I recently featured an interview from the producer Laura Piety, on the dangers of “fast fashion”. The idea is that we are obsessed with purchasing cheap clothes that last for a few months and then quickly discard these pieces without much care as to how they came to us or where they will go. It turns out, this topic was quite popular with my readers, so I decided to feature some of the best companies creating conscious clothing.
First, a few stats to bring home the importance of shopping for conscious clothing. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American consumers throw away (not donate) 82 pounds of clothing every year. That ends up being staggering amounts of clothing filling our landfills, but the problem with so-called “fast fashion” extends far beyond our waste problem.
We’ve been programmed to shop for low cost items, because the reality is, most of us are on a budget. Ethical fashion has been the last frontier for me: I buy organic food, spend a premium on safer skin care and cosmetic products, and environmentally-friendly household cleaners, but I’m still a sucker for a good deal on clothing.
Last month I spoke on a panel in San Fransisco hosted by the forward thinking sustainable fashion brand Reformation. Spending time with their CEO—Yael Aflalo—she said something that struck me.
If you see a coat for $7.99, it’s safe to assume that there is human suffering behind that low price.”
Environmental Footprint of Fast Fashion
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84% of unwanted clothes go into a landfill or are incinerated (burned)
- Clothing in landfills doesn’t properly biodegrade, even those that are made of natural fibers, releasing extensive amounts of methane gas which is a major contributor to climate change
- Producing clothing is extremely water intensive and uses many toxic chemicals, polluting the communities, rivers and oceans where they are produced
- “Comfy clothes” like fleece and yoga pants are emerging as the biggest source of microplastic pollution, contaminating our water every time we run a wash cycle
- Pesticide and water use for growing crops to make textiles is yet another environmental drain, and this doesn’t even include the emissions associated with transporting clothing around the world
Simply put, there is too much clothing out in the economy, most of which is cheap and will break, tear, or become unfashionable in a few months.
Negative Impacts on People
When you see a low price tag, think about the people behind that shirt, skirt, or suit. This is a new practice for me and I have to say it’s been a powerful exercise. It has forced me to think about what clothes I actually need, which clothes I want to invest in and wear for years to come and which brands I’m supporting.
The price of fast fashion falls most heavily on those who are dying the fabric and sewing the clothes we wear. It’s no surprise that the majority of our textiles and clothes are made in Southeast Asia, where wages are incredibly low, even by their economy’s standard of living. Slave and child labor is standard practice, worker suicide and plant fires are commonplace. This may sound grim, but it’s the reality of our addiction to cheap clothes that are “on trend” for a few short months.
Conscious Clothing for Everyone in Your Life
Luckily for us there is hope, the growing movement of sustainable apparel brands is encouraging and the designs extend far beyond the “eco-chic” style.
For the Outdoors Adventurer
Patagonia is one of the oldest sustainable apparel brands, focusing on quality craftsmanship, buying only what you need and repairs clothes and backpacks free of charge.
HQ: Ventura, CA
For the Millennial
Reformation is a millennial, fashion-forward brand that expresses its personality at every point through your shopping journey. From the check out confirmation email to the tags on the products, Reformation educates us along the way about how much carbon and water we saved.
HQ: Los Angeles, CA
For the 50-Something
Eileen Fisher creates elegant clothing, made in the United States, using sustainable and organic fibers. You can read all about their complex and impressive supply chain on their website section titled, “Behind the Label“. They are also a member of the American Sustainable Business Coalition, which is a group of businesses advocating for progressive policies!
HQ: Irvington, NY
For the 30-Something Working Professional
Everlane is one of my favorite go-to clothing brands. They create simple pieces that pair well with different types of clothes (think dressing up and down) and tell you where your clothing is made.
HQ: San Fransisco, CA
For the Gentlemen
Apolis, meaning global citizen, is the perfect name for this globally-minded company. The co-founders, colleagues and friends, tell the story about creating clothing that creates income, purpose and vitality to a community. The team at Apolis has done just that, all the while creating beautiful, handsome clothing for (mostly) men.
HQ: Los Angeles, CA
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