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Despite the worldwide interest in clothing, few realize the drastic damage done by the fashion industry. Be it unsustainable production and consumption or the mistreatment and abuse of workers, there are many causes for concern. In the common global interest, socially and environmentally, the fashion industry and consumers must adapt to be more sustainable and ethical.
Clothing consumption is expected to rise by 63% in 2030 for a total of 102 million tons of apparel. The ever-increasing concern for the environment has proven that the world needs to reduce its carbon emissions. Clothing is an important place to start: the fashion industry ranks number three in regards to pollution and carbon emissions.
One way to fight wastefulness is to reduce the demand for new clothing. This is crucial considering that three-fifths of all clothing items will be incinerated or thrown in a landfill within a year of being produced according to a 2016 McKinsey report.
In order to reduce clothing waste, many people have taken to shopping at thrift stores. This repurposes discarded clothing items and diminishes the need to produce more clothing, not to mention that increasing used clothing sales by 10% could cut carbon emissions per ton of apparel by 3% and water use by 4%.
“I personally do take sustainability into account when I shop,” said junior Asma Tariq. “Thrifting and buying items that can be worn many different ways is something I’m really starting to take seriously and enjoy!”
However, ethically sourced and sustainable clothing is typically more expensive or less readily available. This makes it harder for consumers to shop accordingly.
“It’s one of those things that I know I should think about, but if I decided to only buy brands or shop at stores that had ethical/sustainable practices, and that didn’t give money to unsavory causes, and that didn’t purchase advertising on shows/networks I object to, etc. I’d never buy anything anywhere,” said English teacher Lisa Marshall.
Additionally, fast fashion shops such as Forever 21, H&M, ASOS, and Zara mass-produce clothing, regularly releasing new clothing based on every trend and seasonal change. This industry produced around 1 million articles of clothing annually, emitting 1.2 billion tons of CO2 along the way.
Unfortunately, not only does this mass production encourage excessive clothing consumption and low-quality clothing that will soon end in a landfill, but it also contributes to horrific working standards.
Sweatshops are common amongst many fashion brands that create factories abroad to cut costs. Here, workers are subject to long hours, poor working conditions, low-pay, and even child labor. Around 148 million children ages 5 through 14 are employed in sweatshops,
“Big companies are taking shortcuts by taking advantage of sweatshops and child labor; it’s immoral and brushed under a rug so their customers often don’t even know how poorly the company is treating other people to make these clothes,” said junior Jax Snay.
Besides, these questions of ethics and sustainability should be handled by manufacturers. Consumers shopping according to ethical values and environmentally friendly standards is beneficial, yet more drastic change is in the hands of major clothing corporations.
“The average person just wants nice clothes; it’s not on everyone’s mind that they need to be accounting for 5, 10, 15 years from now. That’s something that businesses have to take into account,” said Tariq.
This leaves the fate of the environment and employees in business’ hands, but consumer protest could trigger change.
“I feel like companies should pride themselves in producing their products ethically. Also, people should be looking into how their clothes are made and boycotting the brands that are unethically producing their clothes until those companies change how they’re getting their products,” said Snay.
To ensure that the industry responds to environmental and social needs, consumers must be a part of the process. Without action, clothing will continue to be a major contributor to a variety of global issues.
“Waste, abuse of workers, low wages, those are all things that companies NEED to address. But they’re not gonna address them if people don’t hold them accountable for it,” said Tariq. “The number one thing consumers should do is educate themselves!”