Fast fashion impacts the environment, and not in a good way

What happens to that $8 shirt you wore three times and then threw away? Photo via the Grist/Youtube

What happens to that $8 shirt you wore three times and then threw away? Photo via Grist/Youtube

The Grist, an environmental news, commentary and advice site, posted a video on March 1 titled, “Why your $8 shirt is a huge problem.”

The video only garnered around 13,000 views in one week on Youtube, but 4.6 million views and over 15,000 shares on Facebook.

In the video, Grist’s culture editor Eve Andrews highlights the questionable ethics behind the creation of fast fashion items, but she focuses more on the environmental impact of low-quality clothes. Carbon fibers release carbon into the atmosphere, a major greenhouse gas. And cheap blends of fabric take a long time to disintegrate, adding to the already-full landfills of our world.

The ethics of fast fashion have been covered byplatforms ranging from Forbes to “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” but the environmental impact has been less reported. While many consumers might choose to ignore the fact that child labor may have made their clothes, Grist’s video says that simply donating clothes you no longer wear is enough.

Buying clothes conscientiously does more for the environment than donating old clothes, but shopping ethically could cause people to look down on you. Julie Irwin, a professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, Rebecca Walker of Ohio State and Daniel Zane, a graduate student at Ohio State’s Fisher College, conducted a study on how people who shop may look down on those who shop more “ethically”—i.e. consumers who take the time to research where their products came from and how they were made and any possible detrimental environmental effects. Published last October, the study’s abstract reads:

“This research shows that consumers who willfully ignore ethical product attributes denigrate other, more ethical consumers who seek out and use this information in making purchase decisions. Across three studies, willfully ignorant consumers negatively judge ethical others they have never met across various disparate personality traits (e.g., fashionable, boring).”

The abstract continues to say that the attitude of putting more ethically-conscious consumers down could cause the ones putting them down to see making ethical choices in shopping as a waste of time, or even negative. It also strengthens the consumer’s willingness to overlook unethical methods when shopping.

So how can people shop responsibly and fashionably? Grist has the answer: Buy clothes you’ll wear over and over again for a long time.

“It’s important that they don’t fall apart, but equally so that they won’t look dated and dumb in a few months,” Andrews says. “If you buy the most carbon-conscious jumpsuit ever created, but never wear it, it’s still wasted material.”


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