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Is Your Choice Of Clothing Leading To Environmental Degradation?

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

It is transparent to all that fashion is an eminent form of expression. It occupies a humongous space in our culture wherein folks willingly spend substantial amounts on clothes to follow the seasonal style. This magnificent amount of money has made the fashion industry one of the highest wealth-generating industries all across the globe.

It goes without saying that clothing is a sign of status in society, and in an attempt to look pleasing, people follow the perpetual pursuit of shopping. No matter how much you adore that pretty pink dress of yours, putting it on more than once to a party feels like a felony.

denim jeans
Representative Image. (Source: pxfuel)

To avoid such discomfiture, people have drifted more towards the notion of fast fashion to keep up with current clothing trends and to avoid the odds of reiterating their attire by simply switching between disparate styles. This approach has played a prime role in propagating fast fashion.

As a matter of fact, fast fashion is a replica of eye-catchy catwalk trends, contrived from cheap material by employing cheap labour in a short span and sold at a pocket-friendly price. Its marketing model makes cheap clothes covetable. Moreover, a person’s fashion statement is treated as a token of sophistication and a good dressing style is deemed imperative to preserve this societal status.

Simply put, it has become more of a status symbol. Having said that, in this rampant race of looking rich, we are becoming poor and simultaneously degrading our planet. One can easily infer that it is a pressing problem that needs to be dealt with promptly.

Considering this prevalent clothing craze, an apt tagline for Gen Z amid the series of current distressing events would be “all stressed but well dressed”.

In lieu of booking an appointment with a therapist, our generation is inclined more towards splurging on online shopping just to look good on the outside rather than ruminating about fixing cracks on the inside (psyche).

Unfortunately, in this entire process, we are overlooking the abysmal impact of this slippery slope of shopping that is inching us towards the brink of environmental deterioration.

The colossal change in the apparel arena has its own consequences, which are also being faced by the downtrodden who work incessantly up to 72 hours straight in sweatshops without any promise of fair payment.

Workers in textile factory
Representative Image. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Moreover, ceaseless cloth production also leads to child labour, human trafficking and forced labour to generate maximum profit at minimal cost by employing cheap labour and using cheap material.

Environmental Impact

Simply put, fashion retailing follows a complex chain of cloth supplies that poses a serious threat to the environment due to its extreme mode of marketing.

Renowned retailers such as H&M and ZARA are considered symbols of status, creating an unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor. Furthermore, these brands are primarily greenwashing the masses by duping their customers into believing that their products are eco-friendly and support sustainable fashion by concealing facts.

Fast fashion is subtly stifling the legacy brands because we all want to look rich without actually having to pay that price.

It has been reported that the apparel industry is the second-largest water polluter following the oil industry, which is an alarming factor. Moreover, the colossal consumption of water in toxic textile production triggers an outright concern. This industry is the third-largest discharger of wastewater and the second-largest consumer of chemicals.

One cannot skip the mention of polyester while conversing about clothes. It is a non-biodegradable pollutant and a major cloth component derived from petroleum which is awfully deleterious.

In the past 20 years, the demand for such synthetic materials incorporating viscose rayon has grown exponentially. As a result, the level of microfiber pollution is increasing by leaps and bounds, which is also endangering aquatic life.

In a world where people in disparate corners of the globe undergo destitution and have no access to drinking water, the fashion industry is recklessly drying up vital water resources. Extreme overuse of water for cotton farming is causing cureless damage to the blue planet.

zara store
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

The trend-driven fashion industry, accompanied by the toxic flex culture of social media that tacitly pushes people into believing that their closet is always running out of style, is another contributing factor accountable for the escalation of global warming.

It begets 10% of global carbon emissions along with 35% of predominant microplastic pollution. Furthermore, studies have shown that 87% of clothes are dumped directly into landfills or end up in incinerators.

It is indisputable that fast fashion allows us to enjoy an affordable buy. But no one can deny the fact that it is very much similar to fast food that gratifies our urges for the time being but is actually detrimental in the long run.

How Can We Mend This Problem?

Well, the answer is not difficult. The first step to solving any problem is acknowledging its presence. Textile industries ought to take corrective measures and figure out a way of recycling textile waste on a large scale. It is estimated that only 12% of clothing material is recycled.

Thus, it is imperative to act in the nick of time to avert this imminent environmental collapse. To curb this surge of degradation, thrifting comes into play. Thriftworld is a medium through which we can cut this chain of baneful fast fashion pollution and render second life to less-used clothes by simply buying old vintage garments, which can cut down excess cloth production.

Thrifting is gaining momentum in various western countries wherein folks can donate their clothes and thrift stores sell them and use this money for donations. Above all, it is somewhat eco-friendly. If not through thrifting, one can help mitigate textile pollution by simply buying fewer clothes which can make a big difference.

Change precedes awareness and, hence, we need to be aware of how we can bring a change by taking small steps. After all, the onus is on us humans to halt the level of environmental degradation.

Featured Image via hippopx
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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