“Buy less and buy better” — that’s what we’re told. In that cliché narrative, consumers are the primary targets of activists focused on the fashion industry’s devastating environmental effects and inhumane treatment of workers. The fashion industry has cultivated the idea that consumers hold the true power in determining the market’s interaction with the environment. If we choose to buy more exclusively responsible, recycled and reused clothing, then fashion corporations will be forced to change their wasteful ways and cater to an ecological demand. Current clothing production and distribution poses a myriad of all too real problems, from the use of non-biodegradable material, rampant environmental pollution and exhaustion of fossil fuels and freshwater, all to produce over 80 billion pieces of clothing a year. “Fast fashion” simply isn’t sustainable.
But despite the warnings and begging of activists, we continue to gorge ourselves shirt by shirt, breathlessly hoping to keep up, be stylish, full steam ahead.
Perhaps the relationship between the fashion industry and our environment is infinitely more complex than our typical branding of the consumer populus, with responsibility for creating an ecological demand. The decision to shop ecologically could have much less to do with the individual consumer decision and more so with the powerhouses of modern fashion mandating wear of the newest pieces and ideas. The worth of any item of clothing has been reconfigured — now lying in its momentary and cheap trendsetting ability. Rather than a quality and fair trade make in a U.S. warehouse, production is often outsourced to an illegal one in Bangladesh.
As the excess builds up, it is becoming painfully clear the fashion corporations we hold in such high regard have an imminent moral responsibility to actively implement sustainable practices for the future of fashion and, more pressingly, our environment. In cooperation with the everyday individual’s effort to consume less conspicuously, there is too much potential for corporate change. Companies like Eileen Fisher, Ralph Lauren and Stella McCartney have demonstrated the potential of an ecological business model and set in motion a wiser consumer impression of what is trendy, desirable and ultimately necessary. The company’s market highly regarded collections of fairly sourced and constructed clothing, encouraging the spread of sustainable fashion. Through closed loop technology, clothing can be carefully broken down for textile reuse. Similarly, Swedish engineers recently released a garment made from 100 percent recycled cotton. For worldwide clothing names to implement these practices would both engage the impressionable public and encourage a far-reaching implementation of environmental production.
So for now, keep thrifting, re-wearing, shopping smart and handing in your unwanted clothes to recycling collections. You never know, the material from those unwanted clothes could walk the runways of Valentino in its next life.