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United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal # 14: Life Under WaterFashion, Fish, and Fibers

Washing a single article of clothing which contains synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, etc.) releases approximately 1,900 individual microfibers into the water which then make their way into our oceans (Rozalia Project). Additionally, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s a New Textile Economy report (2017) half a million tons of microfibers deriving from clothing are leaking into our oceans every year. Once these fibers are deposited into our oceans it is not long before they make their way into the stomachs of sea creatures such as krill, sea turtles, most species of fish, and sharks. The marine biologists which have discovered that life under water is impacted by the consumption of these microfibers went as far as to find that aquatic organisms living in even the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianna Trench, had ingested plastics. This plastic consumption due to the leakage of both micro and macro plastics into the ocean doesn’t just end up in the stomachs of sea creatures but also in the stomachs of the humans who consume fish. So how can we make a change for life under water? We can turn to recycled fibers, plant-based fibers, animal-based fibers, or even semi-synthetic fibers which all create less of an environmental burden than synthetics fibers. The difference starts with us.

Back to basics: ¿what is sustainable fashion and why is it important?

In an ever-changing, fast paced world it is no wonder that consumers often turn to the easiest and most affordable option when it comes to their closets, this typically leads to further perpetuating the current consumer trend of “fast fashion.” Fast fashion has been on trend especially in North America and Europe with the development of large retail chains dating back to the 1960s (Idacavage, 2018) and is still present in norms to this day. However, sustainable fashion is what Mittelstaedt (et al, 2014) would refer to as a “megatrend”, key word searches for sustainable fashion or similar key terms rake in over 127,350 Google searches a month. But what is sustainable fashion and who does it impact? Well to start, sustainable fashion is an integral part of the “slow fashion movement”, it is often used interchangeably with eco, ecological, green, and ethical fashion (Carey & Cervellon, 2014).

So why is sustainable fashion or slow fashion important and who does it impact? In the English language “fast" and “slow” are opposites but within the realm of fashion it would be misleading to assume that they oppose one another. Slow fashion as a movement is based on an ideal that centers on sustainable values (Henninger, Alevizou, & Oates, 2016), values such as good work conditions and reducing the destructive impact that the industry has on the environment (Bourland 2011). In contrast but not direct opposite, fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends” (lexico) which in turn can create a “throw away” mindset.

To conclude, the importance of sustainable fashion lays in the social change that it generates and in turn the issues that it tackles. Work conditions, child labor, discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, forced or compulsory labor, wage standards, health and safety of all workers, as well as environmental issues such as waste, chemicals, water consumption, and air emissions (NICE Code of Conduct & Manual, 2009) as well as so much more are addressed with the sustainable fashion movement.

Note: Hailey Matarese HXN collaborator

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