Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Did you know that the textile and apparel industry is one of the biggest contributors to global warming?
It's easy to understand why ethical fashion practices are needed, looking at the massive social and environmental damage the overproduction and overconsumption of clothing are causing around the world.
Concerns for the environment are rising in the mind of consumers, businesses, governments, and organizations. We are on the brink of irreversible destruction of ecosystems, endangering animals, and human health.
Even the youngest generations feel compelled to act now before its too late. Have you seen how many children participate in #FridaysForFuture demonstrations lead by Greta Thunberg to save our planet every week?
"Today’s business as usual is turning into a crime against humanity. We demand that leaders play their part in putting an end to this madness."
- Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist
Whether you like it or not, it's undeniable that the environmental crisis we are facing on Earth should be taken seriously.
Please understand that sustainable and ethical fashion practices are very important. They help reduce the disastrous impact of clothing purchases on the planet.
Everyone who wears clothes can help tremendously with simple actions. Every step counts toward the solution. You can start today and adopt new habits that will drive change in wasteful industries. Here is how.
Donate, sell, recycle or up-cycle what you don't wear
The fashion industry is responsible for large amounts of textile waste. More than 16.9 million tons of used textile waste is generated every year in the United States, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Used clothing and textiles, post-consumer and post-industrial wastes are piling up at an alarming rate. Only 15.2% of all textile was recycled in the U.S. in 2017. The large majority of textiles (14.3 million tons) ended up in landfills.
Did you know that the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothes and other textiles each year?
If you decide to donate, sell, recycle or up-cycle your used clothes, you keep them away from landfills and incinerators. You reduce the quantity of toxic gas and greenhouse gas they would emit there considerably.
In 2016, the Nordic Council of Ministers estimated that the reuse and recycling of about 100,000 tons of used textiles can save up to 190,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases.
Are you looking for great places to sell clothing that you don't wear anymore? Read up my guide on how to get rid of used clothes responsibly.
Buy fewer clothes and just what you need
The global apparel industry is expanding at a 6.16% compound annual growth rate, valued at about USD 1.5 trillion in 2020! Such a huge growth on a global scale isn't sustainable. It's time to embrace more ethical fashion practices.
The global apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions, almost as much as the total for the whole of Europe, as reported by the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index.
By buying fewer clothes and higher quality, you take action on global warming. Climate change has already cost the United States USD 350 billion. And that number is expected to rise to USD 35 billion each year by 2050!
Buy certified sustainable and ethical fashion
You don't know what certifications for eco-friendly clothing look like? Read up my list of the best certification standards for sustainable textiles.
The fashion industry has a catastrophic impact on the environment, creating irreversible damage to people, animals, and the planet. Cotton farming especially is highly destructive to the environment.
Cotton requires tons of chemicals to grow (up to 3 kilograms of chemicals for 1 kilogram of raw material). The Global Fashion Agenda, in the Pulse of the Fashion Industry, reported that in the whole world, intense farming of cotton utilizes 4% of all nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides.
One great ethical fashion habit is to buy certified organic and environmentally friendly clothing!
Organic raw materials such as organic cotton, linen, and hemp are made from plants grown using methods that have a low impact on the environment. They are non-GMO, contain no hazardous chemicals, and minimize water consumption.
Buy second-hand and subscribe to a clothing rental
You can rent clothes for special occasions! The second-hand clothing industry reduces the ecological footprint of fashion. It saves resources, pesticides, and fertilizers, reduces carbon emissions, and pollution.
Read up my article on why buying second-hand clothing is ethical if you are not convinced.
Go thrifting or shop in online marketplaces such as Poshmark or ThredUp to make a very positive impact on the world around you.
Dr. Jung E. Ha-Brookshire, the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri, has a very bright opinion on what is currently happening in the fashion industry:
"Today, most textiles and apparel are considered disposable, as they are considered inexpensive to produce and do not hold long-term worth. There has been economic pressure on designers and manufacturers to produce fashion faster and cheaper under a relentless demand."
Instead of buying new cheaply produced clothes frequently, it's a lot better to repair, reuse, and repurpose old clothing as much as possible.
Shop for socially responsible fashion
Ethical fashion also means, fairly produced, Fair Trade, and socially responsible clothes. This may sound obvious but ethical fashion is fashion made ethically.
It's great to minimize the carbon footprint of your wardrobe. But you also have to think about #WhoMadeMyClothes and stand up for workers' rights.
Exploiting farmers, workers, and local communities to cheaply produce new garments and push them to high-street stores weekly isn't ethical.
Unfortunately, many fast fashion brands are still prioritizing profits over the well-being of people working in their supply chain. They keep using unethical practices, such as sweatshop labor or child labor.
Don't make the same mistake I've made in the past. By buying fast fashion, you contribute to the abuse of men, women, and children in the world's poorest countries. But also to the exploitation of underserved populations in developed nations such as the United States.
Take a look at my definitive list of fast fashion brands to avoid because of their disastrous social and environmental impact.
Ethical fashion practices are important for the environment and people. Labor rights violations are still very common in the clothing industry. Poor working conditions and unfair wages have to stop.
Instead of working over 100 hours per week in fast fashion brands' garments factories, workers should:
- be protected from toxic chemicals,
- be able to work in safe conditions,
- receive necessary healthcare,
- have normal working hours,
- have access to food services,
- receive living wages and long-term contracts,
- be treated with the utmost respect,
- have access to vacation and paid leaves,
- have the opportunity to improve their skills,
- have the right to unionize, to join together to advance their interests as employees.
I hope you now understand why ethical fashion practices are needed. Treating farmers and workers fairly all around the world is essential. Abuse shouldn't exist in any modern and civilized society.
Sustainable clothing is also important for the environment. As a consumer, you can push environmentally friendly practices in the fashion industry and lower its negative impact on the planet with your purchase decisions.
Choose eco-friendly, natural, organic or recycled materials and fabrics. And avoid buying more than you need to reduce water consumption and waste production.
Sustainable practices are the way forward. It's not only great for the economy, but it also saves resources while preventing the further destruction of our planet.
"If you want to reduce the impact of your fashion choices - show the corporations you care about what your clothes are made of, buy differently, choose consciously and support new models of fashion that reduce impact. Fashion has always been a way to indicate who you are to the world - so now is the time to think about what you want your clothes to say about the kind of world and future that we should aim for."
- Elizabeth Bohm, Head of International Policy at the Academy of Medical Sciences in the U.K.
Can you think of other important ethical fashion practices?
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.