by Kael Randall
In the U.S., an environmentally damaging trend has firmly taken root: textile pollution and waste. According to the EPA, in 2013, 15.1 million TONS of textile waste was produced in the U.S. Textiles are an exploding market due to cheap production costs and constantly changing fashions. Now more than ever, it’s incredibly cheap to update your wardrobe as often as you’d like with that new t-shirt or pair of jeans. These $10 shirts and $20 jeans come with hidden costs that lurk in their longevity.
Firstly, the frenzied pace of fashion may spur the clothing enthusiast to upgrade their wardrobes much more often than they would have in the past. While four fashion seasons, (one for each season), used to be the standard, some clothing retailers get shipments of new garments 7 times a week to keep up with (or drive) demand for new styles.
Secondly, we might start to find that our clothes don’t last as long as they used to. Cheap labor and shoddy fabrics are the culprit here, along with the capitalistic factor known as “planned obsolescence,” which means companies plan for a shorter lifespan for consumer products. As consumers, we may look to clothes recycling programs or thrift shops instead of the trashcan. Thrift shops can be an ideal way to dispose of your unwanted clothes, but these stores are starting to get overloaded by the sheer volume of clothing that comes in daily.
Many stores like H+M, Nike, Adidas, and others, have begun placing recycling bins in their stores where they’ll offer a small discount to customers who return their unwanted clothes to these recycling bins. Some brands will suggest that the majority of these returned clothes will be shredded into raw material to be made into brand new clothes, but this isn’t the whole story. Most garments are difficult to recycle directly because the resulting fibers from shredded used clothes are difficult to reuse or are of lower quality than can be used. Most brands end up selling the majority of your recycled clothing to a middleman, who resells it to companies in developing countries for a profit and shred the rest for insulation.
What do we do?
Our best bet is to understand where our clothes come from and where they go after we are done with them. As consumers, we can purchase clothing that is made responsibly with longevity in mind. Buying clothes made from natural fibers is generally a great starting point, but some brands like Patagonia have pledged to use plastic waste to generate their polyester. We can support brands that follow similar models and understand that reducing textile waste is one of the absolute top priorities in the fight against pollution and waste.
Some designers in the fashion industry are engaging in sustainable practices to try and shift the course of the industry. Designer Tom Cridland has made a jacket that is guaranteed to last 30 years, and it’s not much more expensive than any other jacket you might buy. These designers and companies are worth our time.
Finally, on the other end, we have to be responsible in the face of constantly shifting fashion trends. If your clothes are comfortable and functional, maybe make the choice to skip out on the newest fashion trend. Or mix and match with old styles from your local thrift shop. Whatever you do, remember how much you can do just by voting with your cart and being a thoughtful consumer.