Katia Faroun | Features Editor
A lot can change in two centuries — since 1820, the world has seen the invention of electricity, cars and the iPhone. And two centuries from now, there may be little to no traces of our current civilization — save for some Forever 21 miniskirts and Shein bathing suits.
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries globally. According to a report done by nature.com, the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions and is the source of about 20% of industrial water pollution, mainly from textile dyeing and treatment. In addition to the significant part it plays in water pollution, it’s also a huge water consumer, using almost 80 trillion liters of water per year. Tragically, it also accounts for about 35% percent of the ocean’s microplastic pollution per year — a millennial environmentalist’s nightmare.
And that’s just on the production side of things.
The pollution doesn’t end once an article of clothing reaches the hands of a consumer. The average garment only lives in its owner’s closet for a couple of years before being donated or thrown away. Unless made of natural fibers, like cotton, clothing doesn’t biodegrade, and it can take up to 200 years for a piece of clothing to decay. With the popularity of synthetic fibers in the textile industry, the majority of clothing waste today falls in the 200-year category.
“The biggest danger is this mindset that people have created that you can just throw stuff away and never think about it again,” Maya Williams, sophomore biology major and executive officer of Duquesne’s Evergreen Club, says, “because when you throw something in the garbage can, it doesn’t disappear. It always ends up somewhere on the earth.”
The majority of these anti-sustainable processes are encouraged by fast fashion, which relies on impulsive, hasty and consistent buying habits of consumers. Fast fashion tells shoppers that by the time they decide to purchase a new article of clothing, it’s already out of style. It says that clothing expires with each equinox and solstice, and is the main reason so much clothing ends up in the landfill, where it can stay for hundreds of years.
Sustainable fashion and fast fashion are mutually exclusive: Shopping for low-quality clothing inspired by temporary trends leaves consumers with loose threads and a loose style.
Fortunately, there are ways to reject fast fashion. The simplest? Not buying clothing.
The best thing Rebecca Harrison says consumers can do to stop fashion waste is to wear the clothing they already own. Her role as a co-founder of Pittsburgh-based mending business Old Flame Mending is to fix up clients’ favorite clothing and keep it in their closet, instead of the trash.
“Our main goal is to help people keep their clothing around … just keeping people’s clothes in their closet so that they’re not throwing it away and it’s getting sent to a landfill; they’re not donating it to a place like Goodwill where it may or may not actually get bought,” Harrison says.
By mending clients’ clothing, Harrison helps people hold onto clothing with sentimental value, such as a favorite pair of jeans or a grandmother’s quilt. For bigger projects, where a piece of clothing is hanging on by a thread (pun intended), she gives it life by adding patchwork or patterned fabric — giving it a new unique and quality style it hadn’t seen before.
And they don’t discriminate against the clothes they mend, either.
“We are really happy to take anything from a really great pair of vintage Levi’s that have holes in them that need to be fixed, to some polyester knit dress that someone bought at Forever 21 last year,” Harrison says.
In circumstances where buying clothes is the only way to go, consumers can be more intentional about where they’re buying from. Thrifting is the next best thing, and supporting “slow fashion” designers — ones who actually take into consideration where their designs come from and who makes them — helps take business away from fast fashion industries.
“Buying something in the fast fashion world is definitely the worst thing you can probably do,” Harrison says.
The situation is not hopeless. By rejecting wearing clothes once before getting rid of them and styling outside of trends, consumers can effectively diminish the environmental impact of fast fashion, and leave clothes out of landfills and in drawers.
“Number one is to hang onto your clothes,” Williams says. “Don’t throw your clothes out.”