By Erin Malcolm
The fashion industry is responsible for 4% to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the world’s largest fashion activism movement, Fashion Revolution.
Fashion Revolution is a movement that campaigns for a sustainable fashion industry, which puts people and the planet as its top priorities. For them, the first step toward achieving that mission is educating people about how the fashion industry is impacting the world.
Some of the biggest problems Fashion Revolution addresses is overproduction and unsustainable consumer habits.
“Since the year 2000, clothing production has doubled and the number of times each item is worn has decreased by 36%,” said Adela Cardona, writer at Fashion Revolution USA.
Part of what is to blame for that is the growing popularity of what has been dubbed “fast fashion.”
Fast fashion, according to Oxford Languages, is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”
And the United States is one of its top supporters.
“America is the biggest consumer of fast fashion after China,” Cardona said. “It is not the ‘poor’ people who are over-consuming fast fashion. It has been shown that the biggest consumers are high earning countries and within those, it is the top earners that are responsible for 40% of fashion consumption CO2 emissions. This average fast fashion consumer buys 68 items a year.”
What needs to change?
On the consumer side, one of the ways Fashion Revolution encourages people to make a difference is in simply shifting their fashion habits.
This can start with first shopping within one’s own closet. “Find new and playful ways to wear items you haven’t worn in a while,” Cardona said. Or, try “embroidering, mending and transforming items that have minor imperfections or stains.”
The United States alone is responsible for creating 81 pounds of clothing waste per person per year, according to Fashion Revolution.
When a consumer chooses to purchase clothes, Cardona said it is best to avoid fast fashion brands and instead buy from local, small brands with slow fashion business models. These types of businesses “make their workers’ lives better, with things like living wages; calculate the impact of their materials and change them; and we cannot stress this enough: produce fewer, but better quality items,” Cardona said.
Businesses like that are abundant — and can be found nearby.
For example, Eclectic Co., a cooperative-style retail company with locations in downtown Colorado Springs and Old Colorado City, houses under its two roofs about 100 local, small businesses that value sustainable, handmade practices.
One of the eco-friendly vendors found at Eclectic Co. is called H Clothing Co. Its founder, Alex Jackson, hand makes apparel from natural, fair trade and organic materials that yields 100% biodegradable shirts, pants, dresses and more. Beyond that, he also uses 100% solar power to sew each item and composts any scraps in the process. Jackson takes his sustainable practices one step further in the fight against fast fashion, as he said on his website, “All of my items come with lifelong free repairs.”
Other sustainable fashion finds at Eclectic Co. come from vintage clothing curators and upcyclers.
Ani Barrington, who is now an owner at Eclectic Co., has been a vintage vendor there since day one. Her vintage clothing company, Two Wolves Vintage, bloomed from a lifelong love of secondhand clothing.
Barrington said, “I have always been unashamedly attracted to the cyclical model of secondhand clothing. I’ve always just felt like no matter where I go, or what city I’m in, there’s plenty of textiles available in abundance. I was attracted to how we didn’t have to keep buying new. You can sustainably keep a really fashion forward wardrobe.”
“Invigorated” is the word Barrington used to describe how she feels about the rise in popularity of secondhand shopping and the positive impact it is having on the life of people’s clothes. “You get a really unique wardrobe, but you also get to make sure that the textiles that were made a decade ago, two decades ago, three decades ago, are not just getting thrown into the dump,” Barrington said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t had a large accountability as a nation or world for where those textiles end up.”
Barrington sources her vintage finds from individuals she knows in the community, estate sales and even sometimes her friendly neighborhood thrift stores. She takes pride in choosing items made from high-quality materials, like silk, linen and more. “When it comes to the clothes that I source, I look for material that is going to last,” she said.
Eclectic Co. currently has six vintage vendors and three upcycling vendors at their storefronts.
“The upcycling brands basically use scrap materials — things like bed sheets and towels — to make really cool clothing,” Barrington said. Instead of ending up in a landfill, those perfectly good materials can have a brand new life for someone to enjoy.
People don’t have to solely shop from specifically eco-friendly branded companies to improve their sustainable shopping habits. Peri Bolts, the Eclectic Co.’s founder, said simply shopping local is a step in the right direction to make a difference, too.
“Anytime you can shop locally or handmade, it’s inherently going to be more sustainable,” Bolts said. “Anytime you can get things from the source of the person that made it, the person that curated it, it’s going to be more sustainable because there’s less transportation happening and less carbon emissions and things like that.” As an added bonus, she said, “When you shop local, over 70% of your dollar stays in that community, which is better for things like your local schools, your local roads and specifically in cases of Eclectic Co., you’re paying for the livelihood of a real person as opposed to the profits of a corporation and the exploitation of labor.”
Cardona at Fashion Revolution also said that one of the best ways for people to make an impact is to “support nonprofits, grassroots organizations and representatives working to get laws approved, people educated and impacts repaired, like Pay Up, Remake, Garment Worker Center or Good Clothes Fair Pay.”
For an upcoming action step in being part of the change, Cardona encouraged participation in Fashion Revolution’s campaign, Fashion Revolution Week 2023, which kicks off this Earth Day, April 22, and runs through April 29.