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Fashion not only can be eco-friendly, it should be

A model wearing Texture Clothing Knit Mitts makes the shape of a heart with their hands. Knit Mitts are made with scraps of fabrics. // Courtesy of Teresa Remple

By Winnie Killingsworth

It’s time for us to change our clothes. 

Not literally — but how we approach buying, using and disposing of them. 

“There is not a single thing in the supply or value chain that does not need to be changed to become sustainable,” said Noël Palomo-Lovinski, a professor of fashion design and merchandising at Kent State University, in an email to The Western Front. 

Different areas of fashion need to improve to change their impacts.

“There's sourcing, production and waste,” said Zahra Biabani, founder of Soulful Seeds, a sustainable lifestyle platform. “Throughout these three stages, there are human and environmental impacts.”

Fast fashion is the process of making clothes quickly with materials that don’t last long in factories that don’t prioritize worker safety — and it is likely one of the worst offenders, environmentally and ethically, in all three stages.  

Because fast fashion clothes are not made to last, they can quickly end up damaged and be discarded. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2018, 12,970,000 tons of clothing and footwear were either recycled, used as combustion for energy recovery or ended up in a landfill. Data from 1960 to 2018 show the numbers have grown every year. 

Clearly, fashion is not eco-friendly. 

In 2018, according to data from the report “Fashion on Climate”, the fashion industry produced 2.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. 

Fast fashion doesn’t only harm the environment. It also harms those who labor to make them. 

Some factories, commonly known as “sweatshops,” use forced labor or poorly pay employees as a way to keep costs low. 

A Buenos Aires sweatshop caught fire in 2006 and killed six people, including four children between the ages of 3 and 15, who were Bolivian immigrants working undocumented in Argentina. This event raised awareness about the  conditions in fast fashion textile shops. 

“[Fashion] is generally one of the first industries to move into a developing economy which means they get labor for cheap and often with non-unionized populations that have no recourse but to work in unsafe environments for little money,” Palomo-Lovinksi said in an email to the Front.

On the list of the top 5 products most at risk of being produced from forced labor, garments sit at number 2, behind laptops, computers and moblie phones at number 1, according to the Global Slavery Index.

Looking for companies that are Fair Trade Certified is a way to ensure the people, land and waterways behind clothing are protected.   

It can be hard to make these changes. Finding clothes that fit you as well as your budget is rarely easy. 

Being more aware is an important first step. 

A first step you can try, and might have already done thanks to COVID-19, is sort through your clothes. If you haven’t worn something recently and likely won’t wear it in the future, get rid of it. 

You can donate or sell whatever you decide to toss. Look into how to recycle anything that’s at the end of its life. 

ThredUp, an online consignment and thrift store, offers the option to send in clothes you don't wear anymore and sell them for cash or store credit.

You could also do a clothing swap with friends.  

“Doing clothing swaps with your friends [is] a really great way and a very underappreciated way of getting ‘new clothes’,” Biabani said.

Other ways you can make changes are to shop at thrift stores and sustainable brands. 

Texture Clothing is a Bellingham-based clothing company focused on love, constructive consumption and positive body image. 

[Since] the beginning, we [have] made clothing for curves and that we did so with the earth in mind,” said Teresa Remple, the owner and founder of Texture Clothing, in an email to the Front. “This is still true. We strive towards zero waste, celebrate all bodies, and make decisions with the environment in mind.”

If thrifting sounds interesting but overwhelming, Biabani offers sustainable style consulting services. She works with clients to understand their style preferences and then goes shopping for them at thrift stores.

Switching to sustainable clothing will allow you to shop less often for clothes made to last. 

Let’s all work to change into being mindful consumers; for our planet, for the people on it and for our bank accounts!

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