Sustainability in the fashion industry

Ethical shopping is a game you can win

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Illustration by Kailyn Neidetcher

Many things are wrong with the fashion industry. Trends go as fast as they come, pressuring us to buy the next best thing which will be the second best next month. We are left with cluttered closets, nothing to wear and our wallets a little bit lighter, yet we still can’t help but want more.

It’s fairly common knowledge that the fast-fashion industry is shady. Money appears to be the name of the game when taking a critical look into the corrupt side of the industry. Low wages, unsafe working conditions, lack of regard for the environment and, in some cases, child labor are used to drive production costs as far down as possible. A bargain price often means someone somewhere else is picking up the rest of the tab.

How can we take a stand against unethical practices in the fashion industry and the negative effects of thoughtless shopping patterns while still expressing our unique style?

The rules of the game

As consumers in a capitalist system, we have a lot of power. By simply putting items in our shopping cart, we ultimately choose what sells and what stays on the shelves. But with this power comes responsibility. You should ask yourself how clothing was made and who made it before buying. Once our purchases start reflecting the positive change we want to see in the world, fashion brands and manufacturers will follow suit.

Put your money where your mouth is

One of the easiest ways to fight unethical fast-fashion practices is to stop buying from companies and brands which are not sustainably or ethically produced. According to a study by the Fashion Revolution, Topshop, Forever 21, Zara and Victoria’s Secret, among others, are popular fast-fashion brands implementing unethical and questionable production methods.

Think twice about brands that aren’t transparent in their production methods and environmental footprint. Apps like Good On You, Avoid and Good Guide can help you track ethical brands. TenTree, People Tree, Patagonia, Levis and Kings of Indigo are brands currently setting the stage for sustainable fashion.

Get thrifty

One of the problems with switching over from fast-fashion labels is that fair trade and sustainable brands cost a pretty penny. These brands are not cutting corners when it comes to paying livable wages, providing healthy working conditions and being mindful of their environmental footprint.

However, you don’t have to drop hundreds on a new wardrobe in order to dress conscientiously. Thrifting and buying secondhand is a great way to find unique, high-quality fashion pieces for a fraction of the cost, not to mention it’s a waste-free way to shop. By thrifting instead of buying new, you are helping keep wearable clothes out of landfills, which can impact our environment in a big way.

It’s also worth taking time to consider repurposing old clothing items by donating to your local charities. Approximately 50 percent of clothing is thrown away each year that could have been donated or recycled in some manner, compared to the 95 percent of all textiles that can be recycled or reused.

Save your money, help the Earth

Probably the best thing you can do to fight against the unethical consumption of material goods is to simply stop consuming. Save your money and hold off on buying things you don’t actually need. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this, or do I really want this?” Unless you went out to specifically buy it, you probably don’t.

Every year, two billion t-shirts are sold worldwide while 520 million pairs of jeans are sold in the United States alone. According to Newsweek, Americans throw away 14 million tons of clothing and textile material each year. What percentage of that throwaway pile do you think is less than a year old?

Bottom line

The corporate giants that dress much of the world need to be held accountable for what is happening behind closed doors in the fashion production and manufacturing process. The fast-fashion industry, paired with a deeply ingrained consumerist mindset, is hurting people, our planet and our pockets.

In order to contribute to worldwide sustainability efforts and to improve countless individuals’ quality of life, we need to start taking an active role in educating others about the impact of unethical fashion practices. Everyone has the power to implement small changes in their lives in order to make a big impact. It’s not hard to win the ethical shopping game; you just have to decide if you are going to play.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Fashion Transparency Index rates brands solely on Transparency, not on ethical production methods as this article states. Also, the article links to an old report. There is a 2017 edition, and the 2018 Index is launched by Fashion Revolution next week.

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