The Fashion Crisis | Elliot Frueh

The fashion industry is one of the largest contributing factors to the environmental issues we are facing today. The “fast fashion” powerhouses, Zara, H&M, and Forever 21, scramble to keep up with intense consumer demand for new clothing each and every week, wasting an incredible amount of money and resources in doing so. Not only are materials wasted, but the materials used are toxic: polyesters, plastics, and other synthetic fibers derived from oil are used in almost every garment that fast fashion retailers sell. One of the biggest issues, though, is that consumers fall for clothing retailer's misleading “eco-friendly” branding. These lines of fast fashion--marketed as “eco-friendly” and claiming to “save the world”--use labels which boldly state that the garments are made with authentic, natural materials. The reality of the situation is that yes, the clothes do contain these natural materials, but only in small slivers. In an entire shirt, those ecologically beneficial materials will make up only as much as a collar, or the cuff of a sleeve. Oftentimes the label--printed with the holy word, “Recycled!”--is, in fact, the only part of the garment that is made of recycled materials. Big brands don’t explain the whole story, misleading the eco-conscious consumer into believing that the entire garment is made of natural cotton, wool, or whatever material they are marketing.

Another important detail that isn’t addressed is “natural” versus “organic.” Natural does nothing to ensure that the product has been grown without pesticides, GMO’s, or other harmful chemicals, though organic does. “Organic,” by contrast, guarantees the environmental conscientiousness that “natural” does not.

A main cause of the problem is the high demand for new clothing, resulting from people buying new clothing more and more often: buying them, wearing them fewer times, and throwing them out. Think about this: the average person in 1980 bought twelve articles of clothing per year, while today people buy sixty-eight articles of clothing per year on average. According to The Saturday Evening Post, the average American in 2018 throws away eighty-one pounds of clothing yearly. This would be nothing but a number if it weren’t for the materials these clothes were made out of: plastics and synthetic fibers derived from oil plague the industry. Vox.com states, “Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers — all of which are forms of plastic — are now about sixty percent of the material that makes up our clothes worldwide.” While some organic fibers can decompose in a year, the synthetic fibers we wear can take up to forty years to do so. But that isn’t the worst of it: plastics can take over a thousand years to decompose, meaning each item we throw away will stay in a dump or the ever-growing Garbage Island for centuries to come. One method used by landfills to do away with their growing piles is to burn them--but burning plastics releases toxic fumes into our atmosphere, only further contributing to the ravaging of our environment.

Thankfully, there are ways to stop this wreck. Companies like AlgiKnit and Freitag are dedicating their time to creating fully organic, biodegradable clothing for the masses. AlgiKnit, as hinted by the name, uses organisms to grow completely organic fibers, and with their fast-growing kelp, they’ll soon be able to grow full garments at lightning pace. Freitag, a company based in Switzerland, got their start selling handbags made from recycled truck tarps, and have moved on to creating one hundred percent biodegradable jeans with hemp and linen fibers. 

Among the threat of environmental disaster, there is a glowing light. A movement heading strong towards a sustainable Earth. A savior in the dark.