Global Environmental Politics

Master's Degree Programs in Global Environmental Policy and in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

Fast Fashion: How the Clothing Industry Impacts the Environment

About the Author 

Maria Belen Marquina-Barrientos, born in Peru, is beginning her third semester in the International Relations M.A., focusing on International Development.  She is passionate about education, human rights and sustainability, and has volunteered for initiatives to assist refugees and promote workforce development among minorities. She has worked for the USA for UNHCR, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, and currently works as an Admissions Counselor position at 2U, Inc., a tech company that powers online higher education from renowned university partners.

Fast Fashion

The fashion industry has caused a stir in the environmental world, as organizations like Greenpeace expose the labor and consumption practices in the production of clothes. The harvest of cotton, use of petrochemicals and azo dyes to treat the fabrics, waste and contamination of water, use of landfills, and evidence of slavery and child labor in the clothing industry has created the need for a business model that satisfies the needs of consumers without the social and environmental impact that we see today. A number of methods are used to reduce the ecological footprint of corporations in the fashion industry, including shaming campaigns and production of haute couture by high-end designers with a conscience. However, it is my suggestion that the most effective tactic to combat the damage produced by fast-fashion is the investment in the eco-fashion industry, which not only attaches a campaign to their products, but aims to change the consumer behavior that continues to drive corporations.

Campaigns by organizations like Greenpeace have called attention to these practices, compelling some transnational corporations to at least disclose the ecological footprint of their work and the unfair treatment of factory workers involved in the process. Some companies, like H&M, have as a result launched fair-trade, organic clothing lines to counteract the impact of the rest of their lines. Next, designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have partnered with organizations to produce high-end clothing lines that boast of a low ecological footprint and fair-trade. Just as important as the reduced pollution is the investment in local artisans of countries like Kenya and Bangladesh, many of whom are women, who can now call themselves entrepreneurs and artists. Much of the fashion trends of today begin in fashion shows, and the support of designers is invaluable to the necessary change in the practices of fast-fashion. Nevertheless, the price tags of gowns by Westwood and McCartney are unattainable by most consumers, many of who continue to drive the demand for affordable, disposable clothing.

The eco-fashion industry utilizes a strong combination of tactics that include a message of sustainability and a production of apparel that satisfies the fashion needs of consumers without the harmful impact of fast-fashion. Today, unless consumers actively search for sustainable clothing shops online, they are unlikely to stumble upon such stores at the mall. While prices and designs are key factors that influence a purchase, studies show that consumers make decisions largely based on their experience inside the stores where they shop, which are rare in the eco-fashion world. Investing in entrepreneurs who produce clothes fairly and within a sustainable supply chain can shift the practices of the industry entirely. In essence, making the eco-fashion industry the mainstream can adjust what consumers perceive as the price premium, and what they expect to see in the labor and environmental practices of their brands.

The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University is a diverse and inclusive community. The program does not necessarily endorse the ideas contained in this or any other guest post. Please understand that our aim is to provide a space for the expression of a range of perspectives on global environmental concerns.

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Author: sisgep

The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University offers a unique, specialized, and world-leading graduate environmental studies education. We have two degree tracks: Global Environmental Policy (GEP), and our dual-degree Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) option with the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Join us!

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