The Wonder and "Horror" of the Fashion Industry

Do you get dressed consciously knowing what you are wearing?
Years ago, Dr. Christina Dean, founder and CEO of Redress, an NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry, posed this question. Her message on reuse and sustainability in retail is still just as relevant today. Dean describes the industry as both “wonderful” and “horrific.” Watch Dean’s full presentation from TEDxHKBU (a TEDx event hosted in Hong Kong) below:

Dean establishes the connection between the fashion industry and pollution, providing a striking example of how her jeans required an exorbitant amount of resources to be produced: three kilos (6.6 lbs.) of chemicals, 400 megajoules (111 kilowatt-hours) of energy (or enough to light a light bulb for about 160 days) and 13 square meters (140 sq. feet) of land to grow the cotton.
Dean argues that although she and others have advocated for retailers to adopt more eco-friendly practices beginning with the early production stages, that work is essentially futile if consumers continue to buy excessive amounts of cheaper quality clothes that consequently get thrown out. At the time of this video, Dean mentions that consumers were buying 60 percent more clothing than 10 years earlier. Despite this, money spent had not increased significantly.
What are consumers to do? Dean believes that people do have the ability to reduce pollution in fashion and she makes several recommendations:

  • Be more selective in your purchases, and make sure that they are made well. “Durable” clothes last longer. You can also look to sustainable brands and secondhand shopping (consignment, thrift, etc.) for alternative options.
  • Care for your clothes. Dean talks about how the longevity of clothing can also increase if one knows how to treat stains or re-attach missing buttons.
  • If it is, in fact, time to get rid of your clothes, recycle them! Most textiles are de-composable.

For a brief check overview on what sustainable fashion entails, you can also check out Buy Smart, Give Smart, Be Smart.
NOTE: The original version of this post appeared in April 2016.