A Story of Ethical Fashion Consumption

By Meghan Loftus

Shop the Reformation ‘Afternoon Dress’ here.

It’s an interesting concept how vastly different people’s ‘happy place’ can be.

My sister’s happy place is her bed on a Sunday morning. My best friend’s happy place is taking a hike in Colorado. My mom’s happy place is wherever her husband and all her kids are together, doesn’t matter where. For as long as I can remember, the waves of Lake Michigan washing up to the Indiana dunes have been my happy place.

This summer was the first summer in a few years I was able to move home to my happy place, but so much had changed. I felt so old. I sat on the beach and watched all the little girls run around, in and out of the water, with their dads chasing after them — something I had done 15 years ago. The funny thing is, it still made me feel so happy, so blissful. I began thinking about all the other things that have made me happy in the more recent months. One of the happiest memories was moving to New York to work in the fashion industry — an industry I aspire to work full-time in one day. Then, it stunned me. One of my great loves, fashion, could have such a harmful impact on another all-time love of mine, the lake.

Lake Michigan has always been a part of my life. Growing up 20 miles from downtown Chicago and spending my summer months in Indiana, Lake Michigan was there through it all. There’s something so intriguing about the size, demeanor and the unknown powers of the lake. I’ve always taken this huge, beautiful source of fresh water for granted. I assume the lake will always be there for us to enjoy.

Little did I know, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world … second to oil. It’s old news when I say the fashion industry isn’t known for being the most ethical of industries, but second largest pollutant? I think most people would agree with me when I say that when the majority of people think of pollution the first thoughts that comes to mind are images of power plants, various modes of transportation and mined mountaintops.

I never think of the pair of pants I’m wearing as a contributor to the second largest source of pollution that Lake Michigan (and all other bodies of water) faces.

Think about the process of making one shirt. Looking strictly at supply chains, it’s overwhelming. From raw materials to transportation costs to actual dyes used, this process is toxic for our environment. Let’s talk raw materials to begin. On average, a regular cotton shirt can take up to 2700 liters of water to make. Think about that number in comparison to the fact that earth has less than 1% of its clean water supply remaining.

Two more commonly used textiles are polyester and nylon. Polyester and nylon are both non-biodegradable and therefore unsustainable by their very being. During production, these two fabrics emit mass amounts of greenhouse gas into the ozone, as well. In terms of transportation pollution, limiting the distance the garments have to travel to reach their destination is the industry’s best bet on cutting back on emissions. Producing and buying locally cuts out the middleman and the extra emissions.

In addition to the transporting of goods, the dyeing of different fabrics has harsh consequences for both you and the environment. With dyes consisting of toxins that are bad for both your skin and the environment, no one is safe. In fact, ’20 of the world’s favorite brands are making and selling clothes containing hazardous chemicals which contribute to toxic water pollution where the clothes are made and washed,’ said Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner John Deans. Four garments contained high levels of toxic phthalates, 89 garments contained NPEs, and two items, both from Zara, contained cancer-causing amines from the use of azo dyes.

Fast fashion is one of the largest threats to the environment.

Fast fashion is a term used by fashion retailers meaning inexpensive clothing produced rapidly in response to the current trends. The disposal of clothing and newly created demand for more clothes forces the general population into this cycle of buying cheap clothes, throwing out cheap clothes, and repeating. Globalization and this never satisfied consumer have created a search for the cheapest of cheap production costs and have upped the ante for lowest labor wages (producing a whole other issue, but that’s a discussion for a different time). ‘Cheap fast fashion is a huge obstacle to a more sustainable industry,’ said Tom Cridland, founder of his own green fashion line. ‘Theoretically, a 100% sustainable fashion collection is not impossible, but we need more brands to promote buying less but buying better.’

Embrace ‘slow fashion.’ Invest in long-term wardrobe staples from ethically conscious brands.

Despite the rapid rate of pollution from the fashion industry, companies with environmentally conscious CEOs have started to make a change. Sustainable companies are popping up left and right with an overwhelming amount of support. Consumers are starting to recognize the importance of buying locally. Screen printing companies are changing their ways in using more friendly dyes. Different projects such as The Detox Campaign, have encouraged fast fashion companies to detox their supply chains and products. Zara, the leading fast fashion company, has committed to being toxin-free by 2020.

Like any industry, change takes time, and conscious consumerism is key.

My happy place is in jeopardy, but there’s something I can do about it.

The traceability of products and knowing the who, where, what, and when of the shirt on your back is a good start. Donate your clothes to secondhand stores once you’ve outgrown them instead of throwing them away. Buy less per season, which can also make a huge impact. Support local retailers and environmentally conscious companies. It’s discouraging to think about all the statistics, but I think it makes the stories a reality. By doing my part, I’m trying to keep my happy place, a lake that means so much to so many, around.

This article was originally posted on bSmartGuide.com. bSmart is a mentorship and networking platform for young women featuring curated content to help you live your best life and provide the expert advice you wish someone had given you. Our community is designed to find and spotlight women who are doing extraordinary things and connect them with women who aspire to do the same.

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