You may not be aware that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world (after big oil). This is due to many reasons, including the insatiable hunger for fast fashion and new styles. Textile factories release a lot of chemicals into the waterways and the eco-system, and long-term exposure to synthetic dyes has been linked to cancer. The (plastic) microfibers that are found in some materials like synthetic fleece are less than 1 millimeter in length and easily pass through filters in washing machines and dryers. This article describes how microfibers make up 85% of human debris on shorelines, and how they can be detected basically everywhere, “in table salt in China, in arctic waters and in fish caught off the coast of California.”
Cotton is a natural fiber, but it uses a lot of water and is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world.
The leather goods business makes over $100 billion a year, but critics call the manufacturing process inefficient, cruel, and with a huge environmental impact.
One of the biggest hurdles for those in the fashion industry who want to be more environmentally responsible is the complexity and lack of transparency in supply chains. According to Leo Bonanni, CEO of Sourcemap and a guest at a recent industry panel hosted by NYU SPS, “when responsible brands try to set up strong procurement process for their contractors.. that’s great… But those contractors have 15 or 20 other subcontractors and who knows where they come from or what they’re doing.” Sourcemap launched in 2009 with an open source platform that allowed anyone to input data and create maps of where things come from and what the environmental impact is. It now is helping companies assess their supply chains, trace products to their source, and evaluate their social, financial, and environmental risks.
The company is now doubling in size and recruiting for new positions in operations, sales, projects, and programming.
At the same time, start up companies like New Jersey-based Modern Meadow are learning how to “biofabricate” leather without animals and local artisans across the world such as this weaving community in Teotitlan del Valle in Mexico are finding a renewed interest in traditional methods of making garments with natural dyes, which are more vivid and environmentally friendly than synthetic dyes.
Well-known global fashion companies such as Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, are also joining the conversation and taking action to make the fashion industry more transparent, sustainable, and better for our health and our planet.
In the next year, the Center for Applied Liberal Arts will launch an MS in Applied Fashion Merchandising with a focus on real-world practices for the ethical and sustainable creation and distribution of fashion. Stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, join us in our non-credit courses where we look at the history, art, and cultural impact of fashion. Spring 2018 courses will be posted soon.
Other non-credit courses:
Arts – studio art, art history & architecture, photography, arts administration, fine and decorative art connoisseurship, art business
Design – 3D design and fabrication, graphic design, interior design
Humanities – history and culture, literature, philosophy & religion, theater, music, acting, communication, New York City metropolitan studies
Film – filmmaking and producing, film studies, film and television writing, audio and visual effects
Languages – Spanish, Arabic, Swedish, and more
Publishing – editing, book publishing, magazine and website publishing
Translation and Interpreting – legal, medical, transcreation, literary media
Writing – professional writing, journalism, creative nonfiction, fiction & poetry