We’ve all been there. There’s a one-day-only BOGO sale happening and, well…you don’t really need that new blouse, and the quality isn’t the best, but it’s cute enough and a bargain. You can wear it to Karen’s birthday party! But, of course, you then forget about it in your closet, never to be worn again. By the time you remember you have it and dig it out, it’s out of style and it gets tossed away, ending up in a landfill. Out of sight, out of mind. For most Americans, and shoppers around the world, this is an everyday occurrence. Our society today is highly consumeristic, focusing on purchasing more and more in order to keep up with the latest trends, not giving our impacts in doing so a second thought. After all, that blouse was only $5, right?
Let’s look at the purchase when it’s broken down: on average, fast fashion factory workers make anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the cost the item sells for. That $5 shirt just earned them 5-15 cents. Many factory workers live below their country’s respective poverty line, struggling to support their families while giving up opportunities and the pursuit of a degree in higher education in order to do so. Not just an ethical human rights issue, the environmental impact behind your piece is shocking. That ‘cute’ top most likely used over 700 gallons of water to produce, while the dye in it pollutes the local water supply. The polyester fibers in it? They most likely created microplastics that will release into the ocean, harming wildlife. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of the world’s water pollution (according to Vogue Business). But wait—if that top was made in, say, Bangladesh (one of the most prominent countries for clothing production), how exactly did it wind up on the rack of your local store? It would have needed to be packaged up (most likely using several layers of plastics) and transported from the factory by car to a courier, before making its way to the airport where it would begin its journey. Upon arrival in your home airport and being cleared through customs, it would be handed to another courier and, finally, delivered to the store. That’s it, right? Wrong.
The item then is unpacked by store associates, packaging is discarded, and it awaits you. Eager to purchase, you snatch up the piece and check out, where the item is wrapped in plastic, put in a plastic bag, and makes yet another journey to your home for the next stage of its life, before finally ending up in the landfill among half a billion other unwanted items.
Now imagine the item being produced and arriving on your doorstep in one day. Online shopping services like Amazon Prime pride themselves in one or two day deliveries, so while you receive your package quickly, way more carbon emissions are created. At this rate, it’s not surprising that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions (WWD.com).
Next time you want to make a quick purchase, think again and look into the alternative options available. Do you have a similar piece at home you can wear, or one you can borrow from a friend? Can you buy it secondhand, or rent it from a rental service? If you have to make a purchase, ask yourself if you’ll truly get wear out of the piece, and what you’ll do with it after you’ve gotten use out of it. Can you donate it to someone in need or repurpose it? The fashion industry creates large amounts of waste, let’s do our part to not contribute to it.
Places to go for more info on the issue:
“Why Is It So Hard for Clothing Manufacturers to Pay a Living Wage?” by Jasmin Malik Chua for Vox.
“Fashion Has a Waste Problem. These Companies Want to Fix It.” by Rachel Cernansky for Vogue.
“How Start-Ups Put Sustainability at the Core of Their Business Model.” by Tracey Greenstein for WWD.