Pulling a Thread

Guest Blog by Chantel Lanier

This year Chantel Lanier has been on a personal quest to learn more about the environmental impact of fashion, and what she has learned is staggering.

Hi everyone, Chantel here! Regular readers of this blog know that my husband John loves to tell stories, but today I’ve got one for you. The other night I went to Target to pick up some supplies for our daughter Cecilia. I grabbed a cart and strolled past the women’s clothing section, where I encountered my kryptonite. I saw a sign announcing that women’s t-shirts were on sale for $5. (I should note that I LIVE in t-shirts. Seriously. I wear one every single day). I made a beeline to the display and saw that two of my favorite colors were in stock in my size. I put them in the cart and immediately felt guilty. I sent John a text that said, “Remind me that I don’t need Target t-shirts. The temptation of the $5 price tag is strong.” Luckily his reply was quick. “No t-shirts.” I folded them up and placed them back on the shelf.

John recently said to me, “Once you know certain things, you can’t unknow them.” He’s right about that. This year I have been on a personal quest to learn more about the environmental impact of fashion and what I have learned is staggering. Here are some quick statistics from a Fast Company article by Elizabeth Segran.

  • “In 2015, the fashion industry churned out 100 billion articles of clothing, doubling production from 2000,” (and remember, as the author’s subheading points out, there are about 7 billion people on the planet).
  • “The fashion industry currently relies on 98 million tons of oil to make synthetic fibers; it contributes 20% to the world’s water pollution thanks to toxic dyes; and it generates 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases.”
  • “In the United States alone, we send 21 billion pounds of textiles into landfills every single year.” 

In addition to the environmental impact of clothing, there are many ethical considerations. The same day I read the previous article, I also read “Made For Next To Nothing. Worn by You?” by Elizabeth Paton for The New York Times. That article really made me think about those Target t-shirts. I wondered where they were made and by whom? What were the working conditions like? How much were the workers paid? (If I’m paying $5 for the shirt and that has to cover materials, labor, shipping and profits at all levels, the answer to the last question is probably, “Not enough.”) 

I share my Target story because I want to acknowledge that even when we know what the better thing to do is, we’re often tempted to do the easier thing, the cheaper thing, or the one that will bring us the most “joy” in the moment. I put the shirts back on the shelf so quickly because the articles referenced above were fresh in my mind. I was able to imagine the environmental costs and the human faces at the other end of those shirts. That’s not always the case when shopping though. So often, we consumers do it mindlessly. This year I want to become more mindful. I want to shop secondhand when it’s possible and shop sustainable, ethical brands when it isn’t. I’ve been far from perfect in the past, but every purchase (or lack thereof) gives me (and you!) another chance to get it right.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more, check out http://www.ecocult.com. Blogger Alden Wicker frequently publishes “Weekend Reading” link round-ups to various articles on ethical fashion, sustainability in fashion, etc. That’s how I discovered the articles referenced above. It’s also worth reading the summary of findings from the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s report “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future.”