Sustainable clothing never goes out of style

by Casey Dalager / Beacon Correspondent • March 22, 2017

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Giving an article of clothing a second life can do a lot to reduce the environmental impact.
Giving an article of clothing a second life can do a lot to reduce the environmental impact.

Emerson students love looking good without breaking the bank. Clothing today is cheaper than ever, so instead of mending our clothes when they tear or shrink, most of us just run to stores like Primark, Uniqlo, or H&M for something new. Livia Firth, the creative director for Eco-Age, a sustainability consulting firm, states that because of practices like this, the world now consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year—already five times more than just twenty years ago.

Buy, replace, buy, replace. It's not a coincidence that "fast fashion" clothing wears out, or falls out of style so quickly—the biggest clothing companies are actively exploiting this cycle for profit. They use flimsy materials, underpay their workers, and build factories in places with little environmental oversight just to keep prices down in the short term, while ensuring you have to keep coming back. The market is filling up our landfills with more textile waste than ever. The trend is so devastating that EcoWatch, America’s leading environmental news organization, has declared fast fashion the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind big oil.

A recent New York Times article told the story of a community in Bangladesh downstream from a textile mill. Chemical dumping and water quality is so bad there that, in the words of journalist Jim Yardley, “students can see what colors are in fashion by looking at the canal.” Mills are not only dumping dyes but also bleaches and other harsh chemicals. This has had such a negative effect on the rivers and canals of Bangladesh that it can only be described as water pollution disaster imposed on the country by powerful American companies such as H&M.

Luckily, with the right research, there are many ways to shop sustainably, conveniently, and sometimes even more affordably than you could at a fast fashion label. The first step is supporting companies that do not subscribe to the fast fashion business model.

Many of the companies that are trying to make a difference in the industry are small indie brands, like Alternative Apparel, HOPE Made In The World, and Encircled. While these upstarts don’t have locations here in Boston, you can shop their sites online. If you do want to have the experience of going into a brick-and-mortar store with a clear conscience, one of the longest-lasting defenders of environmental ethics, Patagonia, has a flagship shop right at the end of Newbury Street.

These designers buck trends and design their clothes to last forever. A wardrobe bought today will not only pay workers fairly and support  environmentally friendly production methods, but still be great for decades. Patagonia even offers repair services for a small fee, keeping thousands of tons of textile waste out of landfills.

Speaking of clothing that lasts, thrifting at local chains like Savers, Garment District, or Goodwill helps reduce textile waste stateside, and it doesn’t support unethical companies that pollute overseas. Just the act of giving an article of clothing a second life can do a lot to reduce both landfill usage and the environmental impact of making the clothes. Thrifting can also be convenient: thrift shops can be found in Cambridge, Allston, and higher-end consignment stores line Newbury Street. Outfits bought at thrift stores are also often sold at amazing values, which is great for those who want to be environmentally friendly but just can’t afford the more expensive indie brands. And you’ll know that your look is one of a kind.

In a city where it can be so easy to cycle through outfits on a whim, we need to make sure we aren’t playing into the hands of big businesses. Companies like Uniqlo and H&M hide behind great advertising and cheap prices, but have been plagued by devastating environmental injustices made in their bids to keep us shopping. We’re smarter than that, and it's time to show these companies that they cannot exploit our love of getting a good deal. Invest in fashion that lasts, and we’ll have a planet that lasts. That is the best deal of all.