Shopping Smarter

Each morning when we choose what clothes to wear for the day, we decide how we want to present ourselves to the world. We want to look our best, and with a seemingly endless supply of trendy clothing at shockingly low prices, looking good has never been easier. But the low-cost  clothes often bear a heavy, hidden price tag.

In the last few decades, clothing prices around the globe have plunged, and clothing consumption has skyrocketed, largely due to a new mode of garment production commonly known as ‘fast fashion.’ This clothing revolution pioneered in the 1980’s, focuses on shortening production times and lowering costs to consumers. As the popularity of fast fashion has risen, so has the global appetite for new clothes; In the 1980s, the average American purchased 12 new articles of clothing each year. Now, the average number of clothing items purchased a year has jumped to 68. 

Anna Ingraham

Consumers’ ravenous appetite for cheap, trendy clothing paired with the fast fashion industry has led to severe impacts for the environment. Clothing production is responsible for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions, causing a larger impact on the environment than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the United Nations. If we remain on this path, the fashion industry could account for a quarter of global emissions by 2050. 

Additionally, fast fashion’s race to produce the cheapest clothing has had severe consequences for laborers around the world. Most clothing companies don’t report where their clothes are made, leading to little understanding about the conditions that the laborers work in. Many clothing factories also employ children, and UNICEF estimates that 170 million children are engaged in child labor. 

Not all brands, however, prescribe to the fast fashion industry’s problematic cycles of production. Brands like Patagonia, Adidas and Reformation are working to produce their clothing in more sustainable ways. In addition to shopping at stores that produce clothing ethically, you can reduce your environmental impact simply by buying fewer clothes, purchasing clothes from thrift stores, and wearing the clothes you do have longer. According to NBC, wearing an article of clothing just nine months longer can reduce its carbon footprint by 30%.

With a little effort, we can work towards a future where clothing not only allows you to look good but also promotes sustainable and ethical values in the world.