I am passionate about environmentalism and climate change. I was reading an article on one of my go-to eco-news sites and learned that I might be wearing materials made from pulped forests (with a heavy dose of toxic sludge).
I am a fashion enthusiast, but I was not happy to learn that my styling could be contributing to deforestation, the destruction of important ecosystems and indigenous lands, and the proliferation of toxic chemicals in our environment.
How exactly is it possible to be wearing trees? Apparently, the combination of pulped wood and toxic chemicals results in compounds that can be formed into fibers, then yarn, and then fabrics called rayon, viscose, Lyocell and modal. Brands and textile companies have been turning to these fabrics as the cost of cotton increases (cotton crops have been affected by droughts and flooding in recent years). According to the article “clothing brands will even list these rainforest-destroying fabrics such as rayon as ‘natural’ or ‘renewable’ textiles.”
I know that I definitely have some clothing made with rayon and I have lots of clothing whose tags I have not checked! Over the past several years, I am trying to buy more and more of my clothes second-hand— because of the fun of thrift shopping, the cheaper prices, and the unexpected styles one can come across— but also because of the continually-growing concerns I have with mass-produced clothes from mainstream stores and brands: abuse and exploitation of third-world (often female or child) labor, toxic chemicals, poor-quality garments, pirating of designs from independent designers, body-negative imaging, wastefulness of fast fashion, sexualization of women and girls, and the encouragement of American obsession with consumerism.
I have to admit that I am a bit frustrated to have to add another thing to the list of problems I can have with a garment or brand! Now on top of inspecting the seams and fastenings for poor-quality assembly or fabrics, I also have to check tags for fabrics that contribute to deforestation!
This reminds me of last week’s post about feminism and food. Morghan makes a point about mothers having to serve as the country’s watch dogs and quality control officers as they try to select foods that won’t poison or harm their family or others.
In a similar way that women do a lot of the food purchasing, women make up a lot of the buying power in the fashion industry because (a) it is an industry marketed towards women, (b) women are taught that they need to spend a lot of time and money managing their appearance, and (c) the lived experience of being a woman involves using your body as a primary communication tool (whether you want to or not). This again places the burden of being an informed and conscious consumer on women. At the same time, these issues and the struggle to deal with these issues get further trivialized as silly women’s issues in the trivialized industry of women’s fashion.
I think a big part of finding solutions to these issues in the fashion industry could be (1) exposing the demands society places on women to participate in this industry and (2) encouraging women to disengage from these demands and value systems both psychologically and intellectually, and alter their buying habits.
In the moment, it is sometimes hard to avoid a purchase that might compromise your other ethics because of the pressure to manage your body or image . . . but it is important to remember that your style and any small benefits or attention you might get for wearing a specific blouse or dress are not worth the cost of the destruction of pristine forests or the suffering, exploitation, or death of another woman or worker in another country.