Livia Firth Explores the True Cost of Fast Fashion on the Environment
“It’s one of the biggest industries on earth — and sadly one of the most polluting.”
n this op-ed to kick off Earth Week at Teen Vogue, eco-fashion activist and Creative Director of Eco-Age Livia Firth explores the environmental impact of shopping at fast-fashion retailers.
Fashion is bigger than clothes and trends. It’s one of the biggest industries on earth — and sadly one of the most polluting. Think about the planet and people in the supply chain — including millions of unseen young people who spend their lives sewing stuff for our closets in countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Vietnam. It’s my dream to connect you all.
Why? Because once you get on board with “fashion activism” through being an active citizen, it opens up a thrilling opportunity: to actively drive change instead of being a passive consumer (fed by brands).
Influencers like Iranian social activist and blogger Hoda Katebi, who is behind JooJooAzad.com, are a breath of fresh air. Going against every rule in the fashion industry, she questions the fundamental abuses at the heart of producing “fast fashion” clothes.
“Yes, I am making a noise. I am taking up space,” says Hoda. My response to Hoda is “Make more noise! Take up more space!” Diverse participants and viewpoints are the lifeblood of today’s fashion activism. And they’re a big deal: If ever there were an industry that loves to keep people in a box, it’s fashion.
Once I wouldn’t have thought this breadth and range of activism possible. To throw back to the 1980s and 1990s, this was the era when many of today’s fashion empires made their names and their vast fortunes, bringing in a new way of making and selling (more) clothes: fast fashion.
The fashion culture was pretty embarrassing. One supermodel famously declared that she and her friend wouldn’t get of bed unless someone paid them thousands of dollars, while we became super consumers being sold cheaper, more disposable garments. We were told we were being empowered by choice and cheaper fashion, while in fact we were giving up our power.
We failed to ask questions such as “Who pays the true cost of a $4 dress?” Even when this system was responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 garment workers (mainly young women) with the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh in 2013, we still didn’t rip up the playbook.
But today, as active citizens, we’re determined to rewrite these archaic rules that fail to respect human or ecological rights. Any time you step beyond doing what brands tell you to do (buy their stuff) and use your power as an active participant helping to shape a different future, it takes resilience.
To complicate things, we’re also seeing fast-fashion brands become clever at appearing radical, without changing much below the surface. Even when fast-fashion retailers use materials like organic cotton, for example, the sheer volume of items those companies produce is still very much a problem; most of that ends up in landfills. As QZ reporter Marc Bain wrote, “a landfill overflowing with organic cotton is still an overflowing landfill.”
But brilliant networks and platforms, a critical part of today’s activist jigsaw, have your back. Model and activist Adwoa Aboah’s Gurls Talk offers a clear-sighted place to hang out, cogitate, and discuss. And truly, I sleep better knowing that the next generation of female leaders are meeting and working on the big issues through Camel Assembly.
Underneath whatever trend, whatever brand you happen to be wearing right now, there lies the beating heart of an active citizen working for social and eco justice. Unleash your inner activist, and I promise you you’re in for a thrilling ride. Hands down, it’ll be more uplifting and nourishing than any low-cost piece of apparel that a fast-fashion brand can sell you.
This article was originally published on Teen Vogue.