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Art in Life Beyond

Read more to find about aspects of art integrated to locations outside the school and community of Episcopal High School

Glamour & the Environment: A Re-evaluation of the Fashion Industry

Written by Charlotte Breckinridge

Published 01/29/2019

In light of earth day and our recent trash art project, I began to think about the increasing amount of natural disasters and the dangers of climate change; However, my mind failed to automatically wander to the most creative and glamorous industry in the world: Fashion. The beloved world of production that puts clothes on our backs and engenders appraisal from our friends is responsible for the emission of 1,715 million tons of CO2 in 2015, about 5.4% of the 32.1 billion tons of global carbon emissions in 2015. 

The rise of consumerism in the past 10 years coupled with the exponential nature of our capitalist system has created a perfectly engineered nightmare for the anonymous laborers and natural resources of the eastern world. As clothing waste increases by 400% from previous years, the consumerist nature of our society drives the rate of physiological issues synchronously. The most devastating facet of the equation is the inability of American business and legislation to reform a globe crippling storm of supply and demand. Our only option is a rapid production re-evaluation of the fast-fashion world’s biggest players paired with a domestic campaign to educate the population on the importance of sustainability.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love clothing. Occasionally, I even prey on the appealing sales tags found in stores such as Zara, Forever 21, Gap, and overseas websites offering trendy clothing for incredibly low prices; however, it is these companies that are leaving the biggest impact on our globe’s oceans, forests, air quality, and standards of living. In recent years companies like H&M have been taking taking steps in the right direction, but only after the 2013 Savar Building collapse in Bangladesh, one of the deadliest garment factory accidents in history, has sustainability become a priority for Big Business. The collapse, which killed around 1,134 and injured at least twice that number, was essentially due to strict deadlines imposed by companies sourcing fast fashion to American consumers.

After the tragic murder of over 1,000 maltreated bangladesh garment workers, corporate giants such as walmart as well as 14 other American companies refused to sign the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This is just one example of American Business refusing to conform to the needs of laborers overseas for the sake of unrestricted trade. Along with the overwhelming toll on human life, fashion’s impact on the environment is more than deadly. With an environmental burden equivalent to that of all of Russia, it is a major player behind the threat of global warming.

The biggest gray area in the life cycle of your clothing is most likely, similar to the human race, where it goes to die.

If not into a landfill,

                             the incinerator,


                                                     or recycled back into someone else’s closet,


unwanted clothing is shrink wrapped into bales taller than a human being and shipped across the world to southern africa or other developing countries. 

Sending our clothing to the less fortunate may sound glossy, but those same harsh chemicals end up being redistributed into the environment either way. In a little less than 20 years the amount of clothing being discarded by Americans has increased from 7 million to 14 million tons. This adds up to about 80 pounds of clothing discarded per person. The EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.

Despite some neglect by international business to address a lot of these devastating statistics, there are many working to enact a life-saving change. In fact, the Global fashion agenda, a non-profit organization built a little over 10 years ago, has spearheaded the fashion industry’s mission to build a more sustainable future. Their wish for a world beyond next season is built upon a business model that guides and supports industry leaders in changing the way that we produce.

In 2017, the GFA began a 2020 circular fashion commitment, which got 94 companies, including HM and Nike to sign a pledge in support of this initiative. Cyclability is in essence a climate friendly alternative to the make, purchase, discard linear production model, which is set to increase Global garment production 63% by 2030. A cyclical system, which collects garment material instead of allowing it to be discarded, could in contrast be worth over EUR 4 billion for the world economy by 2030.

Even high fashion designers such as Stella McCartney are now advocating for reform in the industry. From their inception in 2001, the Fashion House has built responsibility into the core of it’s brand as the first vegetarian label. Whilst staying true to their sustainable business model, Stella McCartney releases seasonal collections full of sharp tailoring, and subtle femininity, with a retro twist. 

They are one of the most groundbreaking institutions in their complete dedication to a model of cyclability. Using a decision making tool called the EP and L (Environmental profit and loss), the brand is able to track their their impact on our environment far beyond traditional methods. By going straight to the farm or into the laboratory, McCartney has decreased its raw materials impact by over 10% since 2016. 

They have also created various programmes such as Clean by design and Green Beginnings, which both aim to reduce the environmental impact of textile production. It is industry leaders like Stella, and organizations like the Global Fashion agenda that will be essential in forcing a re-evaluation of the entire system. As McCartney says,

"Every free single industry sharing this Earth needs to look at itself and be responsible, mindful and at the same time still have a healthy business at the end of the day. What is really exciting about The New Textiles Economy Report is that it’s providing solutions to an industry that is incredibly harmful to the environment, these are problems that people are not even aware of."

I ask you not to avoid the creative sector of production that brings immeasurable amounts of joy to our closets, but next time you go to purchase an article of clothing ask yourself questions like, “I wonder where this is coming from?”. This issue is by no means the fault of the consumer, but a failure on the part of our capitalist system to address the needs of the environment. Hopefully, in the near future, the Fashion industry will be able to fully correct it’s business model until then we are all still at risk.

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