Livia Firth: Fast Fashion is Speeding Up Climate Change…Fast

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Climate change. Global warming. Whatever you call it, weird things—dangerous things—are happening to our weather, our oceans and our natural resources. And according to Livia Firth, Creative Director of Eco Age Ltd, what we wear, particularly if it’s fast fashion, matters a lot in this equation.

The climate crisis is complicated. Industry, reliance on fossil fuels, deforestation—they all play a part. But the one area we don’t seem to be talking about nearly enough, according to Firth, is fashion.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has famously said that you can’t be an animal-eating environmentalist. The math just doesn’t add up; animals, even those animals raised ‘ humanely’, just take up way too many resources to be part of an environmentally sensitive diet. This point continues to be argued, but studies have supported the claim.

And now, eco-fashion activist and change-maker Livia Firth is speaking out against our fast fashion choices, as they too seem to be irrefutably damaging to the environment, yet nearly as easy to change as our food choices. “Every single day we all perform two simple actions: we eat and we get dressed,” she wrote in a recent Huffington Post op-ed. “Could I even go as far as saying that we could solve climate change if we all dressed in a sustainable manner?”

It’s a logical question, but one we don’t seem to be asking nearly enough. “For some reason the fashion industry is often ignored, or cast aside as if it was an irrelevance,” she wrote. “The path to a more just and ecologically sound existence for us all is notoriously rocky, but each industry must play its part in cleaning up and bringing substantive change.”

The numbers are simply startling: Nearly 80 billion new garments are produced each year, according to Firth. Producing just one pair of jeans requires as much as 6,000 gallons of water. Then there are the dye colors and other chemicals involved–the making of zippers and buttons, etc., not to mention the packaging and transportation.

Firth writes, “[W]e are dependent on multifarious resources at a time when these resources are being degraded at unprecedented speed.” Cotton, the dominant fiber in the fashion industry, is what we often equate with simple, clean, even a safe fabric unlike rayon or polyester. But cotton requires more pesticide applications than any other crop, which in turn, contributes to the sickness of our waterways and soil, the chemicals in our air contributing to greenhouse gases and rising global temperatures. Firth says that the fashion industry is also “dependent on the animal kingdom and some of the most fragile ecosystems on earth.”

Firth and Eco Age worked with Gucci to offset some of its dependence on the conventional leather industry, which is one of the biggest drivers in deforestation, much in the same way beef is. “[F]ashion touches on every great environmental theme: climate change, declining available resources, lost wilderness, flooding, through to the flipside of flooding – drought,” she writes. “And of course, all of these are interconnected.”

Perhaps the importance of fashion is being ignored in the climate change discussion because fashion is often perceived as frivolous. We all wear clothes, but true Fashion, in the Anna Wintour or Coco Chanel sense, seems reserved for the few and beautiful. Most of us wear clothes, rather than fashion pieces. We eye clothing with the same lens of necessity as drinking water or breakfast foods. And when the choice is between a $20 pair of jeans or $200 organic denim ones, it’s understandable why we’re not having a more mainstream conversation about what we wear. “But while human kind continues to treat fashion as a frivolous side line, it pollutes and squanders with impunity,” says Firth. The fast fashion industry “has created a ‘factory of consumers’ whereas it is the offer to drive/create demand,” she says. “We buy in a rush and discard as quickly.”

So, while Fashion as an art, an industry, and a way of life for many, might not be a conversation the rest of us care to follow, we can start to make better choices. If you can’t buy organic or upcylced, you can buy gently used clothes. You can swap with friends. You can resist the urge to be Forever 21 and grow older gracefully with timeless pieces you don’t need to replace every season. According to Firth, “we’re on the threshold of a new fashion industry where ethics and glamour co-exist, where new fibres and technology minimise impact, where fashion brands begin to acknowledge their debt to the natural world and invest in sustaining it for their future and our future,” she wrote. “Could we solve climate change if we all were to buy carefully and get more ‘fashion mileage’ out of each piece?” Do we really have a choice?

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.