“Demand quality, not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it.” – Orsola de Castro, activist, upcyclist, fashion designer and author
Look at what you’re wearing today. Do you remember where or when you bought your go-to top, favorite pants 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 the whole supply chain back to shipping warehouses, factories, 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. It used to be that there were two fashion seasons a year (spring/summer and fall/winter), but there are now effectively 52! Yes, that’s the destructive pace of fast fashion.
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 people who produce clothing. So what is the true cost of a $5 t-shirt?
The output of the apparel and footwear industries contributes to 8-10% 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.
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 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.
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, and toxic chemicals used in dry cleaning and widespread exploitation of workers, according to Responsibility in Fashion.
Now, let’s 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 good news is that you, the consumer, can make informed decisions about your 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.
Second-hand shopping is a great way to find quality, unique and one-of-a-kind pieces. Consignment, vintage, and thrift shops often have merchandise coming in from various sources and people every day. While sold at discounted prices, the rise in popularity of buying second-hand has led to rising prices, making it less accessible for many families and individuals who rely on those affordable offerings. The next time you go to buy something, think about why. Overconsumption is overconsumption, whether or not the item is second-hand.
If you do need to buy something new, many brands actively work toward positive outcomes through deep commitment and innovation. Patagonia sums up its commitment well, 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.
Websites like Good On You assess and rate 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.
Luckily, you aren’t on your own in the movement towards a sustainable fashion future! Fashion Takes Action is creating a conscious fashion future through education, awareness, research, and collaboration in order to transform the industry into one benefiting people and planet. Fibershed develops equity-focused regional and land regenerating natural fiber and dye systems that build soil and protect the health of our biosphere. ATTIRE is a sustainable fashion media hub providing the latest news, events, and resources you need to be a conscious fashion consumer.
We have the power to drive demand for ethical fashion. Shopping second-hand, 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 and upcycling.
Write a short reflection on what you’ve learned. Did you already know about the impact of the fast fashion industry or is this all new to you? What changes can you make to shift towards being a more sustainable consumer? (200 word maximum)
Pledge to make one change to shop more sustainably. Post it on Instagram with a caption about ethical/fast fashion. Tag @TurningGreenOrg, @FashionTakesAction, @Fibershed_, @AttireMedia and #PGC2021.
Upload a PDF document with all of your responses and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, 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!
First, read this eye-opening article about the fast fashion supply chain.
Now that you are beginning to understand the full impact of fashion, let’s look more closely at your favorite shirt. Check the tag inside. What information does it provide?
Be bold and wear your shirt inside out for the day. Whenever anyone tells you that your shirt is inside out, tell them you’re involved in Project Green Challenge to start a conversation about today’s theme and the fashion industry.
Post a great picture of yourself on Instagram wearing your inside-out shirt. Caption the photo with the tag details, the impact of your shirt on workers and the planet, and why you chose to wear your shirt inside out. Use the hashtags #PGC2021 and #WhoMadeMyClothes, and tag @TurningGreenOrg, @TrueCostMovie, @FashionTakesAction, @Fibershed_, and @AttireMedia.
Upload a PDF document with your responses and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, 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. So let’s get creative!
You’ve already learned about the Buyerarchy of Needs and the best ways that we as individuals can help create a sustainable fashion future. Now it’s time to put those into action!
Go through your closet and collect the clothing you have outgrown or plan to toss. Apply one of the Buyerarchy of Needs to the clothes you plan to get rid of.
Show us your plan to sustainably repurpose and reinvent your wardrobe! Act on one of them and capture it in photos. Briefly reflect on the following:
Post the photos to Instagram with a short caption about how you are acting on the Buyerarchy of Needs and why that matters. Tag @TurningGreenOrg, @FashionTakesAction, @Fibershed_, and @AttireMedia, as well as #PGC2021.
Upload a PDF document with your responses, photos, and a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, and school.
Film is a powerful tool for sharing information. The True Cost documentary 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 on Netflix, Amazon Prime video or other outlets. If you are not 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 from this list of sustainable fashion flicks.
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 comments and answer the discussion questions yourself in one or two paragraphs.
Post a photo of your screening on Instagram that encourages people to learn more about the topic of fast fashion. Tag @TurningGreenOrg, @TrueCostMovie, @FashionTakesAction, @Fibershed_, and @AttireMedia, as well as #PGC2021.
Upload a PDF document with your responses, and a screenshot of your social media post. 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 Greenest Winner will receive: