Why Black Friday is the enemy of sustainable fashion

Check your conscience (and your cart) ;)

By Tegan Mouton

Why Black Friday is the enemy of sustainable fashion

Listen, if anyone likes cheap stuff, it’s me. That said, I’ve really made a concerted effort this year to try and shop a little bit more consciously in a bid to avoid fast fashion, so the inner conflict is real with the arrival of Black Friday today.

Originally an American phenomenon, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have spread across the globe, and while videos of people flooding stores and physically fighting over TVs makes for good YouTube content, it also paints a pretty bleak picture of our destructive consumerism-fueled habits. 

Let me be clear, I’m no saint. In fact, I’m writing this at midnight with five other tabs open to see if I can spot any great deals for goodies I’ve been eyeing, but the truth is I can’t think of a single thing I actually need. In fact, I still have clothes with tags on them sitting in shopping bags, untouched since I bought them three weeks ago. And the bags are plastic. Not great…

So as we all dive head-first into the frenzy that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s worth taking a second to think about the bigger picture of “casual” clothing shopping.

The environmental impact of fast fashion 

I’ve been pretty oblivious to the environmental effects of mass clothing production, so I was genuinely shocked when I started doing research. There are two main issues at play here, the first being the environmental carnage of the actual clothing production, and the second being the failure to dispose of old clothes in an environmentally friendly way.

The production 

Ok sure, fast fashion outlets let you buy on-trend clothes at affordable prices, but did you know that the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions (according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

On top of that, producing textiles and clothing uses a ton of water. To give you an idea, it takes about 7500 litres of water to produce one pair of jeans, that’s equivalent to the amount of water an average person drinks in seven years. As a result, the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply (using around 1.5 trillion litres annually), and pollutes the ocean with non-decomposing materials like toxic dyes and microplastics. 

In fact, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, fashion is the second-most-polluting industry overall (after the oil and gas industries). I bet that Kim K-inspired bodysuit looks a little less cute now huh? 

While there are plenty of sustainable and second-hand fashion outlets out there, fast fashion is sadly the more accessible and affordable option most of the time, and the big problems with that lie in its production and distribution. 

While often designed in the United States, the United Kingdom or Europe, fast fashion garments are usually mass-manufactured in developing nations. This creates problems like the unethical treatment of workers in nations that don’t adhere to certain international standards, as well as the lack of regulation in both how the clothes are produced (waste-water is often deposited into freshwater streams), and what potentially harmful materials go into the clothing. 

There is also often excessive use of synthetic chemicals and materials like polyester (a non-biodegradable fibre produced from petrochemicals that is found in an estimated 60% of garments) being used in the actual clothing items. Not only does producing polyester release two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, washing polyester clothing also releases 500,000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year (the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles).

And even if you were to be super conscious and only look for cotton garments, we then circle back to the above-mentioned water issue since cotton is a highly water-intensive plant (I’m legitimately getting anxiety writing this post).

Admittedly there is no clear cut solution to the above destructive cycle, but limiting our support to the fast fashion industry and buying less is a great place to start.

The mass-dumping of “old” clothing 

After our clothing has undergone the harrowing production process mentioned above, (not to mention the environmental repercussions of the clothes being shipped worldwide) we then promptly get sick of them after wearing them like three times (again, I’m guilty here). While donating, selling or renting our clothing are legitimate ways of getting it out of our closets, the sad reality is that the vast majority of pre-owned clothes just wind up in dumps with the rest of our “waste”.

A study from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimates that a truckload of textiles is wasted every second, and that a whopping 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year. According to ethical-fashion monitors Good on You, 80% of discarded clothing items in landfill or incinerators globally have been worn (on average) just seven times. Clothes lying in landfills can then negatively impact the earth as they break down and release micro-fibres into the food chains and oceans.

Easy things you can do to be more mindful 

According to Good on You, taking a moment to really evaluate each purchase before you click “checkout” or whip out your plastic is enough for you to realise you don’t need what you’re buying, and that the dopamine rush you’re about to experience might not be enough to justify feeding the fast fashion beast.

To make it even easier for you, they’ve provided a short list of questions to ask yourself before making a purchase: 

1. How much do I already own?

2. How much will I wear it?

3. How long will it last?

If I may be so bold as to add a fourth item of my own to the list, I recommend doing some surface-level research on what materials are commonly used in garments you purchase, and what each of them means for the planet. 

In a world where we have all become uber conscious of what we’re eating (let’s all boycott palm oil) or what goes into our beauty products (beauty without cruelty, baby), we’re slow on the uptake when it comes to being informed about our clothing. That needs to change. 

In conclusion 

I’m not trying to be the Black Friday equivalent of the Grinch, I know how much fun shopping for great bargains can be and I’d love to support businesses after a pretty terrible year all-around, I just feel we really need to start appreciating how much we already have, and what wanting more will cost us in the long run. 

I’ll leave you with these immortal words from Rebecca Bloomwood of Confessions of a Shopaholic: 

“Just walk away – strong, and frugal”

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