“Becoming more mindful about clothing means looking at every fiber, at every seed and every dye and seeing how to make it better. We don’t want sustainability to be our edge, we want it to be universal.” — Eileen Fisher, Fashion Designer
Look at what you’re wearing today. Do you remember where or when you bought your cozy top, favorite pants, go-to tee or other wardrobe staples?
In addition to considering what you’re wearing, think about who you’re wearing. Whose hands picked the cotton for your t-shirt, sewed your sweater or dyed your jeans? Can you trace your the whole supply chain? Back to the shipping warehouses, the factories, the raw fibers from Earth’s reserves?
We live in a world of fast fashion, where companies churn out high volumes of low-priced clothing at the expense of the planet and workers. To keep up with high demand for cheap clothing, fast fashion companies cut as many corners as possible to slash prices, at the cost of material quality, working conditions, and wages of the people who produce the clothing. So what is the true cost of a $5 t-shirt?
In the developing world, an estimated 40 million people sew more than 1.5 billion garments in 250,000 factories and sweatshops each year. In many cases, these workers, primarily young women of color, are not provided with fair wages or ethical working conditions. In Bangladesh, it’s typical for a teen girl to work 16-hour days, 7 days a week, a horrifying trend mirrored in many countries. Companies that utilize this labor — like Zara, Forever 21, FashionNova, Shein and more — process over 1 million garments per day. Imagine the human, energy, material and other resources required and exploited for such operations, and where the garments end up after being worn.
Leah Thomas, creator of Intersectional Environmentalist, highlights the need for decolonizing the fashion industry and considering the diverse and marginalized voices most harmed by fast fashion practices. The fashion section of the IE website has a variety of resources to learn more about why the sustainable fashion movement must intersect with and consider the needs of BIPOC communities. She also includes a list of amazing BIPOC fashion accounts to follow on Instagram!
Now think about the materials and chemicals used to make clothes. Cotton, one of the industry’s commonly used textiles, is among the most pesticide-intensive crops. Conventional cotton uses approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides. It is estimated that a single pound of cotton requires at least one-third of a pound of pesticides to produce. To put this in perspective, it takes half a pound of cotton to make your average t-shirt. On top of that, cotton requires more water than most crops — with a single pair of jeans using 1,800 gallons, a massive water footprint.
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. In fact, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally. The most destructive effects of the global fashion industry result from pesticide overuse in cotton production, dumping of hazardous chemicals used in leather tanning, water pollution and emissions from textile dyeing and finishing, toxic chemicals used in dry cleaning and widespread exploitation of workers, according to Responsibility in Fashion.
The output of the apparel and footwear industries contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That accounts for more than international flights and shipping combined! Emissions stem from textile production, global transit, and disposal of garments in landfills or incinerators. At its rapidly expanding rate, the fashion industry may be responsible for an alarming full quarter of global emissions by 2050.
The good news is that consumers (us) can make informed decisions about our fashion choices. When considering a new clothing item, refer to the Buyerarchy of Needs: use what you have, borrow, swap, thrift, make, then buy — in that descending order. When you choose to use what you already have or what already exists, you extend the life of clothing and don’t contribute to further negative impacts of the fashion industry. Plus, you’ll save money!
Shopping secondhand still allows you to add fresh things to your wardrobe without the need to be ‘new.’ Secondhand, consignment, vintage and thrift stores and online retailers have merchandise coming in from various sources and people everyday, often donated or at low cost, savings that translate into price tags! These are also the most sustainable options, as no new materials or energy are used to produce the garments. Plus, it is a great way to find unique and one-of-a-kind pieces.
If you are looking to buy something new, many brands actively work toward positive outcomes through deep commitment and innovation. Businesses like Patagonia are committed to “building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Eileen Fisher, Indigenous, Amour Vert, Nudie Jeans, Jungmaven and others prioritize human rights, worker rights and ethical supply chains as guiding principles, offering high-quality clothing that breaks away from the 1.7 trillion dollar fast fashion industry, which profits off the exploitation of Earth and people, overwhelmingly women of color.
Websites like Good On You assess and rate the ethical standards of clothing and accessory brands based on impact upon people, the environment and animals. Transparency matters, which is another reason to prioritize buying from responsible companies and ensuring brands publish lowest wages to maintain accountability.
Nonprofits like today’s partner, Fibershed, are developing regional fiber systems that build soil and protect the health of our biosphere, mitigating negative climate impact. Green America is also working to help steer your clothing dollars toward companies with fair labor practices to create a system that respects workers’ rights.
It’s up to you to drive demand for ethical fashion. Shopping secondhand, upcycling, trading clothes or investing in better brands makes a powerful statement to support responsible, sustainable, fair trade fashion for the immediate and long term benefit of people and planet.
Globally, the average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing per year; for Americans, that number is almost 81 pounds! We all can and must do more to keep clothing out of landfills by swapping, buying used, repairing or upcycling.
Watch today’s eye opening video, the Cost of Fast Fashion, and choose one article or video about fashion from Intersectional Environmentalist to read or watch. With this information, write your own concise definition of fast fashion and briefly summarize why it is harmful. Who and what is impacted most by such practices? Why and how does fast fashion affect BIPOC populations more than others? (50-100 words) Raise awareness by posting your definition on Instagram or Twitter, as well as why the issue of fast fashion matters to you in brief. Tag @TurningGreenOrg, @GreenGirlLeah (only on Instagram) and #PGC2020. Next, assess your role in the fashion industry.
Upload a PDF document with all of your responses and a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Does your favorite shirt have a label that says, “made with 100% pesticide-sprayed cotton, chemical dyes, and/or sweatshop labor?” Highly doubtful! How can consumers ever really know what goes into making any article of clothing? Think about the full lifecycle of a conventional cotton t-shirt. Learn to question everything!
Now that you are beginning to understand the impact of fashion, let’s look more closely at your favorite shirt. Check the tag inside. What kind of information does it provide?
Upload a PDF document with your responses. Include a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Do you have old shirts, jeans or clothing that no longer fit your body or style? What do you usually do with these pieces? Consider the resources used to create those garments and the importance of extending their life. Now it’s time to get creative!
Collect the clothing you have outgrown or plan to toss. Take a closer look and brainstorm ideas to repurpose them.
Give new life to your old clothing, take pictures, and most importantly, have fun! Once your item is created, reflect upon what you’ve learned about fast fashion.
Post a photo of your upcycled creation on Instagram with a caption about what you did and why. Be sure to tag @TurningGreenOrg and #PGC2020. In your deliverable, include your reflections as well as photos of your upcycled creation!
Upload a PDF document with a photo of the item you created, your responses, and your reflection. Include a screenshot of your social media post. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Film is a powerful tool for sharing information – and one documentary, The True Cost, allows the audience to grasp the fashion industry’s tremendous toll on people and planet.
Gather friends and/or family members to watch the eye-opening 90-minute documentary, The True Cost, on Netflix, Amazon Prime video or other outlets. While you may not be able to host an in-person watch party, you can still stream together! If you are unable to access the documentary, you can screen another feature on the topic. Following the screening, host a Q&A with at least 3 people. Gauge their reaction to the film by asking the following questions or some of your own:
Summarize your friends’ comments and answer the discussion questions yourself in one or two paragraphs.
Upload a PDF document with your responses. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.
Each Greener Winner will receive:
A pair of sunglasses by Panda, a company that uses bamboo, cork and other recycled materials and donates a portion of every sale to charities in need, Boody bamboo boxers or leggings, an organic cotton tee from Farm Fresh Clothing and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer.
Each Greenest Winner will receive:
A $125 gift card from one of the following ethical designers; Yesand, Amour Vert, Pact, Prairie Underground, and Industry of All Nations, organic, fair-trade and fabulous! Make sure you ask who made your clothing and what it’s made of? These brands care for people and planet.