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Sustainable Fashion: Possibility or Pipe Dream?

Fashion is a $3 trillion industry that’s causing severe harm to the environment. Is a sustainable fashion industry possible?

Aiste Zitnikaite adds the Devinto tag to her Audra top. Photo credit: Audrey Jaber.

Ten years ago, Aiste Zitnikaite worked in the design room of a large Canadian company that sells winter coats and jackets. She helped with pattern making and spent the majority of her time working on a computer. But behind the scenes, the clothing she was helping to produce was harming the planet. At the time, much of the clothing was being made in Pakistan, where “the rivers there were all different colors from the dyes, and the life expectancy of people who lived around there was like 38 years old because they were exposed to chemicals,” Zitnikaite says. She learned that across the world, workers are being exploited and the environment is being harmed, all in the name of fashion. Zitnikaite left the company and opened her own clothing brand that actually prioritizes sustainability.

 

The monstrosities that Zitnikaite witnessed are unfortunately not uncommon. The fashion industry as a whole is extremely damaging. In order for the industry to become sustainable, clothing needs to be made in both an environmentally friendly and socially-ethical way. That is currently not the case.  


According to Business Insider, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. “For every step in the life cycle, there are emissions associated with it because it takes energy to do everything,” says James Baldwin, a senior lecturer at Boston University. The industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide and is responsible for 20% of worldwide water pollution. It’s undeniable that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting and harmful industries.

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Although the fashion industry has been detrimental for decades, today’s obsession with fast 

fashion is making it progressively worse. Fast fashion refers to cheap and trendy clothing that is rapidly mass-produced. 

 

Because of fast fashion, clothing is increasingly viewed as disposable. Today, the average consumer buys 60% more pieces of clothing than 15 years ago, and each item is only kept for half as long. “The biggest problem is a lack of a willingness to be satisfied with a few items of clothing that are made right,” Baldwin says. 

 

Preeti Arya, Assistant Professor of Textile Development and Marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York agrees. “Durability is not the concern or an objective to achieve anymore. It's all about aesthetics and staying with the fashion trend,” she says.

When consumers inevitably decide that they no longer want to own a piece of clothing, it ultimately ends up hurting the planet. According to Business Insider, up to 85% of textiles go into landfills or are incinerated each year. “A lot of folks have kind of a false image that if you donate the clothes after you're done with them, that you're being socially and environmentally responsible,” says Baldwin. “But the bottom line is there are more clothes and clothing waste being produced than the world wants or needs.”

 

It’s indisputable that the fashion industry is currently causing more harm than good. However, there are several movements — like slow fashion 

and digital designs — attempting to turn the industry sustainable. So, is a sustainable fashion industry possible?

Read more about sustainable fashion.
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