Just wear to brunch what you did last weekend or borrow your sister’s peplum blazer. Because fashion can only be sustainable if there isn’t so much of it filling up closets and, ultimately, landfills.
Can fashion be green? In a recent social media post, the environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, wrote, “You cannot mass produce fashion or consume ‘sustainably’ as the world is shaped today.” Quite simply — and this may come as a shock to those who wear their “ethically-manufactured” yoga pants like a badge of honour — there is no such thing as “sustainable” fashion. Much like how denims were once acid washed or stone washed, these days, everyone’s “greenwashed”.
The fashion industry, especially the sector known as fast fashion, has a massive environmental footprint, accounting for around 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and about 20 per cent of wastewater, and using up more energy than aviation and shipping combined. And, as consumers have grown conscious of this over the last decade or so, brands have been looking for ways to appear more eco-friendly. So they make clothing that includes a tiny percentage of organically-grown cotton, just to slap on a label that says “uses organically-grown cotton”. Or they claim that their clothes are “ethical”, “climate-neutral” or “green” — buzzwords that sound reassuring to consumers (whose conscience might otherwise play spoilsport) but which really mean nothing. More ingeniously, brands offer buy-back schemes to customers only to sell the used clothing in bulk to countries in Africa and Asia where they end up as waste in landfills anyway. In the meantime, consumers, their conscience soothed, keep buying, while manufacturers, their bottom lines intact, keep making.
With the release of the recent IPCC report on the climate emergency, it’s never been clearer that sacrifices are in order. For consumers, this means consuming less. Know that it’s fine to not own the latest Dries Van Noten or Céline knockoff. Just wear to brunch what you did last weekend or borrow your sister’s peplum blazer. Because fashion can only be sustainable if there isn’t so much of it filling up closets and, ultimately, landfills.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 14, 2021 under the title ‘Greenwashed & stylish’.
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