Why is Fashion the World’s Most Polluting Industry?

With the overarching impact of global warming creeping more and more into our daily lives, many people have become more focused on making conscious efforts to curb the amount of pollutants and waste being produced. Even in the past five years things like reusable bags, eco-friendly cleaning products and electric cars have increased in popularity to a point where they no longer require a second thought. But when many people think of living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, they rarely ever bring up anything about their clothes. But what many people do not know is that the fashion industry is actually the second most polluting industry in the world. It is one of the most resource intensive industries, and it accounts for 10% of global emissions.

While most of the pollutants created by the fashion industry come from chemicals and production methods, there is also a significant portion that comes from what happens after the clothing is produced. Greenpeace reported that the average person buys 60% more clothes and keeps them for half as long as they did 15 years ago, and that the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing each year, 95% of which could be re-worn, reused or recycled. The main cause of this comes from this generation’s obsession with fast fashion. Fast fashion is so ingrained in the lives of 21st century people that it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine a time without it. To think of a world without Forever 21 is almost unthinkable, but there was of course a time where these fast fashion retailers did not exist. It was not too long ago when brands were focused on smaller selling seasons, and when clothing was designed to last for a lifetime – not just a season.

So while we can yell at fashion companies all we want, urging them to change to more ethical and eco-friendly practices, there is actually a substantial impact we can make by simply changing our own buying habits. I first started thrifting because I simply did not have enough money to retail shop while saving money for rent and only working a part time job. But what I discovered once I began was that it was not only more fulfilling (I enjoyed the hunt of searching for hidden treasures), but it also made me feel better about shopping. I no longer experienced grief or remorse from making a questionable or fad purchase, because my purchase was not contributing to the pollution created by the fashion industry. Thrifting also taught me to value my purchases much more (there is only one of everything and the same item may not be there tomorrow), which pushed me to change my shopping habits. I began to purchase less each time I went shopping and I began making quality the focus of most of my purchases. Nowadays there are so many different ways to thrift, whether it is curated shops like Buffalo Exchange, high-end vintage shops, apps like Poshmark, Depop, or ThredUp, or just at good ole’ fashioned Goodwill – there’s no real excuse not to incorporate it into your shopping habits. And if you find you have the opposite problem, that you have way too many things with no where to put them, you can also use these resources to sell your unwanted clothes. If you tried thrifting and you still can’t get down with it, that’s okay. Over the past few years many new, sustainable clothing brands have emerged, meaning that you can buy new clothes but still remain guilt free. Below is a list of ten clothing brands that incorporate environmental awareness into their brand identity:

  1. Reformation
  2. Amour Vert
  3. People Tree
  4. DL1926
  5. Alternative Apparel
  6. Elizabeth Suzann
  7. Zero Waste Daniel
  8. Siizu
  9. Patagonia
  10. Zady
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