What would you do if I told you that the shirt you are wearing is one of the factors responsible for killing someone? That pit in the bottom of your stomach is completely normal and just the response sensory receptors should signal. It is a response to the fact that most clothing is manufactured by the fast fashion industry, which has increased climate change and kills an average of 300,000 lives every day. 

In recent years, talk of climate change has ravaged society and the media creating an ongoing debate on whether or not the phenomenon truly deserves attention. The fast fashion market has become the jack of all trades and a master of disguise. It has convinced its audience that the need to update one’s closet for 12 different seasons is imperative, and that expensive and quality clothing is unnecessary. What consumers do not understand is that this scheme forces them to spend more money to replace low-quality clothing often, and that the clothing they are wearing has left a dent somewhere in the process — from material sourcing to pollution and degradation of land and nonrenewable resources.

To gain even more insight on this topic, I contacted Jeff Nesbit, an American author and executive director of Climate Nexus. Nesbit is an omniscient force in climate change, having written books such as This is the Way the World Ends and working as the communications director in the White House and the Director of Public Affairs for both the NSF and the FDA. I had the privilege of hearing Nesbit speak at the Harvard Chan C-CHANGE Youth Summit this past summer, and yearned to hear more of his ingenious ideas.

Nesbit began by describing how he has seen the fast fashion market contribute to climate change. He explained how this market contributes to “10% of annual carbon emissions globally,” and uses enough water to “meet the needs of 5 million people.” These statistics are absolutely astonishing simply because the fast fashion industry is so normalized. How can something seemingly so minor cause such a large effect? There are many factors, such as the incineration of clothing in landfills for extra profit. Nesbit addresses the public health effects of the burning of these cheap materials. He claims that these landfills are commonly near “places where people (predominantly poor or communities of color) live,”  and that they do not have a large say in their exposure to the “poisonous gasses from burning landfills.” Although technologies to mitigate the effects have been created, slightly hindering the effects will not stop the destruction. 

Government has the power to make a positive change by incentivizing responsible, regenerative agriculture. Farming subsidies tend to go to industrial farms producing corn, soy, and wheat.Would shifting that support toward small farms for organic cotton, flax, or humanely raised sheep for wool go a long way toward making regenerative agriculture a viable business and realistic element of the fashion industry of the future? Nesbit emphasized the importance of human influence in his response. We can revolutionize the textile industry and regenerative farming with the power of “consumers demanding sustainable products.” Your voice can help include organic and source products into the clothing industry and show real change. 

The cruel labor standards in and out of the US are also major contributing factors to the fast fashion deaths. For example, garment workers in California are still fighting for minimum wage and safety, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I was curious as to whether additional government policy should be or can be implemented for fair labor standards in the United States. Nesbit explained that “making changes in labor laws in the United States is only part of the equation,” because the United States already values fair labor standards. The key, according to Nesbit, is to target countries where “wages are low,” and “insist that products exported to the U.S. are more sustainable – or they can absorb carbon tariffs to account for some of the damage done.” We live in a country where the government has so much power, but so do we. The government would help in creating policies to prolong fashion trends, instead of promoting new styles and designs continuously throughout the year, but it is up to the consumers to end this trend. Nesbit outlines a three-step plan for success: “wear clothes longer,” “don’t buy clothes you aren’t really going to wear,” and “tell the fashion industry you don’t want to buy their latest trends.” If we encourage and reward sustainability, sustainability will reward our planet.

Well, would you look at that! Turns out green is this season’s color! Thanks to people like Jeff Nesbit and those of you making change, we are one step closer to decreasing the fast fashion footprint and making green the most timeless color. 

Thank you Jeff for helping me with this project and look forward to following in your footsteps!


Photo Credit: 4.bp.blogspot.com