If you think racism is violent, wait until you see what life on a hot planet is like. The rage and pain tearing through America, and the world, right now in response to systemic racism and brutal police violence fills me with dread. Surely, it is a precursor for a future where climate change remains unchecked, a future that we are currently hurtling towards.
The original goal of the sustainable fashion movement, at least as I understand it, was to mitigate the pending disaster of climate change. As one of the most polluting industries, this is a worthy and necessary goal to achieve, the success of which we know has been reached when the entire industry emits 50 percent less carbon by 2030, and zero or negative carbon emissions by 2050. Anything short of this, for all industries, will result in runaway global warming and the erosion of life as we know it.
Right now, we are, in fashion and society, a long way from meeting our carbon goals and time is running out. The pandemic has proven what we already knew to be true: that personal shopping choices are woefully insufficient to reduce climate change. We need swift global adoption of green energy and re-imagined supply chains, production methods, farming methods, transportation, fabrications, business and government models to name but a few. The likelihood that we achieve sweeping energy reform in a mere nine years without collaboration between business, science and government is laughable.
At the exact moment that “sustainable fashion” started gaining popularity and becoming “mainstream” our movement stalled. What we should have been striving for was notoriety. Instead, within the industry, the goal posts on what even is sustainable fashion have been pushed further and further afield; the definition fed through the mass media and brand marketing machine so many times that the dust that remains could be lifted onto your fingertip and blown into the wind. With few exceptions, the hundreds of press releases in my inbox each year touting their sustainability cred mention neither carbon or their efforts to reduce it. The same applies if I email these brands asking to share their numbers on this—often they don’t know their carbon output or that they should care about it.
despite all the lockdowns and the parked cars and grounded planes and halted production, and endless claims of a “bold new world” awaiting us on the other side of the pandemic, an unabated invisible plume of greenhouse gases is pouring into our atmosphere blanketing our planet, trapping the sun’s heat and slowly cooking us alive
In short, sustainable fashion, the cause, has become sustainable fashion, the product. Instead of mass mobilization and a call for new laws and new research, we have capsule collections, curated closets, and a lifetime supply of organic cotton t-shirts. Like the books on anti-racism now on our shelves, there is nothing inherently wrong with buying the more conscious product, as long as you understand that’s the beginning and not the end of the work to be done.
Right now, as you read this, despite all the lockdowns and the parked cars and grounded planes and halted production, and endless claims of a “bold new world” awaiting us on the other side of the pandemic, an unabated invisible plume of greenhouse gases is pouring into our atmosphere blanketing our planet, trapping the sun’s heat and slowly cooking us alive. This is the noose around humanity’s neck, tightening every day. Black and brown communities are already—at this moment—being killed and/or murdered as a result of pollution and climate change from fossil fuels.
So, what do we need to do? First, we need accountability for what is and isn’t sustainable fashion based on facts not marketing. We must stop the spread of misinformation by brands and the fashion media and ensure those who write about the topic are well-informed. Investment in education on climate change should become the norm across the media and for everyone, including fashion influencers. This investment in knowledge will only broaden the pool of ideas to tap on how to address and communicate about it and reduce the proliferation of science denial. Brands should be transparent about their carbon output and planned methods of carbon reduction—as well as where they are falling short. This is crucial if we are to create swift, targeted solutions that can be applied industry-wide.
These are also opportunities to discuss intersectional issues of racial inequality, sexism, and labor inequality. The silos around us need to come tumbling down and cooperation must be the norm. We must ensure that brands invest in, or funds are otherwise raised, for the much needed data and research to prove that the solutions frequently touted as sustainable can deliver on their promise. To date this is rarely the case though organizations like The New Standard Institute are working to remedy this. High profile events, panels and discussions on sustainability should be diversified beyond the usual elitist fashion crowd and incorporate a breadth of experience, expertise and backgrounds. All of us, from fashion companies to the media to shoppers must make clear to our governments that a just transition to green energy is a priority and fashion creatives should use their skills to create shareable, informative campaigns on the topic.
We are in a moment like no other in history. We cannot look to old solutions for new problems. This has become trite to say, but if we actually do it, it won’t be. We cannot shrink into individualism, we must instead expand into collectivism and cooperation. This will not only save us from climate change, but from ourselves, and the unjust systems we have refused to challenge for fear of the uncomfortable. Right now, we are all really uncomfortable. Let’s embrace that and keep moving deeper into it, sloughing away the status quo as we go. I am sure on the other side we will be rewarded handsomely for our efforts. Not with clothes, or books, but with community, kindness, equality and air we can breathe.
Written By : Laura Jones
Copy Editor: Sonjia Hyon