When we think of pollution, we envision coal power plants, strip-mined mountaintop,s and raw sewage piped into our waterways. We don’t often think about the shirts on our backs, how they get to us, and where they end up once we no longer need them. The impact the fashion industry has on our planet though is quite grim.
It would shock many fashion lovers (It definitely shocked me) to find out the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, just a smidgen cleaner than the oil industry. An extreme demand for quick and cheap clothes is destroying our environment.
It’s very likely that the shirt you are wearing traveled to you after coming halfway around the world in a container ship fueled by the dirtiest of fossil fuels.
Pollutants such as pesticides used in cotton farming, toxic dyes used in manufacturing, and the waste of discarded clothing play a role in the destruction of our planet. Add ot that the extravagant amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping.
Another issue, and arguably the most overlooked, is the physical and mental warfare the fashion industry wages on workers, farmers, and citizens in third world countries. The battle is joined by the pressure the West places on industry executives in the countries where people make the clothing.
It is painful to admit that fashion and the pressure to keep up with it has a huge negative impact on not only third world countries, but the entire world. But it is also understandable that, frankly, people love fashion. Should we have to sacrifice what we love for our world?
We don’t have to.
Safia Minney is a British social entrepreneur and author. She has done amazing things to combat the negative impact the fashion industry has on our planet. She is a well-known spokesperson and campaigner on fair trade and ethical fashion. In 1999, she initiated World Fair Trade Day which is endorsed by the World Fair Trade Organization and their members. It is celebrated on the second Saturday of May each year.
Perhaps her greatest accomplishment has been the birth of People Tree. People Tree is recognized by customers and the fashion industry as a pioneer in fair trade and environmentally sustainable fashion. For over 20 years, People Tree has partnered with fair trade artisans and farmers in the developing world to produce ethical and eco-fashion collections. Minney and her team make it their mission to create a new way of doing business by creating access to markets and opportunities for people who live in the developing world.
Minney is not the only person seeking to transform the fashion industry into something more environmentally friendly. There are many other organizations such as Fashion Revolution, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition doing similar work. As a fashion lover, I realize it is the responsibility of the consumer to invest in these organizations to start the ball rolling. Be mindful of the effect your dollar has because with great power, comes great responsibility.