As the saying goes, we don’t inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children. Whether or not you’re a big shopper, everyone can relate to the fact that sustainability initiatives are crucial to the future of our kids—and the world.
Commemorating Earth Day, we’d like to share how we can all become environmentally conscious consumers by better understanding how our shopping habits impact the environment. After all, the retail industry is the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry.
In today’s world of Instagram and Facebook, social media mixed with fast fashion has led us to believe we need to buy more and get every trendy new piece. These are styles that you commonly see at an H&M or a Zara. But ultimately, these items produce excess greenhouse gas emissions—nearly 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually—and are quickly made with inadequate materials. In effect, these garments are built to only be worn very few times, and therefore we end up throwing these items away to sit in a landfill. A startling fact is that Americans throw away over 26 billion pounds of textiles a year. And what’s worse—the fast fashion industry often takes advantage of workers in developing countries, like Bangladesh and India, who oftentimes are forced to work in poor conditions while getting insufficient wages.
As consumers like us buy more fast fashion, we’re transitively contributing to this “throwaway” culture and supporting poor supply chains. We need to stop reinforcing this negative impact to the environment. It’s more critical than ever to be a conscious consumer and consider alternative shopping options for Western and South Asian garments.
Here are four ways you can make more mindful shopping choices:
1. Rent - Today, women wear about 20% of what’s in their closets. That means the rest of it will sit there unused or will go to a landfill. Renting can solve these problems and is our future. Whether it’s a wedding or birthday, consider using rental services like Rent the Runway for Western dresses or LUKH for modern Indian fashion. These services offer garments made from materials that are intended to last, and they reduce fabric waste by getting more use out of a single piece of clothing— thereby reducing the need to produce excess clothing.
2. Recycle - There are many ways to repurpose your clothing for other uses. You could use fabrics from old blouses or saris to make headbands, or cut gowns into midi dresses to create more versatile styles. I personally recommend using old shirts as reusable rags for cleaning. Alternatively, you could purchase garments from brands that use recycled materials. For example, Patagonia created a 100% recycled polyester fleece sweater. The fibers in the sweater are made from recycled soda bottles, waste, and other former clothing fibers. The fleece sweater retails for $119, which is the average price for a Patagonia sweater.
3. Support - Support sustainable brands who use eco-friendly fabrics that contribute to slow and ethical fashion. Reformation is a brand that designs cute and edgy styles via eco-friendly practices that minimize energy, water, and waste footprints. Everlane is another brand that offers transparency into their sustainable practices and ethical factories. They even have a new line, Renew, that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. In regards to South Asian fashion, I have come to rely on suggestions by sustainability guru, Aditi Mayer, who recommends checking out IKKIVI - a space for eco-friendly Indian designers who are rooted in timeless design. Mayer also recommends Good Clothing Company, an apparel manufacturing facility that provides safe working conditions, fair wages and complete transparency to consumers.
4. Donate - When clothing is ready for a new home, consider selling or donating items. Whatever you do, don’t throw them away to sit at a landfill. You could donate clothes to a local homeless shelter, Goodwill, or Salvation Army to help others. If you’ve got items in great condition, and want to make a little extra cash, visit a local consignment shop or try an online reseller like Poshmark or thredUP. You can even earn Reformation credit if you send in used clothes through the Reformation x thredUP upcycling program.
Every action we take today can impact our environment, our kids, and the generations to come. It’s up to us to become conscious consumers, and together we can make a difference.
For more on sustainability, check out the "Don't be Clothes Minded" episode on the The Woke Desi podcast - featuring Aditi Mayer and LUKH.