June is a hot, hot, month. For some that might be a pretty standard climate, but here in Michigan, that’s a whole other side of the wardrobe to break out. Like many other northerners, rummaging through the closet to find the collection of warm-month clothing is just a part of life, but how often do you find those last-year model shorts faded and frayed and T-shirts ripping down the cheaply processed seams? Aside from that, the styles of 2021 summer are completely different than years past, rendering half of your once-pristine summer collection to last week’s news. In today’s society, the cheap and easy answer to this issue is to replace these garments with a couple of clicks and an order confirmation from Zara, H&M, etc., and to ditch the tattered, dated clothes. This seems like a simple and painless process, but this popular method, now regarded as the fast fashion industry, has now climbed to the 2nd largest polluter in the world, just behind fossil fuels.
It seems like nowadays we hear a lot about how bad of an environmental impact fossil fuels and single-use plastics are, but why are clothes such a problem? The easiest way to understand why this happens is from the perspective of those selling these pieces of clothing, otherwise known as the fast fashion retailers. Today’s market, which is heavily influenced by social media and targeted advertising, are increasingly driven by fame and luxury. Certain fashion brands, like Zara, H&M, and Forever 21 have picked up on this, and learned that by cheapening the production and quality of their clothing, they could produce much more clothing and sell it for much less, creating a product that could satisfy consumers urge to dress according to current trends while paying as little as possible. The effect of this new facet of the clothing market has made these large companies flourish, while destroying many valuable resources and creating an environmental catastrophe in the process.
A large problem with these cheaply made products occurs before it hits the market: in the production process. Cotton, a commonly used material in the fashion world, takes over 700 collective gallons of water to make one shirt, the same amount that could keep the average person hydrated for two and a half years. Denim, commonly used in jean production, emits around the same amount of greenhouse gas as driving a car for 80 miles through its own production process. After the clothes are manufactured, however, the destruction continues to escalate. The average consumer has been buying 60 percent more clothing than they did in 2000 since 2014, and the clothes we do buy aren’t used for nearly as long. When discarded, these clothes end up either burnt or in landfills at a rate of one dump truck every second.
Another harmful element of the fast fashion life cycle, and one we are pretty familiar with here at Forever Great, is clothes’ ability to produce microplastics. Some clothing materials are made of synthetic materials that break down little by little with every wash. These micro-fiber pieces are essentially just plastic, which after your laundry finishes get flushed into our waterways where there is little chance of retrieving them. Although tiny and typically unseen, a single piece of clothing can give off 700,000 in just one wash, which is added to the 51 trillion microplastic pieces in the sea, according to the UN. Aside from the oceans, microplastics are found in large number in the Great Lakes. These microplastics can easily find themselves into our drinking water, and are ingested by marine life which then are added to our food chain. That’s right, we consistently eat the plastic we throw away; which studies show could be up to a credit card of plastic a week.
Upon learning about the harsh realities of the clothing industry, one often ponders what they can do to limit their personal contribution to this wastefulness. And the truth is, there are many things you can do: buy less, shop sustainably, become an advocate, and more. The easiest step is to be more mindful of your purchases. Know the mission of the company you are supporting and what they are doing to be more sustainable. Learn about the impact your purchase will have. There are many businesses out there looking to tackle the wastefulness of the industry. Businesses such as Forever Great look to provide a better alternative through recycled garments while certain businesses take other approaches to create a sustainable product. There is no right or wrong - simply know what you are purchasing. The best thing you can do is be conscious about your purchase in order to limit your impact.