A November 2022 publication of The United Nations Environment Program describes the fashion industry as “one of the largest contributors to the climate and ecological crisis. It is nature intensive, reliant on fossil fuels, polluting throughout its value chain and wasteful to the extreme. It is also predicated on a culture of overproduction and consumption, and facilitated by an underpaid workforce facing discrimination, unsafe working conditions and harassment.”
According to data on fashion, consumption has more than doubled in the past 15 years, which parallels the increase in plastics manufacturing. At a baby shower a few years ago, I was struck by the quantity of clothing and other gifts for the new baby. My memory of my early motherhood years was that a gift of one or two onesies/outfits was beautiful and generous. The recent shower was an example of our overconsumption of material goods: a hanger containing ten onesies, a sign of the industry’s message to consumers that one or two are not enough and ten are now affordable, so why not. The heavy irony is that this increased giving (consumption) creates an unhealthier world for younger generations. This includes the exploitation of earthly resources to the massive waste created and the release of fibers from synthetic fabrics that continue to pollute and accumulate in the environment.
In an article published in Notre Dame magazine (winter 2022-23), journalist Colleen Shaddox comments on her friend’s words when the world’s problems seem insurmountable: “we must hope.” She then writes, “Hope is a recognition that our creator does not intend the world to be this way. We are capable of – we are designed for – something far better.” She later expresses, “This is very expensive optimism. It will cost us. Real solidarity means we will no longer put up with artificially low prices because the people who produce and serve are not paid a living wage. It means that, instead of complaining about clutter, we adopt the mindset of our forebears, for whom nicer clothes, appliances, and restaurant meals were things to save for – occasional splurges.” We genuinely have a duty to hope, pray, and act as a community.
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.