Getting Fashion Sustainability Straight

Chiara Codazzi

Every day we hear so much about environmental pollution, climate change, unsustainable labor practices, earth overshoot day and so on … We get overwhelmed by catastrophic news headlines that don’t allow us time to process the major environmental consequences of each industry. Through this article, I want to provide some clarity on the issue of sustainability in the fashion industry, the fifth biggest industry in the world (by employment). No matter who you are or  where you come from, you are an active participant in this industry.  In the hope of making you a more aware consumer, I will attempt to unpack some of the issues  surrounding sustainability within the fashion industry. 

To start, there are certain basic assumptions about the fashion industry and its consumers that one should be aware of. First, when a brand creates a new product to a certain extent, they create a footprint –defined as the total amount of carbon emissions generated by the production process of garments. Overall, the fashion industry has a cost to the environment. Some of its detrimental impacts include  costJust to mention some The main There is always a step within the supply chain of a brand that will create spillover effects on a third party. 

The industrial landscape of the fashion world is tightly linked to its supply chain, and revolves heavily around volume. It is in a business’s best interest to produce until they achieve economies of scale. The more a brand produces, the lower the unit cost per item will be. Higher output volumes push production costs down, increasing a business’s profit. For this reason, companies are  likely to produce more than they  are capable of selling, leading to an increase in both wasted resources and wasted final items.

 Despite these massive amounts of waste, many businesses are not taking steps to increase their sustainability. It is naive to think that corporations will sacrifice profits and shareholder returns in order to pursue environmental sustainability. There are many firms that decide to go green so that they can improve their public image,  cut their costs, or as a way of bypassing anticipated regulations. Next time you see a brand promoting itself as “green”, bear in mind  that they may not have a purely environmental motivation for doing so, therefore participating in greenwashing. 

On the other side of the fashion industry, opposite corporations, are consumers. While the best option for consumers to help this industry is to not over-consume fast fashion products,  you cannot tell a consumer to buy less. To offset the fashion industry’s negative consequences , it would be ideal to buy fewer things of better quality so that they can last longer. This model of consumption is typically referred to as “slow fashion”, in contrast to the harmful “fast fashion” that has become standard. This would lead to a general decrease in the production of garments, and less environmental damage arising from supply chains. However, it is within consumer nature to buy indistinctly when they see something they like, making this a difficult change to implement 

With this general industry overview as background, it is important to analyze several sustainable fashion issues that we come across in our daily lives. As you are reading this article, there is a high chance that you are wearing jeans. Have you ever considered what goes into the making of your jeans? 

Traditionally, finishing a pair of jeans requires an average of 18 gallons of water, 1.5 kilowatts of energy, and 5 ounces of chemicals. Multiply that by the amount of jeans you own, and then multiply that by approximately 7 billion – it will give 

Also, think of all of those jeans you once owned and have thrown out or given away. Those too underwent the same process. Although new technologies have been implemented to reduce the resources used to produce clothing, there are ways that you, as a consumer, can make a  difference. For example, Levi’s has recently introduced a second hand shop for their denim products.  If you own a pair of Levi’s that you want to get rid of, you can schedule an appointment with a store  and have them inspect and acquire your jeans. In return, you will get a gift card to their store. Even if small, these types of contributions will make a difference. 

Lastly, I want to invite you to check the label of any garment you are wearing. There is a high chance that it is made of organic cotton, polyester, or a combination of the two. Polyester is the cheapest and most popular of fabrics. However, it is petroleum based, making it one of the most environmentally harmful.  Nearly seventy million barrels of crude are required to make the polyester used for textiles each year. Next time you go shopping, keep an eye out for materials. Try to avoid polyester, or at least try to buy recycled polyester garments. Again, even small contributions can make a big difference.

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