How Fashion is Changing our Climate

In this column, Luce Collymore Abbas discusses the environmental impacts of clothing made from genetically modified cotton.

It’s no secret that waste is a massive issue in the US. We overuse resources in order to produce commodities that we don’t really need. If you look around, you’ll notice that you’re surrounded by a bunch of objects that most likely consist of plastic, glass, wood, and metal. One material that needs to be talked about more is cotton. 

Cotton is in 75 percent of all clothing worldwide, and it’s difficult to find good clothes that exclude it. We definitely take cotton for granted. I know I do. However, it’s not really the cotton itself that is causing a lot of damage, it’s the resources we use to make the cotton. It takes about 5283 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of cotton. That’s an unbelievable amount of water. To put that into perspective, there’s approximately 1.5 pounds of cotton in one pair of jeans. Do the math and that means we use 3522 gallons of water just for one pair of jeans. 

Apparel is also a lot more damaging to Earth than one might expect. When our clothes are thrown out and go into a landfill, they produce a harmful greenhouse gas called methane. Clothes also have dye that can go into soil, affecting our ecosystem in ways that contribute to global warming.

We’re exploiting our resources and instead of only taking what we need, we take what we want. The Ohlone Tribe, native to the Bay Area, is a good role model for how we should be utilizing our assets. It is Ohlone tradition to use everything they have. If you kill an animal, you must find a use for all the parts. We can definitely look to their beliefs as a good example to follow. Right now, we pick and choose what products we want to keep, which is harmful to the planet and to us.

We have to do something about this waste before its effect on the Earth is irreversible. Luckily, it’s fairly simple to fix. We don’t have to stop producing cotton completely, but we have to stop producing genetically modified (GMO) cotton. Not only is GMO cotton awful for the planet, it’s also damaging for us. When we put on a T-shirt made with GMO cotton, the toxins enter our bloodstream and can affect our health negatively, potentially causing long term health defects. The worst part is that GMO cotton is everywhere and almost impossible to avoid. 

How do we change this? Start buying only organic cotton. It’s so much better for our health and is also better for the people farming the cotton. Of course, organic cotton is significantly more expensive than GMO cotton, but if you can afford to buy exclusively organic cotton clothing, please do. Fast fashion brands such as Forever 21 and H&M are places that use GMO cotton and even worse, child labor to make their clothing. So if you can, please avoid fast fashion brands and if you do shop at fast fashion brands, only buy what you need. When you want to get rid of your clothes, make sure that you give them away to charities like Dress For Success, Room To Grow, and One Warm Coat, or to your local thrift store.

Textile waste takes up 15 million tons of waste every year, just in the US. We could be reusing some of that. We need to actively avoid buying clothes we don’t need. Style can be a way of expressing oneself, however in this process we all need to be mindful of the environment. Please make sure to buy clothing made of organic cotton and keep reusing and donating your clothing. We have to start caring more for the planet and each other.

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