Fashion's Waste Problem Can No Longer Be Ignored

Fashion's Waste Problem Can No Longer Be Ignored

Trashing clothes is just the tip of the iceberg.

Trashing clothes is just the tip of the iceberg.

Last month, Burberry made headlines for burning nearly $40 million worth of their own unsold clothes, accessories, and perfume. Environmental activists were quick to condemn the British fashion house, citing the frequently-touted statistic that calls fashion the second most polluting industry in the world. Though their anger was well-justified, Burberry's actions are not the exception -- they're the rule. In the world of high fashion, the destruction of excess stock is commonplace.

Activist and fashion expert Orsola de Castro told the BBC that the destruction of goods is fashion's "dirtiest open secret." Her remark prompted the publication to contact a host of high-end brands regarding their disposal strategies.

Of the 35 designers and retailers they reached out to, only six offered up information.

The clothing industry could be getting away with environmental murder right under our noses and we would have no way of knowing. In fact, all present signs point to that being the case. As "fast fashion" continues to take the consumer market by storm, garment production now exceeds 100 billion pieces per year. Secretive as brands may try to be, those numbers alone indicate that catastrophic environmental damage due to fashion is practically inevitable.

The BBC also notes that fashion's waste problem goes beyond the secrecy of dealing with unsold clothes. According to a 2013 report from the World Wildlife Fund, it takes approximately 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton t-shirt. Not to mention, synthetic dyes pose a major threat to the world's clean water supply. To top it all off, just one percent of our clothing ends up being reused to make new garments. That's right; in addition to copious amounts of plastic straws, your local landfill is full of old clothes.

Fashion: It's time to scrap the secret-keeping. After all, the first step to solving any problem is admitting that we have one to begin with.

Organizations like the Global Fashion Agenda are already doing their part to hold clothing companies accountable. Since 2017, over 90 brands have adopted the GFA's 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, which requires them to act on one or more of its four action points, which include implementing design strategy for cyclability, increasing volume of used garments collected, increasing resale of used garments, and increasing use of recycled textile fibers. Not only that, but each participating company must report annually on the progress they've made. NikeAdidas, and Tommy Hilfiger are among the participating brands.

Yet as great as a circular system may sound, efforts from one group are not enough to turn a multi-billion-dollar industry on its head. If we want to preserve our world as we know it, consumers must force brands to come clean about their dirty practices. How do we do that? The way we do everything else: through our phones. Each of us has access to nearly every corporation we can imagine via social media. Why not let them know what's on our mind? The consumer is king. Whether or not they take genuine steps toward lowering waste levels, they'll at least have no choice but to listen.

The ball is in our court. It's time to go for a buzzer-beater.

Credits: COVER IMAGE PHOTOGRAPHED BY JACKIE NICKERSON AND STYLED BY AMANDA HARLECH FOR V112

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