Ainsley Colt

High school student Helen Furman finds new clothing pieces at Thrift Center Thrift Store in San Carlos during the weekend. “Exploring the thrift store is one of my new favorite hobbies,” Furman said.

The journey to sustainable fashion

April 28, 2022

Ninety-three billion tons of water. Ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Up to 20% of the world’s water pollution. These are just some of the staggering effects of fast fashion on the environment according to the Columbia Climate School. Fast fashion causes devastating amounts of pollution and has a staggering impact on climate change. 

The problem of fast fashion

The term fast fashion refers to the practice of companies quickly producing cheap and trendy clothing, often at a lesser quality of fabric and stitching. From the outside, the practice seems fine; the clothing may be low quality, but it is relatively inexpensive and follows all the new trends.  However, these industries plague the environment with ludicrous amounts of waste and are known to underpay and mistreat workers. 

I think fast fashion brands definitely have their downfalls, such as negative environmental impacts and the way they treat their workers. Many of these brands are not held accountable for their actions and are making no efforts to change,” said Adele Enthoven, a sophomore at Carlmont.

One of the greatest appeals of fast fashion is its convenience, it’s easier to order online, and when you go into a store, there are set styles and items that you can get in almost any size, unlike a thrift store that has one of a kind pieces that aren’t guaranteed to be trendy. 

“I still occasionally shop at fast fashion stores when I am looking for something specific that I might not be able to find at thrift stores, such as dresses and bathing suits,” Enthoven said. 

But its deficits outweigh the positive allure of low-priced clothing.  The environmental impact of fast fashion is exceptionally damaging. According to the UN Fashion Alliance, the fashion industry contributes to 9% of microplastics in the oceans yearly and 8% of carbon emissions. 

Microplastics in the ocean are incredibly harmful to undersea life. They can be life-threatening to these creatures. According to the National Ocean Service, they pass unchanged through waterways into the ocean, and aquatic life and birds can mistake microplastics for food.

Carbon emissions from the fashion industry negatively impact the environment, they contribute to climate change, which is currently a significant issue that many communities are working to overcome. These carbon emissions contribute to global warming, which, according to National Geographic, is melting glaciers and changing rain patterns. 

Environmental Impacts by Marlo Lewis


Fast fashion not only harms the environment, but it also harms the garment makers as well. Because of its quick and inexpensive nature, workers are often underpaid. According to Columbia Climate School, only about 2% of fast fashion factory workers earn a living wage. 

“New clothing should not be $5; there is absolutely no way to produce clothing for $5,” said Talia Brown, the owner of Talia’s Tiny Thrift, a sustainable small clothing business.   

The fast fashion industry encourages people to over-consume at low prices and buy new items as new trends come along constantly. Brands like Shein will release new items on their website every day and even have a section on their website for current trends. 

The culture around mass consumerism is going to kill our planet,” said Sarah Hansen, a 16-year-old Sequoia High School student. 

Big fashion corporations often mislead consumers with the practice of greenwashing. Companies will make false claims about their sustainability to mislead consumers and make them think they are practicing sustainability when they are not. 

According to The Big Issue, H&M, a popular clothing brand, is an example of greenwashing. In 2010, H&M released their Conscious Collection, which claimed to use recycled materials in this line. The collection aimed to meet the growing demand among consumers concerned with climate change for more eco-friendly clothing. 

“I think that sustainable fashion is very important in order to combat the negative effects of fast fashion on the environment and on the people whose labor is exploited,” Hansen said, “Sustainable fashion is necessary to keep the Earth healthy for us and the next generation.”

Unfortunately, the collection was misleading. Despite claims of sustainability, the collection was proven to have an even higher negative environmental impact than their clothing. It was also unclear if H&M would be paying their factory workers more to be genuinely sustainable.

“H&M’s Conscious collection, pitched as a clothing line made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, was found to contain a higher share of damaging synthetic materials than its main clothing line (72% compared to 61%),” The Big Issue reported. 

This sentiment was echoed by other establishments; the line was damaging. And even if it wasn’t, it would do little in the way of positive change. According to Vogue Business, experts say that even if the collection was more sustainable, it cannot truly make an impact because the other H&M collections are still fast fashion. This collection came under fire for lack of transparency and was accused of greenwashing. 

The solution: sustainable fashion

While H&M lied about the effects of their clothing, if they were truly taking the actions the company claimed, they would be on the right track. To minimize the effects of fashion on the environment, there needs to be a shift towards sustainable fashion.

Sustainable fashion or “slow” fashion is the opposite of fast fashion, according to Good on You, a world-leading source of ethical and sustainable fashion expertise. Slow fashion advocates for the use of eco-friendly materials and equitable treatment of animals, people, and the environment. It promotes a more ethical way of consuming and living. As slow, sustainable fashion becomes more of a movement, many people are making more of an effort to be sustainable when it comes to fashion.

Some ways I try to practice sustainable fashion are buying secondhand clothing, trying to find sustainable brands, or even just avoiding buying things unnecessarily. Something else my friends and I do is sometimes swap clothes,” Enthoven said. 

An important source explaining eco-conscious fashion is Naomi Kelin’s 1999 book No Logo.” This book significantly impacted ethical and eco-friendly fashion. “No Logo” uncovered the dirty truths behind many global fashion companies at the time, helping bring about the beginning of many eco-friendly fashion brands and stores. One example of a new eco-friendly store is Mariposa Finds, founded by 26-year-old Melodía Olivas.

“I started it at the beginning of last year,” Olivas said. “It’s a thrift business. My biggest passion and pull for the reason why I started this brand was to promote thrifting as a way to replace fast fashion.

The movement towards eco-friendly fashion was aided more by the formation of the Ethical Fashion Forum in 2006. The Ethical Fashion Forum’s mission was to support and promote sustainable fashion practices. Currently, they’re working on their new platform, the Common Objective, to promote the importance of sustainability to a broader audience, and they have done just that. The public is beginning to realize the positive impacts shopping sustainably has.

“Shopping sustainably is very important to me, and I believe that it is possible for anyone to accomplish,” said 15-year-old Helen Furman, a student at Carlmont High School. “Sustainability is all about preserving the earth and trying our best to keep it as healthy as possible. It is also about changing our consumer habits for the good of the environment, even if these changes are difficult.”


Shopping sustainably has become much more popular in the last 10 years, especially among teens. The popularization of reselling apps like Depop, Mercari, and Poshmark has made buying secondhand clothing relatively easy. Thrift shops like Savers, Goodwill, and other local stores are popular spots for teens to shop.

“My favorite store is Thrift Center Thrift Store on El Camino in San Carlos. I go there every couple of weeks, and I always find something,” Furman said. “I very much prefer shopping at thrift stores than at retail stores. It’s just more fun to shop, and it makes me feel better to know that I’m supporting an eco-friendly business.”

Fast Fashion or non-eco-friendly companies, as large culprits for the environmental impacts of fashion, need to step up and be more eco-conscious.

I think fast fashion companies need to start using sustainable materials to make their clothing,” Furman said. “They shouldn’t be responsible for so much damage to the environment.”

Most fast-fashion brands use polyester, but switching over to other sustainable materials such as hemp or linen would have a significant impact, as they are biodegradable, and producing them requires very little water. Brands can be more sustainable by making clothes that last, one of the main ideas of slow fashion.

 “Fast fashion can become more sustainable by making products that last. Maybe this way people wouldn’t need to get new clothes all the time, which would reduce the amount of material used and the amount of pollution from shipping. They can also make an effort to make eco-friendly packaging and reduce the emissions from shipping,” Enthoven said.

As sustainability becomes more important to the public, it affects people’s thinking habits.

 “Shopping sustainably has mostly just impacted me by making me think about what I really need. One way I try to be sustainable is just by consuming less, so I have really begun to think about what I need, or what I’ll actually use,” Enthoven said.

 Shopping sustainably will have an incredible effect on the environment if it is widely practiced. According to Pirkani, eco-friendly fashion requires less water, produces less toxic chemicals, saves the lives of animals, and is overall better for people and the planet.

 “I feel like more people need to care about shopping sustainably. If you have the opportunity to help the environment through the way you shop, you should take it no matter what,” Furman said.

About the Contributors
Photo of Marlo Jae Lewis
Marlo Jae Lewis, Staff Writer
Marlo Lewis is a sophomore at Carlmont. This is her first year in Media Arts. They enjoy getting involved on campus as well as going to campus events. She participates in theater and Swing Dance club as well as other activities on campus.

Twitter: @MarloJaeLewis

Photo of Ainsley Colt
Ainsley Colt, Staff Writer
Ainsley Colt is a sophomore at Carlmont High School and a staff writer. Ainsley enjoys writing about on-campus news. She is a part of Carlmont choir and is on the cheerleading team. Her favorite music artists include Taylor Swift and Harry Styles.

Twitter: @AinsleyColt

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