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Fashion and Climate Change

Thanks to the recent $600 stimulus cheque, the US went on a shopping spree. US retail sales surged 5.3 percent in January, thus boosting a stagnant economy and keeping the capitalist system alive. By providing funds to spend, the government was successful in re-igniting consumers' desires to over consume and waste, a habit which has been an integral part of the US culture.

Ranging from food to fuel to clothes, the US is considered the king in overconsumption. Fashion industry, known to be consumed by speed and newness, treats fashion like food that spoils quickly or as said in the popular press, “fashion retailers treat fashion as produce.” This “McFashion” concept has driven the behavior of the American consumer. For example, an average American woman has “103 items of clothing” in her closet and on an average spends somewhere between $1800 to $4800 on clothing annually.

But do we actually pay $1800 to $4800 or is there an additional cost that gets unnoticed by most of us: the cost to the environment.

As per the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it takes about 2700 liters of water (three years of one consumer’s drinking water) to make a ‘cotton’ shirt. The production of the cotton to the delivery of the final product to the store equates to 23.85 kilograms of carbon emission. And not to forget ‘cotton’, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world, using approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and 11% of pesticides. This is just one cotton T-shirt, “103 items of clothing” in our wardrobe are equivalent to 278,100 liters of water and countless chemicals.

So with the drastic changes happening to our climate, where states like Texas known for milder winters are caught off guard by the chill, don’t forget to blame our pretty wardrobes and the glamourous fashion industry. The fashion industry currently accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 20% of wastewater, which is more than both the aviation and shipping industry combined and we thought that they were the wicked sectors.

So if we keep consuming at this pace, global consumption of apparel will rise from 55 million metric tons in 2020 to 102 million ton in 2030 and the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030. One can only imagine what drastic climate changes we may live to witness in the coming next decade.

David Suzuki, a renowned environmental activist says, “In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.” Yes…each of us counts in this fight for climate change. So besides using energy wisely, signing petitions for climate change, eating meat-free, organic, and local meals, also think of buying and consuming less clothing.

I do agree one’s appearance is a very important part of one’s identity, and clothing plays a substantial role in that self-identity process. For sure our favorite fashion brands know how to play with our notion of “self”. By emphasizing obsolescence and newness, they have been constantly changing our notion of self thus leading to temporary identity which has successfully perpetuated their insatiable desires for their own economic well-being rather than focusing on our well-being. Sure the global fashion industry employs more than 75 million workers worldwide, but an industry based on ‘planned obsolescence’ and known to create problems for workers, the environment, and society is susceptible to criticism of its ethical conduct.

We don’t need another addition in our closet of “103 items of clothing” to define us or make us look beautiful. Leslie Wexner, former chairperson of the Limited, was once quoted as saying, “Every woman already has enough clothes to last for 100 years.” So in March when you possibly receive another stimulus package, PLEASE don’t get tempted to buy one more dress to make you look beautiful and brighten up your gloomy, dull, snowy day. Think twice because you may just pay $50 to fill up your already filled wardrobe, it is the environment and our climate that is paying the “actual price.” Hunt down your wardrobe and definitely you will find something that will cheer you up and help save our planet. Remember “consuming less” is the new sustainable fashion statement...a paradox for a capitalist driven economy but for our environment - it is music to one’s ears.

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