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Sustainable Fashion Movement Explores Dark Side Of The Industry

The average person buys 60% more clothing items than 15 years ago, but only keeps them for about half as long.
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The average person buys 60% more clothing items than 15 years ago, but only keeps them for about half as long.

Around 60% of clothing made around the world ends up destroyed or in landfills within a year of production. The sustainable fashion movement is highlighting the dark side of the industry.

“Having a sustainable sense of fashion is being conscious of the ethical, as well as the environmental effects of the product that you're choosing to buy,” said Taryn Hipwell, founder of the educational/advocacy group Beyond the Label and author of “How to Shop for Shi(f)t.”

Hipwell will be speaking at the University of South Florida on Thursday as part of a series of Fashion Revolution Week events in Tampa. She will discuss the importance of clothing labels being more transparent about their products and practices, including the large amount of waste created by the industry.

The high-fashion landscape thrives on constant change-- and the internet is making runway cycles shorter than ever. Exclusive events like Fashion Week and the MET Gala feature extravagant and expensive one-of-a-kind pieces that are often never seen again.

Brands such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton have burned billions of dollars worth of unsold merchandise. Labels often destroy products to avoid sales that devalue their brand. With new products constantly being released and consumer interest fading, there are few other options for companies.

Wastefulness is not just a high-fashion issue. “Fast fashion” stores like Forever 21 quickly produce cheap clothing to match consumers’ obsession with staying on-trend.

In fact, the average person buys 60% more clothing items than 15 years ago, but only keeps them for about half as long, according to Greenpeace.

These habits contribute to the fashion industry being one of the biggest polluters in the world.The Natural Resources Defense Council says clothing production is responsible for 20% of the globe’s industrial water pollution, as well as the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Hipwell said she shops for clothes the same way many people shop for organic ingredients at the supermarket. Finding sustainable clothing labels is easier than ever with online shopping. She also thinks consumers should consider shopping secondhand at thrift and vintage stores.

“When you buy secondhand, you're also helping to reduce the amount of new clothes that are being made in a toxic way. So the less fast fashion that people are buying, the more secondhand fashion that they're buying that shifts the balance,” she said.

Hipwell, along with other local business owners and experts, will be at USF’s Patel Center for Global Solutions on Thursday at 4:45 p.m.

“It's amazing to be able to bring the ‘How to Shop for Shi(f)t’ guidebook to Tampa, and to get people to think about what their clothes are made of and how they can shift their shopping habits to have a positive impact on the world,” said Hipwell.

Sonu Trivedi is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for spring 2019.
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