‘Tis the season to gather with loved ones or indulge in well-deserved rest. No matter what you celebrate, one inescapable staple of the holiday season are the discounts — specifically those seen on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM), the two biggest shopping days of the year.
Yet, BFCM, known for their deep discounts and frenzied consumerism, often mask the exploitative and environmentally harmful practices prevalent in the fashion world. From the illusion of massive savings, to the real and lasting impact on our planet, BFCM magnifies the urgent need to scrutinize the fashion industry’s approach to production and consumption.
The fashion industry is infamous for exploitative profit-maximizing practices including criminally underpaying laborers, employing children, condoning unsafe working conditions, and lying to customers. Many fashion companies swindle customers seeking major discounts by falsely inflating the original price of products to trick buyers into thinking they’re getting a better deal than they actually are. One analysis found that 98% of Black Friday sales were available for the same price or cheaper in the subsequent 6 months.
But while that 75% off Black Friday deal on your favorite style of jeans might not be real, the damaging environmental impact of BFCM definitely is. Here’s how.
Excessive Clothing Production & Consumption
The fashion industry has witnessed monstrous growth thanks to its embrace of fast fashion. Fast fashion involves the rapid turnover of fashion trends and the shift towards inexpensive, mass-produced clothing. Brands that once released seasonal collections now put out twenty or more unique collections yearly — some stores even offer new designs every week.
Companies do this to maximize consumer spending — and that it does. The average person buys 60% more clothing than in 2000 and it lasts about half as long. Over half of people’s wardrobes go unworn each year.
This wasteful consumption combined with a scarcity of textile recycling methods generates mountains of discarded clothing. In the US, 85% of used clothes end up in a landfill or incinerated. Globally, a garbage-truck’s worth of clothing goes to landfills every second.
Fashion and Plastic
The leading concern with the fashion industry’s operations is plastic pollution. Fashion is responsible for 15% of plastics produced yearly, and 69% of all clothes include synthetic materials (this percentage is higher for fast fashion brands, e.g. 95% of clothing from Shein). Plastic in clothes causes microplastic pollution in the form of millions of tiny plastic fibers that break off every time plastic-containing garments are washed. Filtering out these plastic microfibers is near-impossible — consequently, they’re the most abundant type of microplastic in our oceans and they’re found in most drinking water.
Other Dangers of the Fashion Industry
Industrial fashion production has other detrimental effects beyond microplastics. Enormous amounts of water mixed with millions of tons of chemicals are used during production, usually returning untreated to the environment. Additionally, the industry is responsible for 4% of global GHG emissions — more than France, Germany, and the UK combined.
Fashion is also the most popular online shopping sector, which results in additional carbon emissions just for shipping. A UK study found that in 2021, Black Friday deliveries released ~429,000 metric tonnes of GHG emissions — the equivalent of 435 return flights from London to New York.
What Can Be Done?
To address these issues, regulating the fashion industry is crucial. While attempts in the US have faltered, France has successfully passed legislation, and the EU may follow suit. In addition to supporting regulations by signing our Fashion for the Earth petition, you can make a difference by adopting sustainable shopping practices like thrifting and renting clothes to reduce demand for brand new garments. If you must buy new, opt for durable pieces made with recycled materials or non-synthetics.
This holiday season, escape the pandemonium of BFCM shopping and rediscover the nonmaterial joys of the holidays. Better yet, embrace this season of community and gift-giving by choosing to give to the planet as well as to ourselves.