The True Cost


Richard Kelly exposes the consequences of our relationship with clothing consumption and what we can do to change them before it’s too late.

Have you ever asked ‘how do our fashion choices affect the planet? Are we subconsciously doing more damage than good by way of our clothing consumption?’ Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes.

In the digital age, it’s difficult to avoid being bombarded by influencers, advertisements or new deals enticing you to buy more clothing. Take one look through your Instagram explore page and you will find post after post showcasing the newest trends and hottest styles – an incentive for you to spend and consume more, but how often do we think about the effect it has on our consumption? 

The status quo for environmental improvement usually encompasses buying less frivolously and shopping locally – both of which are valuable cultural changes – but is there more we could be doing?

In a 2011 study, Mark Browne from UCD found that a single synthetic garment has the potential to expel 1,900 microfibres into their environment, most of which will end up in our oceans. This poses an important and unsettling question: Where is the demand for synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon or synthetic-blend garments coming from, and how do we stop it?

The appeal of stylish outerwear with a more minimal effect on one’s bank account has an obvious appeal but these adverse consequences have long gone unspoken. Mark Browne’s study attested that 85% of these microfibres were the product of human creation. One solution would be to involve ourselves less with fast fashion.

Fast fashion serves a temporary purpose but with little regard for its direct and indirect consequences on our environment. The damage from harmful dying techniques, shipping emissions, and discarded clothing is never a talking point. Until now.

The first step anyone could take would be to research what you’re buying. Where are the materials sourced? How are they made? Organically harvested materials promote soil longevity as well as reduce the monetary strain on farms due to the removal of purchasing costly fertilisers and pesticides which also take a toll on the land. Jute, hemp, and cotton are not only more sustainable but they are proving to be a powerful force in couture and the artistic direction of fashion.

Guo Pei’s Fall 2019 Couture showcased the diverse utilitarian nature of Jute: a plant commonly used to make burlap or hessian. A testament to just how far a brilliant mind can push fashion’s limits without piling onto the waste already discarded across our Earth.

But is it enough to keep consuming as much as we do even if the components are environmentally sound? Is a cultural shift away from our consumerist culture necessary?

Feeding the machine enables the textile industry to pump out ridiculously harmful products that don’t have the environment, or even the consumer, in mind. The most effective combatant? Stop buying clothes you don’t need. Frequenting thrift stores cuts off the direct demand to corporate giants and saves you money. There’s nothing more stylish than tailoring your clothes to your identity. Why not create bespoke pieces from finds at your local charity shop. Play with silhouette and turn trash into treasure.

As e-commerce continues to gain traction, this poses a plethora of environmental issues including emissions, unfair labour wages and damaging materials. It is as if every step we take against unsound practices is met with a shiny new convenience for only €7. The fight against fashion pollution begins with you. Where you put your money matters now more than ever. Our ten-year limit before it’s too late, a line repeated so often by environmental activists such as Greta Thunberg, is made shorter every time we choose ‘synthetic’ and feed the corporate machine. In layman’s terms: eco-chic is the new bohemian and is having more than just a ‘moment.’