When you think of heavily polluting industries you probably think of the oil industry, the coal industry, and agriculture. Would it surprise you to learn that fashion is the second leading polluter in the world behind the oil industry? We don’t always think of fashion as being something that pollutes, but it is an industry that combines multiple other industries (think agriculture and manufacturing at the base) and has grown 400% in just 20 years.
Fashion has become a throw-away industry in the last two decades. Many people will wear something just a few times and then move on to something else. Serious decreases in price have allowed for this lifestyle- production is often outsourced, making the end products easier to afford. Add that to the fact stores release new items weekly and fashion magazines debut “the next big thing” constantly and you have a recipe for a totally unnecessary waste stream. New stuff coming out all the time coupled with low prices creates an unnecessary and unsustainable throw away fashion culture. There’s just no need to always have the next big fashion statement in your closet waiting to go out of style and be thrown away. The average American family spends nearly $2000 a year on clothing- an expenditure that can easily be scaled back.
Each American is responsible for creating 82 pounds of textile waste per year. That adds up to 11 million pounds per year in the United States alone! A quarter of pesticides worldwide are used in cotton fields alone, and it takes 900 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans! Up to 20% of water pollution comes from synthetic textile dyes. Switching to natural dyes, organic cotton, and reusing and repurposing items can save a lot of waste and pollution.
The fashion industry has responded to pollution concerns in a big way. Many clothing manufacturers are offering organic and naturally dyed clothing options. Synergy Clothing, Blue Canoe, and Hanna Andersson all make organic clothing in popular styles. There are several companies making or selling eco-friendly accessories as well.
Eyeglasses are being made with a number of different sustainable or repurposed materials. Some are made from reclaimed wood, while others are made from recycled or plant-based plastics. Others are being made from bamboo, a fast-growing eco-friendly grass with multiple uses. There are even glasses being made with plastics reclaimed from the sea, ten percent of which comes from discarded fishing nets. If you could choose fashion accessories that contributed to the cleanup of the oceans, why wouldn’t you?
The first step to fixing a problem is to admit there is one, and it’s becoming more obvious these days that fashion is on an unsustainable trajectory. There are lots of ways to correct this trajectory and every little correction gets us headed in the right direction. The next time you need a new pair of glasses, will you look for eco-friendly frames? The next time you need a new sweater will you go for something made of organic cotton? Learn more about the fashion industry’s push to become more sustainable and eco-friendly from this infographic.