Discussions about global warming, climate change, and pollution are now happening in our dining halls, our classrooms, and even in crowded bars. For a few years now, the fashion industry especially has come under fire for the constant damage it does to the environment. According to a report by Forbes, the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter! All those clothes that you’ve been throwing away after wearing them twice – that’s ending up in a landfill that releases the dangerous greenhouse gas methane. This gas has very high potential to contribute to global warming – yikes. So, we should all be putting a little bit more effort into making more environmental-friendly choices when it comes to fashion. To help us out we asked Tess Herman, a graduate student getting her dual degrees in journalism and environmental science to give us a few tips.
How did you get interested in issues about the environment?
I’ve always had a strong interest in the environment and nature in general. I studied anthropology and ecology in my undergrad. I learned that the environment has an influence on humans and vice versa. Then I went to Costa Rica where I studied the implementation of sustainability practices. It helped me see how our daily actions influence the lives of others abroad. I then got involved in teaching children about the environment and realized that I wanted to learn more, so I came to grad school. In my classes we go deeper into ecology and sustainability, on a local and global scale.
How would you describe sustainability?
My definition would be that sustainability is the ability to meet our needs today, but also to improve the lives of those in the future. In relation to the fashion industry, we can see that some companies are using materials such as sustainable leather to make bags, which is a good step in the right direction. We need more people to be like this, in the hopes of making a positive change. Not just humans, but also other organisms. Essentially, allowing our children to have the same amenities as we do or even better. Not just in terms of consumerism and having lots of possessions, but also having access to fresh water and air.
What are some of effects that the fashion industry is having on the environment?
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters of the world and that is because of demand. Fast fashion has grown significantly in the past few years. Technology has made it easy to crank out new styles and designs every week. It’s fun so we’re feeding that engine. But we are constantly consuming more and more. They say that a clothing item only gets worn about seven or eight times. But there is a hidden cost to those clothes – the cost of the resources, of labor, of transportation – that we don’t realize. All of these procedures contribute to releasing many greenhouse gases. Most cheap clothes are made of synthetic fabrics which come from oil. Also, the clothes are made with dye that comes from lead and cadmium, which are harmful. In the US we may not know the repercussions, but the people and animals adjacent to those factories have to bear the burden of all that constant manufacturing. All of this in the big scheme of things is contributing to hurricanes, fires, and flooding across the world.
What are some things we can do to reduce the effects of fashion on the environment?
Just like any product, try buying local – this way you can prevent pollution that happens due to the supply chain. Do a little bit of research, see where the products of your favorite fashion companies are coming from before buying them. Go for brands that sell sustainably manufactured products. Invest in pieces that may be expensive but also happen to be classics and last long. They’re better quality and in the long run, you may actually save money!
How can college students on a small budget make more sustainable choices?
Take really good care of your clothing, that way you’re not contributing to the global demand cycle. Even if you buy affordable clothes from fast fashion brands because it fits your style (and pocket) – make sure that you use those clothes often. Avoid buying clothes that you’ll only wear a couple of times and also make sure that you don’t waste clothes too often.