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For those who aspire to change the world, the clothes you wear doesn’t appear a likely place to start. However, dismissing the idea out of hand would be a mistake. Fashion and ‘fast fashion’ in particular, meaning the kind of clothes that are meant to be worn a few times at most, have serious environmental consequences. Read on to learn about easy opportunities you can take to change the world, starting with your closet.

Buy Responsibly

It takes an average of 7,000 liters to make a single pair of jeans, about as much water as an individual might drink in 5-6 years. The garment industry produces 2 billion pairs of jeans each year, and 20% of industrial water pollution is due to dyeing and treating textiles. Add to these facts that 80% of the groundwater from major rivers in China is polluted and unsuitable for human use and you begin to see another opportunity to make choices that will have far-reaching effects. It is estimated that about 3 billion people across 50 countries will be confronted with water scarcity or stress by the year 2025. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 7 billion at-risk individuals. But jeans are not the sole culprit. We must clothe ourselves, hence the importance of careful consideration before making any purchases, such as when shopping for Mother’s Day gifts with the impending holiday. Another easy way to reduce your environmental impact is by investing in pieces that don’t go out of style, such as classic jewelry pieces like pearls. Finally, look for labels that identify the material as sustainable, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, carbon-neutral, responsibly produced and/or made from recycled fibers.

Wear What You Have

The average garment is worn only four times. Worse, Greenpeace estimates that some 20% of clothing is not even worn once. Wearing your clothes just a little longer can have a significant impact on the environment: an extra 9 months of use reduces your carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30% each. Figures on worldwide textile waste are not readily available but in the United States alone, some 15 million tons of clothing wind up in landfills each year. A clear opportunity to make a difference in the world is to wear what you already own. Also, consider borrowing or consignment shops for special occasion items you only intend to wear once.

Invest in Humanity

Another important reason to invest in quality apparel rather than inexpensive throwaways is the prevalence of slave labor in the textile industry. An estimated 40 million people are enslaved worldwide, and labor enslavement is extremely common in the manufacturing sector. Unsafe work environments, low wages, and uncertain or non-existent labor contracts add up to dangerous and insecure working conditions for millions of apparel workers around the globe. Sixty to seventy-five million people work in the garment industry, and the vast majority of these laborers are female. Many of these women are the primary provider for their family, but minimum wage or below is often the standard. A living wage is not only a basic necessity, it has been proven to offer benefits to the business itself. Support textile workers by buying from fashion and jewelry companies that invest in fair trade and have transparent business practices and ethical supply chains.

In summary, do your research, choose wisely, invest in quality and above all, wear what you already own. These simple steps can make great strides toward changing the world for the better.