The world of sustainability is dipped, breaded, and fried in misconceptions. Every aisle we walk down at our local grocery store has words like “organic,” “eco-friendly,” and “better for the environment,” listed all over them in beautiful hues of blues and greens.
But what does sustainability really mean? What does it mean to me or us as a society? We’re beginning to understand that the processes we have used for oh-so-long are not the best of the best, and it is time for a revolution. It may come as a surprise, but according to Alternatives Journal’s article, “How the Fashion Industry is Picking up the Threads After Rana Plaza,” the fashion industry has the highest use and pollution of freshwater. It takes about 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt and 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment. That’s a lot of water.
To help debunk some of the myths, here are the five most common misconceptions of sustainability when it comes to the fashion industry or slow fashion:
Misconception 1: Why worry about fashion? It doesn’t affect the environment.
Actually, it does. It affects more than the environment; it affects the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat. The clothes you wear can even be immersed in chemicals and dyes that seep into your fragile skin.
The fashion industry is the second largest pollutant in the world, right behind the oil and gas industry. If you think about the processes used to create a garment piece, it is pretty simple. Fabric is created from fibers, which are grown in the earth. The earth has been impacted by humans’ use of pesticides and GMOs for faster and more efficient production of these fibers.
Those pesticides and GMOs are then washed into our lakes, rivers, and absorbed into our soil. This water is then consumed by us, wildlife, and vegetation. We then eat and drink the end-result of this process. Not only are we consuming potentially harmful substances internally, we are consuming them externally. The Huffington Post stated that it takes “almost a 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one pound of raw cotton; and it takes just under one pound of raw cotton to make one t-shirt.” When converting cotton into clothing, many hazardous materials are used to create the products; materials like heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia, phthalates and formaldehyde, just to name a few. These harmful chemicals get into the fabrics we put next to our skin every day.
Another unsettling point is that many times these clothes are then manufactured in countries that are receiving barely enough pay and supervision to keep afloat. They don’t have time for pesticides. They are working to create a product quick enough so that the wildly anxious consumer can enjoy it at the time requested. But, at what cost?
It takes about 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton t-shirt and 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment. That’s a lot of water.
Misconception 2: It’s too hard to find sustainable brands.
We live in a world saturated with social media, the internet, and non-stop chatter on up-and-coming innovations. I believe that if there is a push and desire to find good brands, then there is a way.
If you are on the hunt for sustainable brands, then look no further than your Google search bar. Searching the simple terms “sustainable fashion brands,” feeds you a list of articles and blogs on brands locally and abroad that can provide you with all you need to live a life of green power. The results bring up powerhouses like Refinery29, The Good Trade, and Marie Claire sharing their countdowns on amazing sustainable brands where you can get your fashion fix. There is even a directory provided by Eco Fashion World. Just search it, it’s simple as that; if not for you, then for your kids and their kids and their kids.
Misconception 3: Sustainable brands are too expensive and not feasible for every day.
Many of us are familiar with, or maybe even known, for splurge purchases. It doesn’t matter the cost or the necessity, if it is reasonably discounted then we must get it, and we must be the first. Price does not seem a deterring factor when it comes to quality.
Think about the last time you considered not buying added-hormone milk. Did you even think twice about it? Probably, not. It just came as instinct that that hormone milk is a no-no. It’s the same thing with sustainable brands and products, it’s all in the quality and longevity of the product; no added hormones, please.
Plus, it is important to see a product’s full lifecycle from the human capital it took to produce it to the time you donate it. Here are a few brands that can make you a little more greener in your everyday life: Thrive Market is perfect for all your daily grocery store needs. They have everything from a cure for your cold to a new toy for your dog. And if you want something a little more local, try your local farmer’s market or organic section of your local grocery store. If there is a vision, there is a way. For a fashion fix, check out brands like People Tree, Everlane, Zady, and Patagonia, to name a few. These brands are as affordable as that $55 blouse from a big box store, but have a little more care for the lifecycle of your garments.
Another great option is to consider vintage, second-hand, or consignment options, which are other methods sustainable fashion favors and reduce waste.
Misconception 4: I can’t impact the deeply saturated fashion industry.
“Fashion can be a universal player in protecting the planet,” Pharrell Williams told National Geographic.
One person is all it takes. One place is all it takes. The horrific building collapse in Rana Plaza sparked such a media frenzy of something that had been building for years. It just took one Jenga piece to demolish the whole infrastructure, or at least bring light to it and begin the process of building a revolution.
The power in this life-size Jenga is with people, the consumers. If the consumers demand it, then changes within the fashion industry will come to exist. Just take a second to think about all those other things that consumers have had the power to change in just the past decade: storefronts are no longer a necessity in a market where web presence is stronger, mobile devices are drivers for foot traffic or else everything else can be done “on the web,” online reviews carry more weight than ever for brands, and products can literally jump off the screen due to the amount of real-life graphics available to an online consumer.
Though it is a slow process, retailers and consumers alike are part of positively evolving the industry. According to Nicole Peyraud in a Yogi Times article, “Showing enthusiasm for…sustainable choices, consumers are putting rumors of an eco-fad to rest, actively making deep-rooted change one environmentally friendly purchase at a time.” It really does lie in the power of the people.
Though it is a slow process, retailers and consumers alike are part of positively evolving the industry.
Misconception 5: Eco-friendly fashion doesn’t look cool or isn’t really my style.
Let me guess, when you visualize sustainable fashion you are probably envisioning a granola-eating, vegan hippie who loves yoga. This is totally the opposite of the world of sustainable fashion. The brands that exist are numerous with products for everyone, from your daughter to your grandmother, and for every style, from casual, luxury to even retro.
Brands like Reformation, Zady, People Tree, Everlane, Patagonia, GAIA for women, Krochet Kids, Fair Trade Winds, Mata Traders, MadeFAIR, PACT Apparel, Nisolo, Shift To Nature, milo+nicki, Mayamiko, Alternative Apparel, Apolis, Vetta Capsule, Naja, Industry of All Nations, Slumlove Sweater Company, Elegantees, Noctu, Symbology, Brain Tree Clothing, Fibre Athletics, My Sister, Sseko Designs, Sotela, prAna, Wallis Evera, Purple Impression, The Root Collective, Thread Harvest, Raven + Lily, Eileen Fisher, Gather & See, Oliberete, Good Cloth, and many many many more are making it easy to buy gorgeous, one-of-a-kind pieces for all types of consumers (find more here). You can buy everything from your blouse to your lingerie! It really is a matter of purchase power. Do your part.
Come on, it’s for our planet and the people who live on it.
Images via Maddie Greer