Green is the New Black: Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

Reduce, reuse, recycle. We’ve all heard the three R’s when it comes to minimizing the amount of waste we produce, from plastic containers, aluminum cans and glass bottles to compostable food items.

But when it comes to the topic of sustainability, many consumers don’t think about the waste their fashion choices may produce.

RMCAD Fashion Design instructor Krista Lippert saw some of the negative effects caused by the industry first-hand when she entered the field as a young designer.

“Witnessing and experiencing garment creation [early in my career] was very eye opening,” Lippert said. “Textiles are made with all kinds of harmful chemicals that have serious effects on the environment and in communities where they are used. There’s also  the problem of manufacturing textile waste and discarded clothing season after season.”

Now, Lippert specializes in sustainable design, and currently works as a Technical Designer for prAna, an activewear company invested in creating sustainable clothing and accessories. In this role, Lippert engineers garment sketches into physical prototypes and finalizes the designs for production. In addition to perfecting the garment, her goal is to create as little waste material as possible.

This push within the industry to be more mindful about sustainability is one way in which the amount of textile waste can be reduced. Lippert teaches the Sustainable Design course at RMCAD, where students learn design approaches and methods that comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability.

But according to Lippert, a greater awareness among consumers is also necessary to minimize bad practices in the fashion industry.

More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, and the amount has doubled over the last 20 years, according to the U.S. EPA.

Additionally, the average person buys 60 percent more items of clothing every year and keeps them for about half as long compared to 15 years ago, according to Green Peace.

Lippert attributes the popularity of “fast fashion,” an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers, as one major perpetuator of these trends.

“Apparel is the second largest industry in the world, but the impact of garment manufacturing and purchases is not top of mind for the majority of consumers,” she said.

“Educating customers on the why, and how sustainable apparel is made, is the priority for brands that share sustainable values.”

How can consumers be more mindful about what they buy? Here are a few things to consider:

1. Ask yourself, “who made my clothes?” when making new purchases.

Being conscientious about the products you buy is one of the most direct ways you can ensure you are helping to minimize waste. #WhoMadeMyClothes is a national campaign created by the non-profit organization Fashion Revolution. The campaign encourages consumers to ask themselves this question when buying clothing, as well as to encourage clothing companies to be transparent about their practices.

2. Donate and purchase second-hand clothing.

When possible, hit up your local thrift store to find some hidden gems. While you’re there, drop off some of your old clothing that has been sitting in your closet as a donation. There are also websites and phone apps that allow consumers to buy used clothing from other sellers.

3. Compost (really!)

Most people know about the benefits of composting food waste, but did you know you can compost clothing made from natural materials? Textiles like cotton, silk, and wool can all be composted. Garments made from these materials can be safely composted for food gardens as long as the fabric blend is at least 93 percent.