February 21, 2021

BERNSTEIN | Stop Buying New Clothes

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We each individually play a role in the fight against climate change. When you look yourself in the mirror and ask how you can make a difference, you can start by looking at your outfit. 

Buying clothes raises your carbon footprint. The fashion industry is responsible for around 10 percent of annual carbon emissions –– that’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the World Bank

A carbon footprint represents the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a person, business or entity emits into the atmosphere through their actions, purchases, use of energy, et cetera. These gases contribute to global warming, so reducing our carbon footprints is important for the fight against climate change.

One person reducing their carbon footprint won’t be enough to solve climate change. Seventy-one percent of the planet’s carbon emissions come from just 100 corporations — so individuals’ collective action of using metal straws and avoiding meat can only do so much in the shadow of powerful businesses that the government allows to carry on. But nonetheless, we all have a moral duty to reduce our pollution. If we don’t work for a cleaner Earth ourselves, then how can we expect our leaders to provide it to us?

Our personal work has to start with stopping support of the fashion industry. 

The rapid production of cheap and new clothing, or fast fashion, has disastrous environmental effects. Extracting fibers from synthetics (especially fossil-fuel derived synthetics like polyester) and conventional cultivation of crops like cotton are energy-intensive processes that emit tons of carbon. Add in carbon-heavy shipments across the globe and we see that through their emissions, clothing production is expediting the destruction of our planet’s environment.

Fast fashion also both wastes and pollutes water. It takes around 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans because of how much cotton has to be used. That much water could fulfill a person’s need for 10 years. Not to mention how much water is used in the dyeing process. One ton of dyed fabric can take up to 200 tons of freshwater. Water leftover from the dying process is often dumped into streams or rivers, contaminating them with toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, production of textiles like polyester contributes to 35 percent of all microplastics in the ocean. In fact, the fashion industry is responsible for 20 percent of all industrial water pollution.

It’s not like clothing producers are economic job-creating heroes, either. Textile workers work on average 96 hours a week in inhumane conditions without receiving a living wage and the cotton industry often employs forced and child labor. 

All of this waste and injustice is funded by you, the consumer. When you buy new clothes, you’re helping the fashion companies. And as such, you’re promoting their business practices and you’re wearing your T-shirt’s carbon emissions on your sleeve (literally). You can even find your own footprint with a calculator from thredUP, an online secondhand clothing store.

To counter the industry, which is big and only getting bigger, and lower your personal carbon footprint –– which averages about 1620 pounds of carbon –– look to alternative outlets and practices. 

Some of the best habits to help you stop buying clothes are wearing often, repairing worn-out items and renting. Clothing is too regularly disregarded after just a few wears or no wears at all. If something breaks, fix it, and if you’re not wearing a piece of clothing multiple times, you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Instead, rent. You can find places to rent clothing online like The Devout, which runs a subscription based month-long rental service.

If you need new clothing — which you inevitably will — it’s imperative that you steer clear of  big, non-sustainable producers that treat their workers like garbage. Sustainable clothing brands can be found through databases like sustainyourstyle.org or goodonyou.eco. You can also buy second hand. Some brand names like Patagonia offer used versions of their own clothes, but there are also thrift stores, either online or in-person, which don’t promote any big business and can be cheaper and easier.

We should, however, be careful when buying second hand. Thrift stores are an important staple of our society, providing clothes at a low cost to those who need them. Gentrifying charity clothing shops can raise prices and bar the market from those it intends to help. Reselling used clothes with high mark-ups or replacing a fast fashion shopping habit with a slow one can be harmful. The idea isn’t just to buy a bunch of used clothes instead of new ones, but to, as much as possible, avoid buying any new clothing at all.

Stop supporting the fashion industry. Reject those businesses and help the environment instead.

Daniel Bernstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.