Fashion will produce 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. That’s 2.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide. This makes the fashion industry the world’s second-largest pollutant.
When I heard about the considerable carbon footprint caused by the fashion industry, I was shocked. How could one T-shirt be responsible for more than 15 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions? More importantly, though, I was surprised that the unsustainable nature of the fashion industry hadn’t received more attention.
After doing some research, I discovered all my favorite brands were unsustainable. That denim jacket I got for 50 percent off at Forever 21? Twenty kilograms of carbon dioxide. Those Jordan 1s I bought earlier? Twenty-seven kilograms. It seemed like everything in my closet had to go. After hours of investigation, I found that only one item was 100 percent ethically made: my dad’s old, wrinkled hand-me-down Patagonia tee.
This was a problem. Although I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint by monitoring my clothing, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Coming to school in head-to-toe in Patagonia wasn’t an option; I would have looked like Brother Nature. I began researching other name brands dedicated to sustainability. Turns out, there are none. I then turned my attention looked into smaller companies that specifically marketed themselves as environmentally friendly.
Because of their environmentally-conscious label, though, sustainable brands are considerably pricier than their mass-produced counterparts. The San Francisco startup Allbirds, for example, creates ethically-manufactured sneakers, but a $95 pair of Allbirds costs twice as much as a pair of Vans or Converse. As a high school student working seven hours a week, my hands were tied. Paying so much extra for the sustainable label simply wasn’t something I was ready to do. Even larger companies like Patagonia overprice their goods for their sustainable label; a Patagonia hoodie costs a whopping $80. For something so critical to the future, accessing an environmentally friendly hoodie shouldn’t be so hard. Sustainable fashion is being restricted by its limited availability and its high cost; it doesn’t appeal to the average consumer.
Brand recognition is also something to consider. In today’s world, looking good isn’t all there is to fashion. The logos you wear play a significant role in whether an outfit is considered stylish or not. Even though my favorite brands are wasteful, I still support them because of their reputation. I’m willing to pay extra to buy into both the company’s image and the item’s pop culture appeal. In many ways, I am continuing the item’s legacy and acknowledging its rich history. A pair of Allbirds can never be as interesting as other brands because they don’t have an established cultural influence. A pair of Jordans, on the other hand, can make the wearer feel as if they are contributing to something greater than themselves.
What name brands offer their consumers is irreplaceable. The feeling of community that traditional streetwear companies generate is something sustainable fashion has yet to achieve. Because of its high price point, sustainable fashion feels elitist; not everyone has the money or time to care about the movement. To normalize sustainable fashion, larger companies should look to increase consumers’ exposure to environmentally conscious clothing. Until sustainable fashion becomes more mainstream, though, I’ll continue to wear my all-white Kirkland tees and Levi’s flannels.