It's no secret that fashion hasn't always been the most eco-friendly industry. In fact, the fashion industry accounts for 2% of global Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, and is also now considered one of the largest polluters in the world.
While fast fashion makes shopping for clothes more affordable, it comes at a price. The mass production of cheap clothing compels more people to throw garments away instead of recycling them, which is why fast fashion is often called "landfill fashion." In poorly sealed landfills, harmful dyes can leach from textiles into groundwater and cause excessive environmental damage.
Meanwhile, synthetic fabrics like nylon, acrylic, and polyester are actually made from plastic. When garments made of this material are washed, they shed tiny plastic fibers that are so small they escape wastewater treatment plants into the environment. Because they're plastic, these microfibers never biodegrade. They endlessly pollute the ocean where they absorb chemical pollutants and are ingested by marine life.
In 2018, 97% of all clothing sold in the United States was fashioned overseas. Unfortunately, almost every single garment shipped here comes on its own plastic hanger, which means billions of plastic hangers are sent to the US every year. If you laid these hangers out end to end, they'd stretch for 8 million miles, far beyond the orbit of the moon. The worst part? About 85% of these hangers aren't reused or recycled.
How the fashion industry can be more sustainable
To inspire change and push for the future of sustainable fashion, more than 3,080 facilities worldwide were certified to Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, in 2013, and the numbers are growing. One of the key criteria for a textile product to carry the GOTS "organic" label is that it must contain at least 95% certified organic fibers.
Some clothing companies combat the fast fashion industry by using natural dyes and avoiding polyester and other synthetic, plastic-based materials proven to pollute our waterways and the ocean.
Sustainable fashion initiatives for consumers
It may seem like there isn't a whole lot we can do to change the industry since we aren't fashion brands, but that's not true. As a consumer, you actually have more power than you realize. You can:
- Change the way you do laundry: Only wash full loads, use cold water more often, avoid dry cleaning and tumble dryers, and use green detergent. You can even invest in products like the Cora Ball that help reduce the amount of microfiber released into your wastewater.
- Buy clothes from sustainable brands: The more demand there is for sustainable clothing, the more likely big brands will be to invest in sustainable solutions.
- Go thrifting: If buying from sustainable brands isn't in your budget right now, try shopping at secondhand stores. You can often find fashionable items at a fraction of the price. Don't forget to recycle or donate your old garments when you no longer use them.
- Donate your clothes to charity: There are several ways to prevent your clothes from piling up in the landfill. Try donating them to charity, repairing them, or putting them in textile recycling bins (not your standard curbside bins).
- Invest in fewer, higher quality garments: While many fashion brands are using recycled fabrics in an attempt to be more sustainable, these materials are still made from plastic-based fibers and will shed plastic microfibers into wastewater. By investing in clothing made from high-quality natural fibers, like GOTS-certified organic cotton, you can decrease microplastic pollution and protect marine life.
- Rent clothes: Clothing rentals are an excellent choice for outfits you know you won't wear often, like prom dresses, tuxedoes, and maternity clothes.
Buy eco-friendly apparel from 4ocean
To support sustainable fashion initiatives, we chose to make 4ocean t-shirts from 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton because it’s a natural fiber that won’t contribute to the devastating impact of microplastic pollution in the ocean.
4ocean is an ocean cleanup company on a mission to help the world end the ocean plastic crisis. We hire captains and crews to recover trash that’s already polluting the ocean and coastlines 7 days a week while empowering people to curb their plastic habit and live more sustainably. Every 4ocean product you purchase comes with our One Pound Promise to pull one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines.
Join the clean ocean movement alongside millions of ocean lovers just like you. Adopt one or all of the sustainable fashion initiatives outlined above, sign up for our monthly bracelet subscription, shop our organic apparel. Remember: Small acts add up. Together, we can end the ocean plastic crisis.