Fashion and Green

The opening sentence in the Economist article caught my attention. It confirmed something I kind of already knew, the Arctic has been a fashionable destination this summer. Some members in my extended family went, and so did my friend Luc. Traveling to the Arctic has become the ultimate green chic, more than buying the latest Hybrid, more than building a totally green house. It is something to talk about at parties, and an experience only the very privileged can afford. If I had the money, I would probably consider it, never mind all the emissions from all the flying and buying the polar accoutrements for the trip. It is just so cool!

The same is at work when I go crazy for Target’s latest designer. Everyday, I go to the mailbox, looking for my Dominique Cohen jewelry shipment. It’s called fashion, and it is very, very powerful. Fashion has the amazing ability to change people’s perceptions and behaviors overnight. I remember as a child growing up, being so embarrassed by my parents’ lifestyle choices for our family. In the small town where we lived, we were the only vegetarians. How much I resented not being like the other meat eating kids in my school! I thought my father was a freak for having such unorthodox ideas. Years later, in California where I live, being a vegetarian is a statement of ultimate green coolness, and one of the ways that teenagers choose to affirm their independence.

I think about the lifestyle choices I need to make to become a truly green girl, the three R’s- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -, the small acts in the privacy of my home, the not shopping bit, the driving less, the changing the light bulbs to CFB’s, . . . I think of all these things, and what strikes me is how unglamorous, how invisible they all are. Not to minimize No Impact Man’s feat, my sense is it would probably be a lot harder, if not impossible, for him and his family to deliver on their promise, if they did not benefit from all the attention from the blogosphere, the movie in the making, and the book to come. For the commoner that I am, there are none of these immediate external rewards, only the satisfaction of a guilt-free green conscience. And that is not enough. The challenge I see, is how to turn fashion on its head, and use it to our advantage? There can only be one No Impact Man. How can we each capture a bit of that same green glory, and claim it as our own?

Vintage Fashion and the Effects of Clothing Manufacture on the Environment

In recent times wearing vintage clothing has become both fashionable and a way for us to make a strong statement about ourselves. Whether it is for financial reasons or political reasons, many of us are no longer satisfied with buying cheap clothes that end up at the back of our wardrobes weeks later.

Producing denim (or any other clothing for that matter) inevitably impacts the environment. This starts from growing the cotton used to make it, right through to shipping the finished garment, often worldwide. It takes 2900 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans and 766 gallons of water to produce just one t-shirt (National Geographic, 2010). The cotton farms also frequently use chemicals and pesticides, creating greenhouse gases.

However, this is only a tiny part of the overall environmental impact. Every year in the UK we buy 2 million tons of clothing, with 1.2 million tons going into landfill. Textiles are now the fastest growing sector in household waste, in what the media has dubbed the “Primark effect” (The Daily Telegraph). Many retailers now rotate stock as often as every six weeks. This is unsustainable both financially and from an environmental perspective.

Regardless of this it would be unfair to blame the environmental impact solely on retailers, after all they wouldn’t produce such vast amounts of clothing if we didn’t buy it. But things are slowly beginning to change due to the increasing interest in buying ethically sourced and eco-friendly products. Many retailers are now using organic cotton, for example.

Using organic cotton is a small step towards reducing the impact fashion and clothing manufacture has on the environment. It would be wrong to say that vintage clothing doesn’t impact the environment in any way; at some stage it was manufactured using the same process. However with vintage clothing it is undeniably less harmful in the long run because not throwing away our clothes will cut greenhouse gases.

At the moment only 16% of the clothes we dispose of in the UK each year are recycled (The Daily Telegraph). Buying vintage encourages recycling, as we’re less likely to throw away a treasured vintage find than we are a bargain from the high street. Taking this into account, (whether you choose to buy vintage or new) the environmental impact of clothing manufacture is definitely an issue worth thinking about.

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