Want to hear a not-so-fun fact? Fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world, after oil and agriculture. Yep, you read that correctly: fashion is basically just as bad for the environment as oil spills that kill countless animals and the horrors of farming that drive so many people to become vegetarians and vegans. So why isn’t it a more prominently featured issue in our world today?
Part of it, we think, comes from a sense of detachment we tend to have about clothing and jewelry. It’s not something we use to power automobiles every day, where we can physically smell and feel the pollution, and it’s not something we put in our bodies that has the ability to make us sick. And while oil and agriculture have seemingly easy solutions for avoiding guilt such as owning hybrid cars or being a vegetarian (both relatively inexpensive propositions), fashion doesn’t really have that same ‘out’.
Most of the time, sustainable or fair trade jewelry and clothing companies have significantly higher price tags. It’s too easy to brush off a local, handmade garment that costs $150 when you can get 10 shirts for the same price at Forever 21, H&M or Zara.
The thing is, we totally get it. Life is expensive and it can be hard to justify spending a little bit more on an item of clothing or a piece of jewelry when you’re thinking about all the other expenses you incur on a regular basis.
But just because you aren’t using your clothes to physically fuel your body or your car every day doesn’t mean that the industry’s wrongdoings shouldn’t have an effect on you.
To be a conscious consumer, we need to consume consciously in ALL areas of our lives, not just the few that feel doable or literally touch our lives each day. A conscious consumer chooses to purchase items that adhere to certain guidelines of sustainability in an attempt to avoid contributing to mass production, waste, or harmful manufacturing processes and work environments. This does not exclude the clothes on your back or the rings on your fingers.
Conscious consumerism lends itself well to minimalism, too, which, let’s be honest, we could all benefit from. When you’re spending $150 on a shirt, you probably won’t have 25 of them in your closet. Perhaps you have just five or six instead -- but it’s about quality, rather than quantity. You may have less items in your wardrobe, but you can confidently say that you did not contribute to overtime work by women and children in dangerous factories.
You can rest easy knowing that the color of your scarf did not cause the 20% of industrial water pollution that comes from synthetic textile dyes. You can feel good knowing that three years worth of clean water (when so many people lack access to drinkable water) was not poured into the making of one of your T-shirts.
Don’t these things feel just as important as the cleanliness of the food we put into our bodies or the emissions coming from our vehicles? We would argue that these things are almost more important. Lives are at stake when fast fashion and low prices reign.
So the next time you find yourself browsing the shops or the Internet in search of a new dress or necklace, please take a moment to think about your carbon footprint -- and all the things that contribute to it, not just the ones that affect you personally. Because if we don’t shift our behaviours now, it sooner or later will affect us personally. Look for garments produced using sustainably-sourced fabrics and items produced within ethical processes. Not only will you feel better about your purchase, but what you buy will last longer, due to higher quality materials and design procedures. We promise, it is so worth it.