As environmental concerns have become more serious, there have been increasingly loud calls to abandon fast fashion: the mass production of clothing to sell at low prices. Fast fashion allows consumers to purchase clothes easily and, as some argue, makes people more likely to buy more clothes than they need.
The clothes are made en masse, sold cheaply and then just as quickly they are thrown away or forgotten. Fast fashion emboldens the uniquely American culture of consumerism but, more substantially, this culture also contributes to the pressing environmental concerns of our day.
Water is essential to making clothes, and as such, the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water. Just as troubling, the industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions: a shocking percentage that speaks to the need for reform in the culture around fashion and our purchasing habits.
Although we understand the urgency in which we need to address these issues, it should not be solely on consumers to remedy the environmental concerns made by the fashion industry. The calls against fast fashion have led to a certain degree of elitism from certain people: the middle-aged and wealthy, for example, often criticize those who do not shop at expensive sustainability brands.
These groups of people can afford to spend large amounts of money on sustainable clothes — everyone else cannot. Some of the most popular sustainable clothing brands include Patagonia and Everlane, both of which are incredibly expensive.
Sustainability is about making things better for everyone — fast fashion harms all, regardless of class. As such, the only way to properly address the fast fashion industry is to avoid any exclusionary politics. Instead, we need to focus on building solidarity among all people to take on the environmental crises and all of its manifestations, especially in the fashion industry.
If you can afford to shop sustainably and avoid fast fashion, you should. But another thing you can do is to treat the clothes already in your closet with dignity. Buying fast fashion is not inherently bad or problematic, but if you treat your clothes with care, it can minimize the environmental impact of fast fashion.
Treating our clothes with dignity — taking good care, washing properly, not getting rid of clothing when it is stained or has a minor tear — will go a long way in ensuring that our clothes stay with us for a long time and minimizes our impact on the climate crisis.
It is always important to be mindful of what we are doing and what we are purchasing. But, more importantly, companies must understand their role in society and societal issues. As fashion companies are greatly contributing to the environmental crisis, they should take more accountability and begin to rethink their practices.
Instead of prioritizing what individuals can do, we should be focused on what companies must do. While sustainable shopping be incredibly expensive, there should be options for people of all economic backgrounds.
Whether this is having sustainable brands that are accessible to everyone or a policy program that helps people find and afford sustainable clothing, there need to be institutional and structural changes that make living sustainably more affordable and more accessible to all people.
A promising sign, though, is that companies are beginning to take this threat seriously is that many are beginning to hire environmental consultants and sustainability experts. At the Rutgers Business School, for example, students can minor in “business of sustainability,” which introduces students to incorporating sustainable practices in business.
This type of minor is good for a multitude of reasons, but most notably, it teaches future business leaders the importance of thinking sustainably, which begins the process of changing the abusive practices of consumption and profit that have, for so long, defined the business world.
The minor highlights the fact that individuals can begin the process of making systemic change: As individuals, we have the power to be mindful of the consumerism that has so overtaken American culture, and we can combat that in our own lives.
In addition to the minor, Rutgers has several organizations and programs that are centered around sustainability issues and focus on how individuals can have an impact on systems.
Students for Environmental Awareness (SEA), for example, educate students about environmental problems and what students can do to have a positive impact on the environment.
Associated with SEA is RU Thrifty, an organization that educates directly about the harms of fast fashion and provides students with alternative shopping options that are more sustainable. By learning about the issues and being given options, students are made more aware of the issues and can begin the process of change at a structural level.
Hopefully, as the next generation assumes leadership positions in business, these formative experiences will help shape their view on how to institute business practices that are ethical and sustainable.
Alongside that, there should be stricter enforcement of environmental regulations and standards so as to ensure companies are taking the threat of environmental catastrophe seriously.
Ultimately, changing the culture around fast fashion, consumerism and the environment is hard and will take time. But we are being given the skills to begin making structural changes that can lead to a more sustainable future.
Fast fashion is one industry that is in sore need of change and we all — individuals, companies and governments — must commit to starting that process of change. We all collectively need to slow fast fashion down.
The Daily Targum’s editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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