What makes your favourite piece of clothing your favourite? Maybe it fits just right. Maybe you saved up for months to buy it. Maybe you just feel like you when you put it on. What does it say about you?
The connection between our identity and the clothes we wear is undeniable, and just as our identities evolve and tastes rapidly change, so do fashion trends. This leads to garment retailers pushing rapid inventory turnover and the production of immense amounts of garments; as of 2009, more than 590 million pairs of jeans were sold - not even just for sale - in the United States alone.¹ Not surprisingly, this production leads to waste in many forms. Heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic can be found in Indonesia’s Citarium River as a result of garment manufacturers in the area dumping leftover dyes.² Additionally, factory garment production produces a myriad of fabric waste than ends up in landfills. This information is all easily obtainable with a quick Google search and unfortunately doesn’t strike me as very surprising. I feel like someone, somewhere, has told me this all before. Now, as I look down at my H&M shirt and my Forever 21 boots, I must pose the question: Why don’t we care as much as we should? Why isn’t the environment a major concern when we choose the clothes we buy?
The first reason is that the garment industry is usually scrutinized for another offense- human rights abuses with the use of sweatshop labour. In recent years, exposés - like those brought about on Nike in the 1990’s - and tragedies - like the 2013 Savar garment factory collapse in Bangladesh - have brought these abuses to our attention and led to boycotts against companies who employ sweatshop labour.
We haven’t seen this sort of major backlash to garment manufacturers committing environmental infractions, however. While other industries profit off of individuals not putting much thought into what they buy, the garment industry as a whole continues to thrive even though much thought is put into clothing purchases as to reflect personalities, careers, physicalities, and now ethics where human lives are concerned. The second reason, then, is that the environment is at the back of our minds during this thought process. People don’t usually think of the environmental impact of a cotton t-shirt the same way they consider the fuel efficiency of a car. The fact of the matter, however, is that the fashion industry - in particular, the fast fashion industry, with retailers like Zara, H&M and Forever 21 - is one of the dirtiest industries in the world, second only to the oil industry.²
It is up to us not let the garment industry remain exempt from environmental consideration and scrutiny. We can do our part by supporting retailers who participate in environmentally conscious production and use fibres like hemp, which requires minimal water to grow, in their clothing. Additionally, we can choose to buy used clothing- which I will be discussing in detail in my coming entries. We must make environmental conservation as much a part of our identities as our favourite pair of jeans.