropped off or donated. Anything wet or mildewy is separated out because it is not sellable. Some of the best, clean, dry clothing items are put on the sales floor. Many Goodwill stores track how long each piece of clothing has been on the retail floor, and if an item doesn’t sell within four weeks, Goodwill removes it. They send the items on to a Goodwill outlet or a 99-cent Goodwill store. Prices are cheap to encourage purchasing and thus divert things from landfills. Clothing items that aren’t sold through those methods or through auctions go to textile recycling organizations.6

Shredded clothes, various colors, in boxes.
Shredded clothes, photo by Alexander Zvir on pexels.com.

Textile Recycling

“Globally, just 12% of the material used for clothing ends up being recycled. Much of the problem comes down to the materials our clothes are made from and inadequate technologies to recycle them.”7

Used textiles can be turned into rags for industrial use or processed into a soft fiber filling for furniture, home insulation, car soundproofing, etc. Goodwill indicates they “have seen estimates that textile recyclers divert about 2.5 billion pounds of used clothes from landfills.”8 But this is really just downcycling. Textile recycling isn’t working as a global solution because of the massive overabundance.

“Many types of clothing and footwear can be shredded and downcycled – with some shredding companies turning everything from shoes, handbags, baby clothes, and jackets into fibers. To be clear: No matter whether you donate to a charity, collection bin, thrift store, garment collection program, or most anywhere else, your clothes are likely going to end up in the global secondhand clothing trade or will be downcycled rather than recycled in the traditional sense. Less than 1 percent of clothing is recycled in the truest sense of the word, meaning broken down and turned back into new clothes. This desperately needs to change to make fashion more sustainable to solve the clothing waste crisis.” –Elizabeth L. Cline, The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good

Warehouse with hundreds of tons of clothing in Cambodia. Piles of textiles sorted by color, with people sorting in background.
Warehouse with hundreds of tons of clothing in Cambodia. Photo by Francois Le Nguyen on Unsplash.

The Global Second-Hand Market

There are too many clothes in the world.

There are so many used clothes in the world that even developing countries cannot use them all. Sellers in other countries will by bundles of second-hand clothing, hoping to resell them for a small profit. In Kenya, the word “mitumba,” refers to the bundles of plastic-wrapped packages of used clothing from people in wealthy countries. In Accra, Ghana, they call them “obroni wawu,” meaning ‘dead white man’s clothes.’

This has created massive piles of textiles and clothing across the globe, often in countries without organized waste management. This is devastating to local environments and negatively impacts the health of humans living in those environments. In northern Chile, about 59,000 tons of clothing arrive annually. Clothing merchants purchase some, but at least 39,000 tons end up in rubbish dumps in the desert.9

In 2020, “a mountain of cast-off clothing outside the Ghanaian capital city of Accra generated so much methane that it exploded; months later, it was still smoldering.”10 Market fires have become common in places that have too many goods and too much waste, all cast-offs from the western world. In other countries, the excess textile waste clutters the landscape, clogs up waterways, and pollutes the environment.

“Worldwide, we jettison 2.1 billion tons of fashion. Much of it is shunted to Africa, our rationalization being that the poorest continent needs free clothing.” -Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis11

Worldwide Environmental Impact

There are increasingly fewer places to ship textile recycling and used clothing, as countries are full of them. This is creating a huge environmental problem. Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet and Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, wrote in a Bloomberg opinion piece:

“For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. 

“Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making…

“The rise of ‘fast fashion’ is thus creating a bleak scenario: The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that’s a big problem.”12

Pile of clothing, colorful.
Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio.

How You Can Help

“We cannot export our way out of our fast fashion addiction.” -Film: Textile Mountain – The Hidden Burden of Our Fashion Waste13

First, start thinking ‘slow fashion’ instead of fast fashion. Slow fashion refers to the method of producing clothing that takes into consideration all aspects of the supply chain.

Clothing Purchases

The second thing you can do is stop shopping! Most likely, you have more than enough clothes to wear for a long time.

When you do need something, ask yourself if it really needs to be new, or if you can find it second-hand. If it must be new, save up to buy that one classic, quality piece, instead of 10 cheap pieces that are low quality and super trendy. Be choosy so that there is no need to return the items.

Second-hand clothing is best the way to have a sustainable and affordable wardrobe. You can shop at consignment shops, thrift stores, clothing swaps, yard sales, and other resale shops. The online options are endless. “By making it easier and more accessible to shop used, resale is helping to reduce the water, chemicals, and energy we need to make new clothes…According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for every garment worn twice as long, its carbon footprint is reduced by 44 percent! And based on research conducted by thredUP, shopping secondhand extends the average life of a garment by 2.2 years.”14 

Try a capsule wardrobe like Project 333 that inspires dressing better, with less.

“Resale could eventually help reduce the culture of fast fashion and lead people away from disposable clothes.” -Elizabeth L. Cline, The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good

Hand stitching a hole in a piece of gray and red clothing using orange thread.
Photo by Joseph Sharp on Unsplash.

Wear Clothing Longer

If you can purchase clothing that is more classic and less trendy, and buy higher quality clothing, you’ll be able to wear your clothing for much longer. “We get rid of about 60 percent of the clothing we buy within a year of its being made; we used to keep our clothing twice as long.” Wearing higher quality pieces longer would reduce textile waste greatly.

Try Mending

If you can sew, this is the best way to extend the life of your current wardrobe. Hemming, repairing tears and holes, darning, replacing buttons, and simple embroidery are all basic techniques in mending. You don’t even have to own a sewing machine. You can find inspiration in books and countless online video tutorials. Experiment with different techniques and ideas. Some even dye light clothing if they’ve got something with an ugly stain.

If you don’t know how to sew, there are so many ways you can learn! Find books, a family member, online classes/tutorials, or in-person classes at a local sewing shop.

If you don’t want to sew, find a good tailor that can make repairs and adjustments. Or a friend that sews on the side for extra income, as long as you’ve seen their work first.

Outdoor charity bin with bags of donations surrounding it, looking like trash.
If it looks like trash, it will probably be treated as such. Photo by Anna Gregory on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Getting Rid of Clothes

“You may think, Well, I donate my clothes, or I heard about a program that takes jeans and makes them into insulation, or What about recycled textiles or all of the clothes we send overseas in form of aid? All of those things happen, but not to the extent that you think, and sometimes with surprisingly negative consequences.” -Tatiana Schlossberg15

Following are the do’s and don’t’s of getting rid of clothing.

Never throw your clothes in the trash (unless it’s just really ripped and stained, or otherwise totally ruined and not able to be reused for rags).

Before dropping clothing off at a thrift store or other charity, try to find a friend or family member who might want those clothes. Or try selling them online or at a local consignment sale or shop.

If you donate, donate better by following these best practices:

While many charities that accept used clothing work with textile recyclers, not all do. Ask your local charities and thrift stores if they recycle or landfill unsellable clothing before donating.

Make sure items are clean and dry. Empty pockets, and remove pet hair and lint. Tie shoes together so they don’t get separated. Mend items before donating so they don’t get landfilled. Donate when the stores are accepting donations so that items don’t get ruined by the weather.16 

Try donating them at strategic times.17 Donate winter items to a homeless shelter or organization at the beginning of winter. Homeless organizations almost always need good shoes. Donate clothing during a post-disaster local drive. For bedding and towels, check with local animal shelters as oftentimes, they can use these items! Take the time to seek out donation drives for specific items. That way, organizations are far more likely to use your donated items instead of throwing them away.

“If a friend has always commented on how much they love your jacket, or your sister has always coveted that vintage bag, now is the time to redistribute them to an eager recipient. It’s entirely your choice whether you want to give pieces away or sell them, but doing so within your community reduces the  fashion miles’ involved in shipping them around the country or across the globe.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe18

Watch Out for Greenwashing

‘Take-back’ programs or in-store clothing recycling programs are sometimes a form of greenwashing. “These schemes allow customers to drop off unwanted items in ‘bins’ in the brands’ stores. But it’s been highlighted that only 0.1% of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fibre.”19 There are some brands that actually do good things with collected items, but you have to research to know which ones.

Interior of a Salvation Army thrift store, with lots of clothing racks.
Photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC0 1.0).

I hope this article has helped you figure out to buy less clothing, make the clothing you have last longer, and how to donate and discard better. For my next article, we’ll explore different types of fabrics, both natural and synthetic. Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

 

Additional Resources:

Website, Project 333

Film, Textile Mountain – The Hidden Burden of Our Fashion Waste.

Article, “Dead white man’s clothes,” by Linton Besser, ABC News Australia, updated

www.weardonaterecycle.org

Website, Fashion Detox Challenge

Article, “How to Buy Clothes That Are Built to Last,” by Kendra Pierre-Louis, New York Times, September 25, 2019

Article, “13 Brands Using Take-Back Schemes to Recycle Waste Responsibly,” by Solene Rauturier, Good On You, January 6, 2022.

Footnotes: 

The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 1

Last updated on February 3, 2024.

Interior of clothing store, wooden floor walkway flanked by mannequins, racks, and shelves of clothing.
Image by auntmasako from Pixabay.

The fashion and clothing industries contribute to climate change, environmental pollution, and human exploitation. Across the world, perpetuated by wealth, and rampant consumerism based on false urgency to keep up with ‘trends,’ the massive overproduction of clothing is killing us and our environment.

Companies have men, women, and even children, working in dangerous conditions with low or no labor standards. They are kept impoverished by low wages. Companies use toxic chemicals in clothing production, and those chemicals end up in the final products. The clothing industry uses unfathomable amounts of water in production, in a world where there isn’t enough water for everyone. Later, that water is discharged, often into the environment, polluting water and soil. Mass amounts of energy are used to produce both natural and synthetic fabrics. Transporting clothing from developing countries to the west uses astronomical amounts of fossil fuels. Worse, there is so much clothing in the world now that we can’t find uses for all of it.

All this so that we can buy $5 T-shirts that we don’t need. It’s called fast fashion, and it’s detrimental on many levels.

Interior of an Old Navy, a clothing store.
Image by DigestContent from Pixabay.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on quickly producing high volumes of trendy but cheaply-made clothing.1 The term was coined by The New York Times in the 1990s “to describe Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores.”2 By the 2000s, brands were taking ideas from the top fashion designers and reproducing them cheaply and quickly. Other big names in fast fashion include H&M, UNIQLO, GAP, Primark, and TopShop.

At one time, there were four seasons of clothing. Today, there are 52 “micro-seasons” per year. Fast fashion was artificially created. The demand “was carefully cultivated by fashion brands to change consumer behavior and make people want more and more, and quickly.”3 

But this disregard for quality has led to clothing going to landfills. “Constantly changing trends have encouraged consumers to discard clothing that’s no longer ‘in style’ even if it’s still wearable.”4 This is not sustainable.

“[Fast fashion] plays into the idea that outfit repeating is a fashion faux pas and that if you want to stay relevant, you have to sport the latest looks as they happen. It forms a key part of the toxic system of overproduction and consumption that has made fashion one of the world’s largest polluters.”5

Exterior of the Zara store in Tokyo, taken at night, lit up and brightly colored with a large digital advertising screen at top center.
Photo by Comunicacioninditex on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Ultra-Fast Fashion

There is an even faster fashion now, referred to as ultra-fast fashion. Brands include SHEIN, Missguided, Forever 21, Zaful, Boohoo, and Fashion Nova. It is a recent phenomenon that is as bad as it sounds.6Ultra fast fashion turns fast fashion’s ‘weeks’ into days and ‘dozens of styles’ into hundreds and thousands. The numbers alone sound sinister. Brands like SHEIN and Boohoo are reportedly posting thousands of new styles to their websites on a daily basis. Sometimes, knockoffs of trending celebrity and pop culture styles will appear online in as little as 24 hours.” Social media, influencer culture, and online hauls certainly stoked the fire in the creation of ultra-fast fashion.7

“A generation now views ultra-fast fashion’s historically low price points and disposable culture as the norm, with many young people considering garments worn out after only a few washes. This overproduction and quick disposal has exacerbated fashion’s waste crisis.”8

H&M Store, Times Square in New York City, photo taken at night with store and billboards bright and lit up.
H&M Store, Times Square in New York City. Photo by Will Buckner on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Wasteful Overproduction

Companies produce more clothing than can be consumed. Some companies trash or burn the excess. “An estimated 2.2 billion pounds of overstock and unsold clothing are landfilled or incinerated around the world every year, according to a 2018 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation…Two billion pounds of clothes is the equivalent in weight of 5 billion T-shirts, enough leftover stock to dress the adult population of the planet. In 2018, H&M announced that the brand was stuck with 4.3 billion dollars worth of unsold goods.” It’s not just fast fashion companies, either. The same year, the luxury brand Burberry was caught destroying excess clothing and accessories worth around $24 million.9 

A woman reaching for a handbag. sourrounded by racks of clothing in a clothing or department store. The clothes appear to be organized by color.
Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash.

Environmental Costs

The world produces around 100 billion articles of clothing annually, and “92 million tonnes end up in landfills.”10 Fast fashion causes extensive damage to the planet, exploits workers, and harms animals.11 The fashion industry produces 10% of all carbon emissions and it is the second-largest consumer of water.12 

Clothing production requires tons of water. For example, it takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans. Worse, “the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide.”13 Textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water as the wastewater from it is often dumped into bodies of water. “If fashion production maintains its current pace, the demand for water will surpass the world’s supply by 40 percent by 2030.”14

“The way we manufacture new clothes is truly unsustainable, commanding a staggering level of resources, especially water, chemicals, and fossil fuels, that can’t continue. Each year, clothing production requires 24 trillion gallons of water, enough to fill 37 million Olympic-sized pools. And the fashion industry spews more globe-warming carbon dioxide annually than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” -Elizabeth L. Cline15

Stacks of blue denim jeans on a table in a clothing store.
Image by Linda Lioe from Pixabay.

Poor Labor Standards and Pitiful Wages

“Only 2 percent of the 40 million garment workers around the world earn a living wage – it effectively amounts to modern-day slavery.”16

Across the world, workers experience unsafe working conditions and low wages that are far below the minimum wage. Companies require garment workers to work long hours through forced overtime, often apply impossible quotas to their daily production, and sometimes even inflict abuse. They also expose workers to many chemicals and pollutants, which jeopardize their health. Unionization attempts and campaigns for improvements in safety, conditions, wages, sick pay, and job security are often barred by the threat of job losses and sometimes violence.17

The garment, textile, and footwear workers around the world deserve better. “Fashion is a powerful industry, one that can and should lift people out of poverty rather than trap them in it. It is a multitrillion-dollar business, with plenty of wealth to go around. And yet, according to Oxfam, the top fashion CEOs earn in four days what the average garment worker will make in a lifetime.” Increasing wages would require only a 1 to 4 percent increase in retail prices.18

“The difference in what it would cost for people to not to have to make these kinds of choices between paying rent and putting food on the table is less than a dollar per garment. Why in the world would any company choose every day to prioritize their profits and paying the lowest price possible over ending that kind of human suffering? Especially when it’s not complicated or unaffordable to fix it.” -Sarah Adler-Milstein, co-author of Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry’s Sweatshops19

Photo of the Eastex Garment Co. Ltd factory in Cambodia, one of garment factories that supplies Swedish company H&M. Shows women sitting at sewing machines in a large factory room with a conveyor belt running through the center.
Photo of the Eastex Garment Co. Ltd factory in Cambodia, one of garment factories that supplies H&M. Photo by U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 2.0).

World Exports

World map showing clothing exports with monetary amounts.
Map courtesy of HowMuch.net, a financial literacy website.

Each of the following countries exports billions of dollars of garment products annually:

China:

China is the largest clothing manufacturing country in the world, employing over 15 million people, mostly women. Companies in this country pay the highest wages but that still does not equate to a living wage for all.20

List of companies that source their clothing from China.
List of companies that source their clothing from China. Screenshot from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Bangladesh:

Bangladesh is the second-largest garment manufacturing country, but they are among the lowest-paid in the world. This is where the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse happened, which killed 1,134 and injured another 2,500 people. While “the disaster brought international attention to the alarming labor conditions in overseas garment factories,” only some improvements in safety issues came from it.21 H&M and the VF Corporations (Vans, North Face, Timberland, etc.) are two of the many companies sourcing from Bangladesh.22

After Rana Plaza’s collapse, no corporations stepped forward after the tragedy to acknowledge that they were manufacturing there. H&M executives responded with this: “‘None of the textile factories located in the building produced for H&M,’ it stated. ‘It is important to remember that this disaster is an infrastructure problem in Bangladesh and not a problem specific to the textile industry.'” The statement continued that it would contribute to solutions going forward.23 But this problem is specific to the textile industry.

“In 2013, [Americans] spent $340 billion on fashion – more than twice what they forked out for new cars. Much of it was produced in Bangladesh, some of it by Rana Plaza workers in the days leading up to the collpase.” -Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis24

India:

India employs millions of people but often under conditions of forced overtime, less than half of a living wage, and even child labor.25 There have been some improvements but many workers, of which the majority are women, experience physical abuse and sexual harassment. Companies sourcing from India include American Eagle Outfitters, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., and VF Corporation. 

Vietnam:

Vietnam has a communist government that forbids labor unions, and wages are 60 percent below a living wage. There are around 6,000 textile factories that employ about 3 million people. Nike employs 450,000 people there.26 “Many of us are familiar with the news about Nike sweatshops, but they’re just one of the many fast fashion brands violating human rights for the sake of fashion. The people who make our clothes are underpaid, underfed, and pushed to their limits because there are few other options.”27 Zara and H&M are two of the major brands that source from there.

Cambodia:

There are about 600,000 garment workers in Cambodia. Women experience a great deal of abuse, sexual harassment, and low wages, which are 50 percent below a living wage. Many companies, including H&M, Gap, Nike, and Puma, source from there.28

“Brands are interested in getting clothing as cheaply and quickly as they can. They have consciously chosen to locate production in countries that do not enforce their labor laws. A factory that scrupulously complied with the labor law, respected the right to organize, paid all required wages, didn’t force people to work overtime: That factory will not be able to meet brands’ price demands. You can’t survive as a supplier unless you operate a sweatshop, because the brands are only willing to pay sweatshop prices.” -Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium29

Photo of garment workers sewing on sewing machines in a a large factory room in Bangladesh.
Photo of garment workers sewing on sewing machines in a a large factory room in Bangladesh. Photo by Musamir Azad on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Fashion Production in the U.S.

“In the 1960s, just 5% of all clothing Americans wore was
made overseas. By the 1970s, that figure had reached 25%
and today it’s somewhere around 98%.” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe30

The United States produces little clothing domestically today: Less than 3 percent, which is down from 50% in 1990. “And a Made in USA garment is no longer a guarantee of ethical working conditions.” The largest part of the garment business is in Los Angeles, where there are approximately 45,000 garment workers, many of them undocumented immigrants. “A 2016 US Labor Department investigation of LA’s factories found that 85 percent of inspected factories violated labor laws. Workers are being paid as little as 4 dollars an hour sewing clothes for well-known fashion brands, including Forever 21, Fashion Nova, Ross Dress for Less, and T.J.Maxx.”31 Another investigation found that companies paid sewers as little as $2.77 an hour.32

Even sadder, US garment workers are some of the highest-paid in the world.

“The large, middle-market brands who source from these sweatshops herald that their apparel is ‘Made in the USA,’ as if such a statement automatically confers authenticity and integrity, as well as superior quality, to clothes produced offshore. It’s a corporate marketing tactic to pander to consumers’ patriotism while flagrantly breaking US labor laws.” -Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis33

Department store clothing mannequins showing clothing.
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay.

The Role of Companies

Companies have the power to make real, humane, sustainable changes. “It’s time for more big brands to step up to the plate,” wrote Elizabeth L. Cline. “Big companies are the ones with the huge economies of scale that could bring down the price of sustainable materials and fund the research and development of eco-friendly innovations, from textile recycling and nontoxic dyes to factories powered by clean energy. They can certainly afford to pay higher wages.”34 But we consumers need to hold these companies accountable.

Fast fashion companies sometimes use greenwashing to make consumers feel better about purchasing their items. Greenwashing refers to when companies deceive consumers by claiming that their products are environmentally friendly or “have a greater positive environmental impact than they really do.”35 “Fast-fashion companies tell their customers that it’s possible to buy their products and still have a clean conscience. H&M has ramped up its use of organic cotton and sustainably sourced materials; Boohoo sells 40 or so items partially made from recycled textiles.” Aja Barber, a fashion-sustainability consultant, called this greenwashing in an interview with The Atlantic: “It’s like, ‘Oh look, these five items that we made are sustainable, but the rest of the 2,000 items on our website are not .'”36

“[A] higher price reflects things like fair wages, ethical sourcing practices and higher costs for less wasteful production runs. Knowing all that, the real question we should ask is: how is fast fashion so cheap?” -Sophie Benson, Sustainable Wardrobe37

Man wearing coat with "Sale" tags all over it, as well as shopping bags. Depicts shopping for clothing at clothing or department stores.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Our Role

“Fast fashion makes us believe we need to shop more and more to stay on top of trends, creating a constant sense of need and ultimate dissatisfaction.”38

We’ve all supported it at some point, probably mistakenly. We found a great deal on a cute cardigan or funny t-shirt and bought it. Buying new clothes, especially when they’re on sale, brings pleasure to our brains. “This means of instant gratification from the fast fashion complex is a recipe for disaster for our brains, our wallets, supply chains, and the planet.”39 But we have to stop supporting fast fashion now. 

Think about the human factor. Every time we purchase from a company that does not follow ethical labor standards or pays poor wages, we are supporting the mistreatment of our fellow human beings. “We are rarely asked to pay the true cost of fashion. The pollution, carbon emissions, waste, and poverty our clothes create aren’t tallied up and included in the prices we enjoy. It does cost a bit more to do things the right way, to operate safer, well-paying factories and farms and to use longer-lasting, sustainable materials and craft more durable products. Ethical and sustainable clothing doesn’t have to be unaffordable, though,” wrote Elizabeth L. Cline.40

We can do better. Follow my upcoming series to learn more about clothing production and learn what you can do differently. Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

Large well lit clothing store with racks of clothing and stacks of shoes.
Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash.

Additional Resources:

Article, “10 Fast Fashion Brands We Avoid At All Costs,” by Christine Huynh, Good On You, April 30, 2021.

Website, The Magazine of the Sierra Club: Elizabeth L. Cline author page.

Blog, Elizabeth L. Cline Books.

Publication, “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future,” Ellen MacArthur Foundation, November 28, 2017.

The True Cost cover artFilm, The True Cost (2015)

 

 

 

 

Footnotes: