T-shirts are one of the most comfortable and affordable clothing available. One can buy one at a price as low as $3.99. During sales, the prices crash and people buy more of them. Which rational person will miss this once a year carnival? Well, some might. 

Fast fashion has changed the industry forever. Budget friendly apparels from the hot brands have enticed the masses. There are more purchases than ever and the monetary cost one has to pay is low. But one rarely asks, what is the ethical cost? The real price we and our future generations would have to pay for consumer capitalism is hard to estimate. The concept is relatively new and far from the mainstream consumers and media. 

The earliest reference can be found in the research paper of Thomas and Kopplen titled, Ethics and Innovation – Is an Ethical Fashion Industry an Oxymoron? The seed for the topic was sown by the book, The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products by Edwin Datshefski. He asked, Is it possible for a product to be totally beautiful if it was made in an ugly, non-sustainable way?

Let’s talk facts. Fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. It contributes to 8% of the greenhouse emissions every year (number is increasing). To make a t-shirt, you need 2,700 litres; a pair of jeans takes over 10,000 litres. According to the International Labour Organization, about 170 million children are employed by the fashion industry to make you look cool. Garment workers in Bangladesh, that make substantial amounts of apparels, have a minimum wage of $94.55 per month, which is half of what they need to lead a life without worrying about shelter, food and clothes of their own. 

Animals are hit the worst. They get exploited by the industry who treat snake, crocodile and lizard skin as hot commodities on a regular basis. Despite protests, animal clothing is flaunted in events around the world. When washed, clothes produce microfibers that choke aquatic life. It takes about 80 years for the clothes to break down in landfills and the number of clothes that end up here is increasing every year. These facts make it a little difficult, at least for us, to appreciate a piece of clothing that has been passed down by abusing labour, children, animals, nature and the world at large. 

Sustainable fashion is a way to tackle these issues head on. In simple words, it stands for a movement that addresses the entire fashion industry by being fair to people, animals and the world. This kind of fashion does not believe in exploiting human labour and children. The brands involved pay higher wages to the laborers and do not allow children participation. This is called ethical clothing.

It is the antithesis to fast fashion. Organic cotton, bamboo and hemp is procured for clothing. To manufacture a t-shirt from organic cotton you need only 243 litres. That’s 91% less water! It also emits less greenhouse gases. Some brands even use plastic from fish nets to make brand new clothes. Use of resources available organically in nature is called green clothing. It is not only eco-friendly but also sustainable.

Vegan apparel is another important element of this movement that does not believe in animal cruelty to make products. Obviously, there will be no leather and suede but there is also no silk, fur, feather and angora. The brands believe that one can make clothes without harming other animals. They use plant based and man-made fibres to ensure ethical and sustainable clothing practices are followed.

A survey on sustainable fashion showed that 60% of millennials were interested in buying sustainable products but only 30% actually bought them. The main hindrance in the way of this is price. And it is true but there is no easy way around this. But how many clothes that you buy, do you really wear? Wall Street Journal found out that only 20% of clothes are worn by women in their entire wardrobe of ‘collections’.

Common sense tells us that we can declutter our wardrobes and the anxiety driven ‘what-to-wear’ by owning less clothes. One of the steps to do so, is to move to sustainable fashion. Not only are they really durable but they also take care of the environment and give it a chance to heal. You can buy ten t-shirts that will last you a year or a couple that will last you for years.

Women are more involved in making fashion choices and start-ups have promoted women clothing to spread awareness about organic, eco-friendly fashion. Climate change, global warming, exploitation of nature and animals is real. We have brought ourselves to this point. Sustainable fashion is a way to try for a better tomorrow. The woke culture is becoming more and more aware but we have a long way to go. The resources are finite. All we can do is use them more efficiently without compromising on our ethics.

Strangely, we think we have a choice. That’s a mistake. We don’t. We never had.

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