Sara Longo has always loved fashion.
“When I was younger, I thought this meant keeping up with trends and having lots of clothes,” says the Pittsburgh-based sustainability consultant and National Geographic Certified Educator. “As I got older and smarter, I learned how bad the fashion industry is for the environment.”
The recent trend towards fast fashion has resulted in huge profits as new manufacturing techniques bring new styles from the catwalk to customers at ever lower prices at an incredible pace. The heavy use of synthetic fabrics also has benefits ranging from cost to moisture wicking properties.
However, fast fashion has been criticized for its “throwaway culture” as new styles are quick to replace older clothes. The industry often uses man-made materials that emit microfibers, a form of microplastic that pollutes local waterways and drinking water, and harms aquatic life.
Longo is Vice President of Style412 – a nonprofit that promotes and contributes to the sustainability of the local fashion industry – participating in Fashion Revolution Week from April 19-25. The international event marks the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 people and injured many more on April 24, 2013.
Local Fashion Revolution Week events – from fixing happy hour to style swapping – are free and open to the public.
“This year we’re mostly digital,” says Longo. “We do studio tours with local designers. One is personal (Kiya Tomlin’s studio) but most are digital. We have some Instagram challenges and giveaways that have discussions going on. One of our committee members is creating an interactive map of Pittsburgh showing all the places to buy used and sustainable clothing. “
“It’s about mending and thrift and things like that, ways for people to break away from the fast fashion,” says Anna Argentine, a former textile educator in Stockholm who is currently working as a seamstress for a bridal shop in Pittsburgh and is also involved with it Style412.
One of the charitable projects is Style412 Lab, a podcast about ethical and sustainable fashion in Pittsburgh and beyond. It offers interviews with everyone from textile engineers to repair experts to entrepreneurs like Nisha Blackwell from Knotzland. There’s even a full episode that deals with microplastics.
The best way to tackle the microfiber problem – and the many other work and environmental problems created by fast fashion – is to be aware of what you are buying. Read the labels. Do your research before buying.
Not so long ago it was uncommon for food companies to label things as organic or list the farms their products came from. It’s standard now. There’s no reason the fashion industry can’t ultimately do this, notes Longo. It could become normal to disclose what garments are made of, where factories are, and even which workers are paid.
Some companies like Patagonia are starting to research the effects of microfiber on their clothing and are providing instructions on how to reduce their impact on the environment.
If the public demands it, this information could become as ubiquitous as the organic food label.
Style412 is working with Rust Belt Fibershed on a Rust Belt Closet survey to determine “material content, country of origin, laundry habits and more” with the aim of creating a healthier regional textile supply chain and keeping microplastic pollution out of our waterways.
Another project Style412 and Rust Belt Fibershed are working on is called One Year, One Outfit. The plan is for participants as teams or individuals to create an outfit (three pieces of clothing or accessories) from our “fiber shed” or 250 miles around Cleveland. Attendees will exhibit their outfits at the Praxis Fiber Workshop in Cleveland in November.
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