models walking the runway at a fa

For nearly eighty years, New York Fashion Week has been a way for designers to gain exposure through a series of prestigious runway shows. However, not even the longest-standing traditions remain untouched in the age of COVID-19. This September, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo said the show(s) will go on, but not without necessary health precautions. Shows must either be held outside with a maximum of fifty spectators (all wearing masks) or indoors with no audience. This announcement created uncertainty among fashion executives. Without coveted seats to fill, is a physical runway worth it? Some designers, like Rebecca Minkoff, believe it is; but the majority are opting for digital alternatives. 

Transitioning to digital is a huge deal for the fashion industry. Traditionally, celebrities and press from all over the world flock to New York City for this one week  – but digital runways eliminate the need for travel. This is great news for the environment, because it avoids the massive amount of carbon emissions associated with a traditional NYFW. Going digital also creates an important shift in high fashion; By making previously exclusive shows accessible to anyone with an internet connection, brands will reach more consumers than ever before.

The Truth About Fashion’s Pollution Problem

Accessibility in fashion is important, especially from an environmental perspective. Many people think nothing of buying a new shirt or pair of jeans. Yet they fail to realize the environmental burden their purchase carries – and that’s not necessarily their fault! Brands don’t print “it took 7,500 liters of water to make these jeans” on the price tag.

Fashion’s environmental impact is often hidden behind the glamor of luxury brands or fast fashion’s low prices, but the truth is that pollution and wastefulness are woven into the fabric of the fashion industry. It is the second most polluting industry in the world, topped only by fossil fuels; and while this is common knowledge within the fashion world, many consumers remain unaware. Brands fear creating accessibility because publicly releasing the information could create demands for transparency – a touchy subject in the industry.

Many brands avoid publicizing information about their production methods, because common practices in fashion favor a larger profit over a smaller environmental impact. To offer products at low prices, brands utilize cheap materials and methods; and cutting corners like this causes disastrous effects on the environment, like excessive water usage and water pollution. According to Sustain Your Style, the fashion industry uses a whopping 1.5 trillion liters of water every year.

Cotton, often marketed as “sustainable”, is actually an environmentally harmful textile because it requires astronomical amounts of water. When textiles are dyed, the runoff (water polluted by dye chemicals) flows into surrounding rivers. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of our planet’s water, and this contaminated water ends up in our oceans, spreading pollution further… And the list goes on. 

woman browsing blouses on a clothes rack

Along with pollution, a core aspect of fashion’s detrimental environmental impact is the modern consumer’s mindset of always wanting more. This fosters an industry-wide attitude of gluttony, destroying the environment through non-stop production of goods and mountains of textile waste. 

As long as consumers continue to purchase in this need-more mindset, the industry has incentive to continue operating in the same unsustainable ways. With that said, we as consumers have the power to open the door for foundational change within the fashion industry.

Here’s how:

Support Sustainable Brands

“Mindful purchasing” means truly considering which purchases are necessary (and which ones aren’t). This starts with doing some digging into brands we support, and demanding transparency from them. If a brand hasn’t published anything about their environmental impact, commenting on their social media or sending them emails can go a long way. It’s important to hold brands accountable, so that we can know the impact of our purchases and then make informed decisions about where we shop. 

Some popular fashion brands committed to providing transparency are: Allbirds, Boody, and Everlane. Each brand is open and honest about their materials & manufacturing, and they practice what Everlane calls “Radical Transparency” by clearly stating their sustainable initiatives and making their information accessible to anyone.

Although the shift towards sustainability has been slower with big brands, there are many smaller brands committed to creating products that benefit both consumers and the planet. One of these brands is Roark, an eco-friendly men’s fashion label. Check out this video to learn more, or visit their website where they talk about their sustainable mission.

Practice Mindful Purchasing

Besides deciding where to buy, mindful purchasing is consciously cutting down what we buy. Fast fashion tells us we need to constantly purchase new things, but with so many discarded garments already sitting in our landfills, what we really need is to simply purchase less. The next time you’re contemplating buying something, try asking these questions:

  • Will I wear this at least 25 times?
  • Is the quality of this item good enough to last more than 5 years?
  • Is there somewhere I can buy this secondhand, instead?
  • Where will this end up after I’m done using it?

Making the environmentally conscious choice isn’t always easy. But mindful purchasing doesn’t mean never purchasing anything again – it’s simply a way to reduce your individual consumption by being a more conscious consumer. Sometimes it may feel like a drop in the bucket, but if everyone were to be a more conscious consumer then we could create a huge wave of change in the fashion industry and beyond.