Noa Cohen

Fashion, economy, and sustainability in 700 words

“I like my money right where I can see it…hanging in my closet.”

The fashion industry is the fourth largest sector in the market and has magnificent importance in the economic and social spheres. Its value is equivalent to 3 trillion dollars, which corresponds to 2 percent of the world’s GDP. Nonetheless, when consumerism is a central part of the 21st-century behavior, the public mostly buys trendy, cheap fashion – in enormous amounts. The dominance of “fast fashion” has made the following industry the second-largest polluter in the world after the oil industry, and the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows.

The days when people would buy a sweater and wear it for several years – are gone. Fashion companies are much aware of the accelerating demand for apparel and build their business model around it – supporting shorter fashion cycles and pollution. The market has doubled in the last 15 years, thanks to increased income per middle-class capita in developed economies. Moreover, globalization has provided low-cost labor and international markets necessary for creating a global assembly line, allowing cheaper and faster clothes production.

It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single cotton shirt – the same as the average person’s drinking needs for two and a half years. Creating a new pair of jeans produces as many greenhouse gases as driving for 80 miles in a private car, boosting global warming. The list of environmental damages caused by the fashion market is hard to process. Beyond the ecological challenges and massive pollution, the textile industry also encourages slavery. The workers in charge of making clothes fabrics for large brands are mainly low-class farmers, and the workers who sew the clothes in disgraceful conditions in third-world countries earn about eight dollars a month. On the other hand, designers are among the highest-paid workers in the industry, with an average of 80K annual income. With more than a hundred thousand employees in the United States alone, it continues to feed the inequality.

As world citizens, we cannot ignore this awful phenomenon. We cannot expect fashion cooperation to make a change, as they are the primary beneficiaries of this matter. Some companies genuinely raise the banner of the environment, while others claim to do so to gain more popularity and support. We have the power; we are the customers, and we can make a difference. In addition to import regulations and chemical supervision requirements, we could minimize the environmental damage by raising awareness of the “slow fashion” alternative.

This sustainable option includes Second-hand clothes, creating new clothes from fabric leftovers, eco-collections (that encourage and sustainably produce clothes), and supporting domestic designers. A wise sustainable-fashion public policy will inspire the manufacturers to make sustainable fashion instead of pressing the consumers to purchase fast fashion.

Environmental protection itself contributes to economic growth. The individuals who invest in air pollution control technologies, water treatment facilities, and solar cells will become very rich soon. It even relates to other industries we didn’t think were about the environment, such as real estate. For example, an asset across the street from a park will bring a higher price than a similar apartment one block away. Clean water, air, and nature benefit human health and hold economic benefits.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Addressing the environmental and social products the fashion industry has created would provide around 192 billion dollars to benefit the global economy by 2030. According to research done in 2020, the potential value of fashion’s circular economy (meaning reuse and recycling of all materials, eliminating waste and pollution, and regenerating the environment in a circular model) is around 5 trillion dollars. This indescribable number is just the beginning, as the industry has only just started exploring its potential for recycling and reusing.

Fashion is all around us. It controls our minds, our way of judgment, and our personal feelings. But most important of all – it dominates our pockets and the air we breathe. Assuming that we care about our lives and also carry a moral responsibility – we need to think more critically about the brands we support – do they contribute to the environment, or do they harm the air we breathe?

Photo credit: CNA
About the Author
Noa was born and raised in Kfar Saba. She is a third-year Government student at Reichman University, currently in the Argov honors program for leadership and diplomacy. Noa interned at the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy, as her main fields of interest are diplomacy and inter-group dynamics.
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