Celebrate Earth Month with (sustainable) style!

Author Molly Davis is back with pro-tips about outfitting ourselves responsibly and fashionably.

Happy Earth Month 2023! This year, the global Earth Month theme is ‘Join the Green Revolution.’ To me, this inspires individual action and education in order to come together as a collective as we fight for a sustainable future. This April, I wanted to take the opportunity to address a huge environmental problem of our modern society: clothing waste and overconsumption culture.

Photo of clothing waste from public domain.

With online shopping, one-day shipping, and fast-paced trends, clothing waste in our country is reaching some astonishing numbers. The amount of clothes the average consumer buys annually has increased 60% between 2000 and 2014, and this clothing is kept about only half as long. The normalization of ‘fast fashion,’ or the mass production of trendy designs at a low cost, has led to unsustainable, cheap clothing as low as $3. The popularization of cheap clothing made from synthetic materials typically derived from fossil fuels is environmentally harmful. Taking an even further look into the fashion industry, one may find numerous human rights violations in global textile factories with unlivable wages, poor living conditions, and even instances of child labor. Given that 73% of clothing ends up in landfills and less than 1% is recycled into new clothing, there are also significant costs that come with clothing waste. While many citizens have good intentions when donating their clothes, many charity items end up being dumped in clothing landfills in ‘third-world’ countries, creating an environmental catastrophe on the other side of the globe.

So how can we use this knowledge to celebrate Earth Month ‘in style?’ One way is by supporting companies that reuse, rework, and ethically produce clothes. We can also make an effort to avoid participating in fast fashion and microtrends; instead, take the opportunity to find your own style and be creative! Personally, I am an avid Goodwill shopper. Not only are these items still of decent quality, but they have one more chance to be reused before heading towards landfills such as those mentioned above. Goodwill charity stores also have very affordable clothing that comes close to competing with prices from fast-fashion brands such as Shein or FashionNova! Vintage and thrift stores are also great options that give clothes a chance to have a second life. When purchasing outside of sustainable brands, stick to clothes produced from organic materials such as organic cotton, linen, or wool.

Another effort you can make towards sustainable shopping is to develop a ‘quality over quantity’ mindset as a consumer. While many of us are made to believe that buying sustainable products is the best way to be sustainable, this isn’t completely true: the best way to reduce waste is to make sure it’s not made in the first place! Simply put, consuming less overall and avoiding the consumption of unethical/unsustainable products can encourage less overproduction in the future. The main goal of marketers is to encourage consumption, so brands can successfully ‘greenwash’ (falsely advertise as eco-friendly) while simultaneously contributing to overconsumption culture. Read into the companies you buy from and question whether their clothes are ethically and sustainably produced; if there’s a lack of transparency in this answer, it’s safe to assume it’s likely not.

A last tip, and possibly my favorite, to become stylish and sustainable is by getting creative! Many people have a habit of throwing out clothing at the first sign of wear or damage. Instead of viewing small signs of wear as the end of a products’ lifespan, you can rework your clothes with a personal touch. Simple repairs such as holes or stains can be easily fixed, while larger tears or advanced aging gives us an opportunity to upcycle clothes artistically. From turning jeans into a tote bag, a shirt into a skirt, or even creating your own patchwork pants, the options are endless! To easily prevent the wear-and-tear of your clothes in the first place, you can wash them less and with cold water.

Mass production, environmentally harmful textiles, shorter clothing lifespans, inhumane working conditions and limited recycling mechanisms have turned the fashion industry into an environmentally/socially problematic industry. Despite this, we can come together and make changes to our shopping habits as individuals for a collective victory. It’s our job as consumers to support the companies we want to see succeed and hold others accountable for their environmental and social injustices. I hope you can take away some information from this and ‘join the green revolution’ this Earth Month!

Molly Davis shops at the TAMUCC Islander Green Team clothing swap. Photo by Julia Nicholson.

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