Even though the malls are currently closed, and many of us are now wearing pajamas 24/7, it’s still important to talk about consumerism during AISB’s Earth Week.

As sustainability expert Alden Wicker told Harper’s Bazaar, “We know the industry is broken, and we know people are trying to find a silver lining to this incredibly scary and painful period.” He adds that many leaders in the fashion industry have talked about how this could be the “reset button” we all need.

So, before you take advantage of online sales, think about how our shopping habits affect the environment.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion refers to cheap and trendy clothing widely accessible to the public. It started around the Industrial Revolution, when clothes production became easier and more efficient. Gradually, shopping for clothes shifted from being a necessity to a form of entertainment, which is also known as “retail therapy.” Such culture, while having a pretty facade, encourages consumers to discard their clothes after a short season and catch up with the fast-changing trends.

What makes fast fashion environmentally catastrophic

According to Forbes, more than half of fast fashion items are disposed of within one year of purchase, “contributing more to climate change than sea and air travel combined.” In fact, the clothing industry is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions, making it one of the most polluting industries on the planet.

How so? This is because enormous quantities of energy and water are used to produce these items. For instance, around 6,800 liters of water are needed to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans, as well as 2,700 liters for one T-shirt. Not to mention, 92 million tons of textiles are thrown away each year, equating one full garbage truck of waste being produced every second.

It doesn’t stop there. Clothing manufacturers use toxic chemicals to add vibrant colors, prints, and fabric finishings to their products. According to The Independent, “Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture.” So then, what are consumers and fashion brands doing to address this issue?

Moving towards sustainable fashion

Some clothing brands are making an effort to reduce their environmental impact. In 2019, H&M launched a new clothing line called “H&M Conscious.” Products under this name “contain at least 50% sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester.” TOMS also uses chemical-free plant dye and recycled polyester for their footwears.

Related Article: What’s the Price You’re Willing to Pay for a More Ethical and Sustainable World?

Consumer behavior is transforming as well. Celebrities like Emma Watson and Alicia Silverstone publicly endorse sustainable fashion by signing up for the Green Carpet Challenge and urging companies to end sweat-shop practices online. The good news is that companies are responding to these demands. For example, Mud Jeans is now carbon neutral and aiming to produce 100% recycled jeans. 

Although there is positive progress, this isn’t enough. “It is difficult to reconcile reducing environmental impact with a business model built on delivering increasing volumes of products at ever-cheaper prices,” says Charlotte Turner, head of sustainable fashion and textiles at Eco-Age. To put greater pressure on these corporations, we must continue to raise awareness of the impacts of fast-fashion and practice sustainable habits.

What is AISB doing to help?

Some teachers and service groups have held clothing swaps or donation events to prevent the clothes from going straight to waste. “The teachers at AISB arrange a clothes swap every season (winter and summer) to get rid of items they no longer wear and to get other clothes to wear,” says Service Learning Coordinator Margaritha Hofman.

Furthermore, a survey with 88 AISB students showed that 52.9% of the respondents pass on their clothes to friends and family. Still, there hasn’t been much school-wide action from the students to promote sustainable fashion or reusing of clothes.

“I don’t think there has been a lot done,” says Eco Council Student Leader Paula P. “I know there have been some personal projects regarding clothing upcycling or recycling, but besides that, I haven’t heard much.”

What are our next steps?

First and foremost, we have to raise awareness of the fashion industry’s impact on the environment. This could go beyond reading or sharing this article, such as researching whether the brands you purchase from use sustainable products and practices.

Next, see what you can do with your current closet. Instead of throwing away clothes that you no longer wear, give them to your younger siblings, charity organizations, or even service groups at AISB. If you like textiles and making DIYs, you can also search for clothing redesign ideas online.

Finally, shop responsibly. This means not only supporting companies that sell environmentally-friendly products but also minimizing the amount you buy. When shopping, make sure you’re not purchasing items that would last only shortly. Reorganizing your closet beforehand might help you keep track of what you own and don’t own.

Tell us: Do you have any tips on avoiding fast fashion and shopping for eco-friendly clothes? Share in the comments below.