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July 20, 2020 4 min read
It's no hidden fact that fashion is considered to be the second largest sector to contribute to environmental pollution - only second to the energy industry. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water just to grow enough cotton to make a single pair of denim jeans. Now take into consideration how many pairs of jeans one brand produces. Then think about how many brands are selling jeans - it can be a little overwhelming to wrap your head around.
Although technology has developed, the majority of companies continue to participate in creating fashion that often results in the planet being negatively strained through land-clearings, traces of chemical waste in our waters, and contributing to about 10% of the world's carbon emission. However, consumers are becoming more aware of the realities in the industry and the demand for change is ever-present.
factory emitting fumes
The movement for climate change where the fight for policies that protect our planet, and all its inhabitants, has been a long-time struggle globally. We can all relate to over-consumption, mass production, and exploitation being major contributions to environmental concerns at this given moment. And within recent months, the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted another area of concern that correlates to environmental issues & is deeply rooted in the fast-fashion sector.
The term is quite literally as it sounds; fast, and it's for the purpose of being fashionable. The process from catwalk to a physical store of a collection can be as short as a few weeks - not to mention many of the ideas are stolen from fashion houses and emerging designers showcasing their designs during Fashion Week. This fast turn around time allows consumers to quickly buy into trendy clothes at a considerably lower price point.
Clothes that are being made in mass for cheaper is a business model that fast-fashion runs on. The rise of technology has allowed this practice to grow, which has only left the minorities at the bottom of the supply-chain to suffer, reaping little to no benefits.
discount clothes on rack
The habit of purchasing fast-fashion soon resulted in many brands & consumers disposing of these same items just as quickly. This throw-away mentality comes with serious negative impacts on our society & planet. In contrast, traditional fashion houses differ as they conceptualize & create these one of a kind collections, seasonally, and often in limited quantities.
Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on minority communities. The concept was developed in the 1970s-1980s in the United States. Exposure to oil pipelines, chemical wastes, and air pollutants are found mostly located in low-wage, coloured communities throughout the globe.
An article from VICE highlights an interesting point and explains how the coronavirus is affecting black and brown communities at an alarmingly disproportionate rate in comparison to other groups. A direct result of this is through the oppression of environmental racism, where their quality of life has taken the burden. These unfair practices go far beyond where manufacturing and waste sites are located, but into lax policies and regulations around minority communities who do not have the proper resources to protect themselves and are left with little options.
person running in the field
The fashion industry is no bystander either when it comes to environmental racism and is a large part of the issue on a global scale. Many of these fast-fashion companies are supplied by major manufacturing plants which pump-out pollutants in vast amounts in low-income housing areas, do not compensate their labourers fairly, where they are forced to work in generally hazardous and hostile environments.
An estimated 2% of fashion workers around the world are paid a living wage, and of the 74 million textile workers worldwide, 80% are women of colour. Fast-fashion has relied on the exploitation of garment workers in overseas countries since it began being commercialized in the 1960s and 1970s. The boom of online shopping in the early 2000s has only perpetuated this cycle of oppression and environmental strain on our planet.
Become well-versed on the subject at hand. Fully understanding climate change and environmental racism, and these deeply entwined issues, can broaden your horizon and knowledge. This will help you make more informed decisions that cannot be covered by elusive marketing narratives. Consider the raw materials used in products which are involved in the creation process, the country the product is made in, and ultimately the social affects your choice as a consumer will make. This awareness gives people the power to demand change from the industry and reinforces positive practices and initiatives.
The introduction of fast-fashion has drastically sped up the processing time of garments in unmaintainable ways. We can see now the true cost of disposable fashion, and how it no longer fits into our current reality. As the fashion world has begun to shift, we too as fashion customers need to shift our understanding of the industry and how we can purchase-smarter, even if it's at all.
planting nursery Baobob trees
We as consumers have the obligation and power to question these brands and become involved in what we let transpire in the world around us. Choose to ask for more sustainability. Choose to want more circularity, and slow down the cycle of environmental inequality by staying well-informed in the matter & supporting brands that are transparent with their goals. Those who honour their commitment for a better, more sustainable future for everyone.