By Olivia Colangelo

Changing the Trajectory of the Fashion Industry. As fashion trends rapidly cycle through the media, industries are scrambling to find ways to appease the mania surrounding the latest style. “Fast fashion” refers to the idea of mass-produced clothing at a low, affordable cost.

Fast fashion is often manufactured using heavy metals and synthetic, toxic dyes. These pollutants are discarded into streams, rivers, and oceans which desecrates the ecosystem and results in a loss of biodiversity. Deforestation is also becoming more prevalent as more and more trees are torn down for their cellulosic fabric.

The demand for affordable, mass-produced clothing has incentivized the fashion industry to become increasingly globalized. As clothing is transported across the world via land, sea, and air, CO2 emissions have surged. 62% of all garments are made of synthetic fibers such as polyester, a crude oil derivative. Crude oil is a nonrenewable energy source that leads to increased carbon emissions. The fashion industry is currently responsible for 8-10% of the world’s carbon emissions. By 2050, this number is expected to rise to 26% if left unchecked.

Consumers have the potential to alter the course of fast fashion by shopping sustainably. Sustainable fashion refers to clothing that is environmentally, socially, and ecologically friendly. The goal of sustainable fashion is to reorient both the industry and consumers toward ethical, safe, and reliable practices in production, distribution, and marketing.

Garments that are made of eco-friendly materials such as organic fibers, biodegradable materials, and natural dyes are sustainable. These materials reduce the risk of exposure to harmful toxins, while reducing pollutants within the atmosphere. Sustainable fashion upholds values of ethical labor practices and often preserves cultural heritage and tradition. As clothing is repaired, redesigned, and recycled, its lifespan increases which reduces the amount of material that ends up in a landfill.

Consumers can shop sustainably by investing in natural materials, upcycling their clothing, and choosing “quality over quantity.” It is of utmost importance to account for durability and longevity when shopping.

Of the estimated 100 billion garments that are produced each year, 87% wind up in a landfill. Clothing today can be worn as little as ten times before disposal. As the fast fashion industry continues to thrive, the environment will continue to endure adverse effects unless a course of action is taken.