Before becoming a transformation coach, I worked in the fashion industry for over two decades as both a designer and celebrity stylist. I also consulted high-tech start-ups in Silicon Valley on how to integrate and use their technologies in consumer-based industries. This work led me down a path of research and investigation, which ultimately awakened me to disturbing insights on how toxic the fashion and textile industries are.
The implications of fast fashion
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the globe’s annual carbon emissions, poisoning water supplies, paying no mind to child labor, and contributing to mass dumping into landfills. If the industry doesn’t make radical policy changes, it is anticipated that by 2050 it will be using 25% of the world’s carbon budget, making it one of the most polluting industries, second only to oil. As there are not yet regulations imposed on the fashion and textile industries, there is little data transparency, and as consumers, we do not know how to measure the resources used to manufacture our garments.
If I told you the pair of jeans in your closet took 2,000 gallons (7,500 liters) of water to manufacture –which only includes growing the cotton and manufacturing the garment, not the water you’ll use to launder the jeans over time – would you think twice about purchasing another pair? If you knew it took 713 gallons (2,700 liters) of water – enough for one person to consume in two and a half years – to produce a single cotton shirt, would you be motivated to change your shopping habits? Would you reconsider how much you consume knowing that by the year 2030 47% of the world’s population will face a severe water shortage?
If the average person lives to 82 and drinks approximately one gallon of water a day, that totals 30,000 gallons of water over a lifetime. Go to your closet and count how many pairs of jeans you have. If you have 15 pairs of jeans, their creation has taken more water than you will ever drink in your life span! Now consider inhabitants of third-world countries who have limited or no access to a clean water supply. I have no doubt that starting today, you will never look at your jeans the same way. Let them serve as a reminder of just how much of our planet’s resources are being used to support a culture motivated by consumption and materialism with little regard and insufficient understanding of consequence.
Why the fashion industry lags when it comes to sustainability
When you go to the market to purchase eggs, you know whether the chickens producing those eggs were grass-fed or cage-free. Unlike food labels, which provide ingredient and nutrient information that allows consumers to make healthy food choices, garment labels yield zero guidance. The consumer is unable to make educated decisions when it comes to procuring clothes.
Many people are becoming more aware about foods they eat and how the nutritional choices they make impact their overall health and well-being. But it’s interesting how little anyone considers the toxic dyes and washes used on our clothes and the effect they may have on our health.
For example, clothing is often coated in compounds that soften them or prevent them from wrinkling. These chemicals are called phthalates and are used in jeans, faux leather, and raincoats. Although the United States Congress instituted a federal ban on phthalates in toys in 2008, the chemicals continue to be used in manufacturing. An environmental investigator, Greenpeace, found these chemicals inside children’s underwear! There is now strong scientific evidence supporting the link between many of these textile treatments and adverse health effects, such as skin irritation, developmental issues, asthma, autoimmune disease, and even some cancers.
Why is the industry not held more accountable? Why does the consumer turn a blind eye to the impact and stress the fast-fashion industry has placed on our environment and global health crisis? As end users, we are obligated to play a part in breaking embedded consumer patterns by being more conscious about the impacts we make on our planet each time we buy, wear, and wash a garment. It is time to take personal responsibility and get educated, especially if the manufacturing industry refuses to do so.
The following is a guide to support you in shopping smarter and being a more conscious consumer. By following these suggestions, you’ll feel even more amazing in your clothes knowing you have made responsible decisions. Collectively, we can do our part to protect and heal our beautiful earth and its inhabitants.
Fifteen ways to be a more conscious clothing consumer:
- Spend a little more on better-quality products, which will last longer and therefore be more sustainable.
- Maximize what you already have in your closet and discover new ways to style your clothes.
- Donate what you do not wear to organizations such as The Cancer Cartel, a nonprofit providing financial resources and relief to those fighting cancer.*
- If you are uninspired by your wardrobe and bored with what you have, consider doing a clothing exchange with friends.
- Rent clothes from companies such as Rent the Runway.*
- Purchase secondhand on consignment from companies such as The Cancer Cartel or The Real Real.*
- Upcycle your garments and turn them into new creations, such as throw pillows, quilts, dish towels, shopping bags, scarves, and so much more!
- Recycle when you can.
- Purchase eco-friendly and biodegradable fabrics, such as hemp, linen, cotton, bamboo, and wool.
- Consider mending and tailoring your clothes before looking for replacements.
- Educate yourself. I highly recommend Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas. I also recommend the following documentaries: The True Cost, RiverBlue, The Next Black, and China Blue.*
- Limit how often you do laundry and hand wash or hang dry your clothes.
- Support brands committed to working toward a sustainable future and continuously implementing practices to help ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.
- Demand transparency from your favorite brands.
- Consume less!
Just as you would first make small changes to your diet and lifestyle, start small when it comes to sustainable fashion choices. If you live with family or other people in your household, make sustainability a regular conversation topic! Chances are they’ll be on board if it means creating a healthier and happier living space, which in turn means a healthier, happier body!
*IIN is not affiliated with the brands or products mentioned in the content of this blog post. We are partnered with YES AND and may earn commission on any purchases made through YES AND's site.