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Nightmare on 5th Avenue- Resurrecting the Ghost of Slow-Fashion, Part 1

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An Environmental Exorcism

We know who did it. It’s no great murder mystery. It was Forever 21, in the mall, with the polyester blend mini skirt. And they almost got away with it too, if it wasn’t for us pesky kids who care about this Earth we inhabit. Fast-Fashion is becoming our generation’s real life horror movie, but there’s plenty we can do to slow this haunting trend down and help lessen our impact on the environment.

Image Courtesy of Makers Row

The Horrible Habit

Fast fashion is rooted in our love for being trendy. And while I’m not one to knock trends, who among us hasn’t picked up a key component of our style from a fleeting trend somewhere along the lines of fashion history- the rate at which trends come and go is becoming alarming. From 2000 to 2014 clothing production doubled and with it so did it’s consumption. Today, the average fashion follower buys 60 percent more clothing items a year, with each item only being worn about 5 times before being tossed aside due to wear and tear, or becoming “outdated.” This is causing huge amounts of cloth and fiber waste to be dumped into landfills and because of the prevalence and popularity of synthetic fibers like non-biodegradable polyester, it is destined to sit there for decades, emitting 3 times the amount of carbon dioxide than cotton and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas more than 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The synthetic fabrics, toxic dyes and low quality garments being used and produced are at the heart of fast fashion, it’s what makes companies like Forever 21, Zara, and H&M able to turn out low grade knockoffs of looks being sent down the runway only days earlier. The ability to turn around trendy clothes so quickly has also lead to those fads burning out even faster, causing the increase in consumption, and ultimately waste, of clothes.

Polluted water runs through a gutter outside the Aditya Jeans Washers factory at an apparel park in the Mundargi Industrial Area of Ballari, Karnataka, India. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Deadly Effects

From start to finish the production of clothing items has a terrible impact on our Earth’s natural resources. Processing all the way from plant to textile includes dyeing, stripping and bleaching, and washing and finishing. These processes often use chlorine compounds and heavy metals that can leach out of the fabrics into water supplies. This makes water the number one worry when it comes to impact fast fashion has on our environment. From consumption to pollution, water availability is being impaired for many cities around the world. Many cities like Zhangyuzhuang, China and Tiruppur, India, are seeing astonishing increases in cancer rates due to heavily polluted rivers and water sources. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans, 700 gallons of water to dye one t-shirt, imagine the impact that consumption has during the production of an entire order. It takes 290 gallons of water to grow the non-organic cotton needed for one t-shirt, 660 gallons to grow the organic cotton needed for one t-shirt. That leaves us between a rock and a hard place of a decision: buy organic cotton and use double the amount of water or buy non-organic cotton and allow the practice of pesticides to contaminate said water? Choices like these leave us reeling, and pesticides and dyes in water are just the tip of the iceberg-melting pandemic. Fast fashion is a dirty business, more and more goods are being made out of synthetic cloth derived from oil and fossil fuels, destined to sit in a landfill and add to our carbon footprint.

CHENGDU, CHINA – A Chinese worker adds chemical into a wastewater treatment pond at a garments factory in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China.

How To Be The Good Guy

Now that we’re all proper scared, it’s time to tackle the solution. It may seem like a good idea at the time of closet cleaning to donate those briefly worn threads, the fact of the matter is 80 percent of what is donated ends up in a landfill anyway, and what does end up overseas to aid those in need, often ends up crashing their clothing economy. For example, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the onslaught of donated goods left the Haitian economy entirely dependent on foreign donations. There are alternative ways of aiding relief efforts, and supporting environmentally friendly fashion (but more about the economy in our second part of this series). Instead of throwing away clothes that no longer fit your closet’s “brand,” try re-selling. To learn more about this easy green trick, both for the Earth and your wallet, check out our article on thrifting and consignment here. Instead of stressing about organic versus non-organic, trying shopping for a completely different type of all natural fabric. Examples of different natural fabrics include bamboo, a hypoallergenic and natural alternative, eucalyptus, silk, modal, linen and lyocell/Viscose blends. Companies like National LTDParker Smith Jeans, and Riller + Fount focus on using these natural alternatives to cotton and poly blends. Brands like Veja, an eco-friendly sneaker company, tan their leather with vegetable tanning processes and use recycled rubber for their shoe’s treads. Little River Sock Mill, focuses their responsible efforts towards organic cotton, and making up for their water consumption by recycling water when dying textiles and using low impact dyes. Many of these brands are available through their ecommerce shops, they’re also available locally in many places through small business ran shops that maybe closer than you think. Mod + Ethico, in Chicago, is a supporter of all these brands, and by shopping at local small boutiques you help tackle our next article’s issue: Nightmare on 5th Avenue: An American Economy Horror Story. Keep your eyes peeled for our next installment on responsible fashion!

Veja Shoes | Image Courtesy of Ecouturre
Veja Shoes| Image Courtesy of Ethical Unicorn

By Kit Royce

@KitRoyce | Kit Royce

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