Eco-Friendly Fashion: To What Extent is it Necessary, and Effective?

Whenever we mention global warming, or pollution, what comes to mind first?

Whenever we mention global warming, or pollution, what comes to mind first? Factories, cars, technology, trash dumps; the most commonly known sources of carbon dioxide and the growing issue of climate change.

However, there’s one aspect of today’s fast-paced, consumerist society that is one of the most toxic yet stealthiest contributor to global warming: fashion.

One may ask- how? How can an innocent, clean white tee that I bought for so cheap in Gangnam Station be so detrimental to the environment? In fact, the fashion industry is the third most polluting industry, not far behind oil and agriculture. To grow, dye, and process the cotton used for your beloved Levi’s jeans, requires up to 500 gallons of water, and deadly chemicals like carcinogens are released into our waterways everyday. The textile industry isn’t exploitive of just the environment, but of workers as well. While it’s a 3 trillion dollar a year business, only 2 percent of apparel companies pay their workers a fair wage. These giant companies don’t even flinch at a wagging finger, simply denying their knowledge of factory conditions and detaching themselves from the responsibility of looking after their workers.  

“Fast fashion” is appealing because it allows consumers to hop on ever-changing trends without making a big dent in their wallets. It is easy to forget, when browsing the racks at stores like Zara and Forever 21, that while the effect on your wallet is low, there is a much steeper price. That’s why five years ago, in 2011, Greenpeace launched a campaign to lobby fashion brands such as Burberry, Nike and others to detox their supply chain in an ethical fashion push. Claiming victory, Greenpeace noted in a blog post that it “was a massive step when Adidas, Puma and Nike promised to go toxic-free by 2020.” And last spring, Levi’s converted 3.5 million water bottles into premium high-quality jeans- more and more sustainable brands are emerging and for once, it seemed like the industry was taking a turn.

But now, 16 out of 19 fashion and sportswear brands that are not advancing fast enough in Greenpeace’s view, including Nike, China’s Li Ning, Esprit and Victoria’s Secret, which all placed in the “Faux Pas” category. A dozen brands have called in the middle of the pack, dubbed the “Evolution Mode”, which are on their way but are being urged to accelerate changes to achieve a 2020 goal of clean fashion—a group that includes Adidas, Burberry, Levi’s, Valentino, UK retailer Primark and Puma. At the bottom of the list are the laggards that Greenpeace is calling “Toxic Addicts” — including Armani, Bestseller, Diesel, D&G, GAP, Hermes, Christian Dior, and Versace.
And it may be just my sardonic, over-critical self- but I can’t help but wonder how much of a difference it’ll really make for H&M to proudly claim themselves as environmentally-conscience, when in reality, their “Conscience” label is nothing more than lies plastered onto name tags. Is it enough to change the industry, one brand at a time- or is it too late?


-Seiyeon Park ’17

Featured Image: Eco Home Ideas

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