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By Erykah Chanel

Fashion's impact on the climate crisis is not just about carbon emissions, but water, chemicals, deforestation, textile waste, microplastics and more. Fashion Designer Erykah Chanel explores what individuals can do to protect the planet through informed clothing choices.

Fashion is that one thing that either unites or divides us for one reason or another. It sets apart or it sets us within. It is how we make our impression onto the world- to fit in or stand out. This clamoring for cheap clothing to keep up with changing trends has a destructive impact on climate. Cookie Cutter fashion is also known as disposable fashion.

Whether it's one's personal style, the quality of item, or brand names, someone always has something to say. The “latest” and ongoing trend which will hopefully instill a new awareness in us all, is asking more questions about what, where, & how are the fabrics and textiles we wear made and how does it affect nature and the health of our planet?

This is not limited to only fabrics, what also is being questioned in the millennial generation is our food, hair and hygiene products etc. We are a generation full of questions. But when it does come to our clothing, how many of us have actually stopped to question where our item, fabric/material comes from. Seriously, how many of us take a moment to look at the manufacturer's tag?

Traditionally clothes were made from materials sourced from plants and animals, such as cotton, linen, fur, and leather, however today clothes are increasingly likely to be made of materials derived from fossil fuel-based crude oils to create polysynthetic fibers like nylon and polyester adding to the carbon footprint and increasingly warming the planet.

On a side note I find it sadly interesting that “back in the day” there was a stronger unity amongst people that fought and made noise for what they believed in and stood for. It seems like in today’s time people seem as though they are down for a cause, but as soon as things get tough and or it takes too long for any results- people start to lose interest. I say this because if we all stood up to brands, boycotted manufacturers, designers etc. we could truly see change and have a positive impact on the quality of things we wear which can affect the environment itself.

Imagine this scenario: You are out shopping, see an item and fall in love with visually. You then try it on and it fits perfectly. As you’re walking to the register you start to visualize how you’re going to wear it until you check the tag to see how it must be cared for and that’s when you notice. This fabulous item is made from a material you're unfamiliar with, and it was created in a country where the working conditions are oppressive such as child slave labor and the resources used hurt the ecosystem and ability of the people to live healthy lives ... What would you do? Would you put it back and stick with your strong beliefs? (thinking emoji).

For many of us the answer is no.

So, what can we do to be better consumers and hold ourselves more accountable when it comes to our fashion? The answer is to become more aware, ask questions and spread the knowledge you gain. Hopefully when you know better you will do better! Many of us are not educated at all when it comes to what makes a quality fabric or material. I guess a bit of ignorance “saves” us, right? Wrong!

With the fashion industry being an annual multi-billion-dollar industry, just imagine the positive impact we can all have in changing the harmful impact of some sources our clothes are being manufactured from and the ways these choices can improve our environment. With this new information, is it possible to do your part to assist in the global paradigm change? Feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start, hopefully these steps below will get you on board.

First do your research on materials, read the tags & ask questions and look for natural fibers and materials that breathe and feel good to wear.

Seasonal sustainable swap outs options:

Summer: Yes, it’s coming to an end, but as we said, when you know better you will do better (fingers crossed) so prepare accordingly. Switch out cotton and go for linen, hemp, or organic cotton instead. Your skin will not only benefit from the switch but so will your peace of mind in knowing you did something “green” for our planet.

Did You Know...

Cotton is a natural fiber, yet it’s also one of the most environmentally intensive materials we own! Cotton is environmentally intensive because it needs a lot of pesticides and fertilizer to grow. It also requires tons of water, roughly 700 gallons just for that 1 shirt for you to wear. Still not getting it? Imagine taking 40 showers in one day, now yes that’s a lot of damn water to be wasting especially when we have bigger issues around the topic of water. For example, Flint Michigan! STAY WOKE. Outside of those reasons were you aware that cotton is grown with genetically modified seeds? A superior fabric in terms of eco-friendly aspects is hemp.

On a more positive note;

Hemp, Linen, organic cotton significantly is less pollutant. Hemp and linen do not need fertilizer or pesticides to grow and only need little water to grow. Organic cotton is a more sustainable option because it doesn’t use pesticides, synthetic, fertilizer and or non-GMO seeds. Non-profit Black Coral Inc. recommends choosing clothes made with organic cotton, recycled cotton, or hemp. According to the recycling methodology, these materials can reduce the carbon footprint impact by 99% compared to nylon or polyester. Another idea is to choose fibers made from natural resources, such as wood cellulose.

2) Now for our upcoming seasons! When it comes to our Winter wardrobe here are a few things to keep in mind. Replace Cashmere with Alpaca. For those who do not know the eating habits of goats, (which Cashmere comes from) they tend to pull the grass from the roots versus sheep & alpaca only eat grass from the surface which ultimately helps preserve our ecosystem. According to Black coral Inc, the fashion industry in 2023 contributed approximately 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in a single year, equivalent to 5% of all global emissions.

Many of us are not familiar with farming, so keep this in mind! When the soil can’t store water/nutrients it becomes unhealthy which over the course of time, what was once fertilized land can equate to becoming desert like. Please note, Cashmere is not unhealthy, it more the volume of production is where it starts to.

On a positive note Alpaca is a great alternative that leaves a light environmental footprint and who doesn’t want that! They eat and drink very little and softly walk the ground. So, in a nutshell when in doubt this winter wear Alpaca vs Cashmere, it helps our ecosystem!

3) A fit life is always in & style has become more of a staple within this department of the industry. So, when thinking of wearing something to workout, go swimming and or even outwear, try to stay away from materials that are polyester and go for a recycled post-consumer PET (PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate, which is plastic that is recycled easier).

4) Fall/Winter will be approaching sooner than we know, so in preparation for galas and holiday parties make sure you go with 100% silk! Please note Silk is a natural, durable, yet biodegradable material with very little environmental impact. No thanks to technology, it assists in the spinning of polyester which can be found a lot in our everyday wear. Which when you really think about it that gown you're is more than likely wearing is plastic. So, go for the 100% silk which you will note on the tag, even if its vintage or second hand it's still better. And worst case if you’re unsure about silk then look for Peace silk, which is made by silkworms as well, but with this silk style they are able to live out their full life vs other silk they are not. Again, it's all about what's best for the environment right, little efforts play a big role!

If you’re not familiar with Tencel, let me educate you a little! This is a wood source which is commonly eucalyptus, which grows quickly without irrigation and doesn’t need chemical pesticides or fertilizer. Tencel is produced through a tight system, meaning virtually all chemicals are captured and rescued, rather than being emitted into the environment.

5) We all love a good pair of jeans that have a little stretch to it right? But please be mindful going forward these are considered blended fibers and try to shy away from them as much as possible. Reason being based upon the blends it can be hard to recycle as there is no system yet to assist in the separation of them.

6) Recycle or Donate your clothes when done. There are many unfortunate people and families in the world, not to mention the United States of America. Did you know that we (that live in the USA) throw away roughly 10.5 million loads of clothes each year? Yes, there are landfills, but depending upon what these items are made from it's hard for the clothes to decompose. Yes, this is a lot of information, but we need to become well informed. We must do better, and the only way that happens is when we know how to be better. This article was written in hopes of helping you open your eyes to what might seem little now, but in the future, it will become a bigger issue.

Everyone always says I am one person, how much can I really help or make a change… well if It begins with one person to begin the process of making a difference. So, going forward do your part, check those tags, ask questions to the stores, designers, staff and hold others accountable and more importantly sharing is caring so pass this info along and let’s change what we can!


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