In our day of social awareness, we emphasize things like caring about the environment, yet we continue to add to the problem through our love of fashion, especially fast fashion. Kim Hiller, an Apparel Textile teacher at Kansas State University, explains fast fashion as a trendy inexpensive model of clothing that relies on low-quality materials and poorly paid workforce. These elements we are using to make our clothes are harming our environment. Where does the fashion community’s responsibility fit in? Where does our responsibility fit in as consumers?
“By 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.”
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that “By 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.” Although fast fashion brands provide consumer-based access to top trends, we have to decide if the impacts of these trends are worth it; and if fashion brands outside of fast fashion are also responsible. Within the last few years, the trend of fast fashion has grown tremendously. Brands like Fashion Nova, Forever 21, H&M and more have perfected the art of quickly producing and replicating top trends. Beyond the typical grips of unwarranted and cheaply recreated pieces within the fashion industry, these brands’ impact and success have huge consequences.
The current trend of transparent accessories has contributed to harmful products like plastic or PVC being used more and more. Chemicals used in dyeing fabrics are also contributing to pollution. When these items are discarded into landfills, the chemicals breakdown and seep into soil and water sources, causing contamination. As the demand for fast fashion trends increases, the lifespan of these items shorten significantly. April Callahan, FIT Curator at Special Collections, says this is a new trend.
“..fashion is creating this impression in the mind of consumers that fashion is disposable”
“I think fast fashion is creating this impression in the mind of consumers that fashion is disposable,” adding, “That’s something that’s [become] a relatively new concept in the last 50 years.”
In fact, recent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency show that in 2015, 16 million tons of textile waste was generated alone. This alone took up 6.1% of municipal solid waste. Numbers like these make it clear that if this continues the environment will continue to suffer.
With the ever-increasing demand to consistently release new clothes multiple times a year, the fashion industry has had to adapt. Hiller clarifies that traditional we had 4 to 6 season a year, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, until the fast fashion model increased it to 52 micro-seasons. “Fast fashion retailers know that they can convince consumers that they’re going to be out of style or not in trend if they are not shopping the newest products” (Hiller). In result, the construction and quality of the garments are being compromised. Fast fashion items are made with cheap and synthetic materials that take large amounts of resources to be produced. The problem lies more in just the discarding of the items. Producing with cheap materials contribute to air pollution with their emission of carbon dioxide, methane, and other pollutants into the air. It can take up 5,000 gallons of water just to manufacture one item. This is an outrageous use of resource and contamination for an item that will be discarded within weeks. Callahan, said “These clothes aren’t necessarily being created to last,” making this trend unsustainable. “When they’re quickening the cycle of the trends, people are just discarding the clothes.”
“When they’re quickening the cycle of the trends, people are just discarding the clothes.”
Callahan says the best way consumers can start shopping more sustainably is by buying vintage and supporting ethical companies. Doing your research before shopping goes a long way. There are lots of popular companies that have started becoming more sustainable, such as Patagonia, Adidas, Nike, Madewell, and North Face.
The environmental sustainability crisis goes beyond just fashion, as well. Think about how you get ready as soon as you hop out of bed. Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Put makeup on. Style your hair. Put deodorant on. All these actions are taking up a lot of natural resources. Conserving your water through your morning routine is a big step forward. It may not seem like that big a deal, but the average person will use around 65 gallons of water a day. Try applying makeup with your fingers or brushes instead of disposable materials. Most beauty bloggers recommend it as it makes your makeup look airbrushed and will prevent wrinkles. Using disposable sponges and Q-tips to apply makeup will actually bring bacteria to your pores.
Sephora’s beauty manager and makeup guru, Jamie Van Sickler, recommends using cosmetic products that are safer for the earth and your skin.
“Here at Sephora, we’ve just started this line called Clean. It’s the beauty you want minus ingredients you don’t.”
Another way to help reduce waste is by changing what you wash your face with. Facial cleanser ingredients like microbeads, won’t dissolve properly. Exfoliating microbeads are in face wash, toothpaste, lip gloss, and several other cosmetic items. These tiny beads are polluting waterways, and find their way into fish and other wildlife. The beads get stuck in animal lungs and digestive tracts. Some brands aim to avoid all these issues by coming up with substitute ingredients. Part of Sephora’s Clean initiative is by stocking shelves with Origin, Drunk Elephant, and Youth to the People. Shopping from these brands that use biodegradable microbeads and natural elements that exfoliate your skin will be significantly better for the environment while still making your skin baby soft.
Makeup products can be a harder sacrifice since finding a perfect foundation match doesn’t happen every day. Makeup routines are sacred. Try adjusting your routine to do your part. Being conscious of what you use to get ready will be a huge contributing factor to how much you can recycle and save our earth from unwanted plastic.