SUSTAINABILITY| Asking an Expert How We Can Vote With Our Wallets



By Ali Thompson 

It’s time for the fashion industry to wake up and wrestle with climate change. After all, this industry is the second-largest waste polluter on the planet just behind the oil industry. The fashion world creates 20% of the world’s wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. Fast fashion, with its cheap, trendy clothing, is especially culpable, leading to 85% of all textiles ending up in a landfill or finding their way into the ocean every year.

Photo by Tim Mitchell on Devel            

Because of concerns regarding the environment, The Threads: React team reached out to Professor Majid Sarmadi, a textile scientist at UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. 

A first step is examining the 3,000 different chemicals used in the textile industry, Professor Sarmadi explained. Many are harmful to the environment and garment industry employees. This does not mean the industry needs to go down a more natural route. Sarmadi pointed out that many natural elements can be extremely harmful such as arsenic, venoms, and lead; a more useful tactic would be to change how fabrics are dyed. Moving from dyeing with liquid to dying and printing with foam would use less water and produce similar results In addition, certain materials such as nylon and polyester can be recycled and used in place of other non-recyclable materials.

Consumers can also push the sustainability initiative. Because the market is consumer-driven, companies often respond to their customers. This means that consumers can “vote with our wallets” and shop brands that are working to be more sustainable and employee-friendly. If companies start losing business because they are not responding to the sustainability crisis, corporations will eventually align themselves with what the consumer wants and begin to take steps to be more sustainable, said Sarmadi. After all, it is predicted that consumers will spend $150 billion on sustainable goods by next year. Shopping responsibly is an easy way for consumers to push the industry toward sustainable practices.

Another way consumers can be more sustainable is to buy less in general.  In the last 40 years, the consumption of garments has dramatically increased; however, as a result of fast fashion clothing has become cheaper with poorer quality. This has lead to more items being purchased and wasted. Shop for pieces that are higher quality so that they do not end up in a landfill after a few months. 

To further extend the life of garments, consumers can also shop for secondhand items at thrift stores, flea markets, and Goodwill; there are even online stores such as The Real Real, ThreadUp, Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. By shopping secondhand, consumers can be more sustainable, save money, and find some unique pieces, especially if they can upcycle or customize them.

By shopping with a purpose, consumers can help drive the fashion industry towards a more sustainable future. 

If you are interested in hearing more from Majid Sarmadi, watch his interview HERE.

Companies to Watch

Here are a few companies that you should support that are doing their part to work towards being more sustainable:

Photo by Alyssa Strohmann on Compare Retreats Magazine
  • Pact: working to ensure that its supply chain is clean and responsible. 
  • Eileen Fisher: working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 as well as ensuring fair working wages. 
  • Patagonia: using upcycled materials and switching to organic cotton. 
  • Alternative Apparel: making over 80% of its garments with sustainable materials.



Bio: Prof. Majid, Sarmadi has degrees in textile engineering and science as well as a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He has written over 75 scientific papers and holds three patents. He also works as a consultant in textile and related industries. Sarmadi has been working in areas such as plasma chemistry to make textiles more sustainable by using less water, fewer chemicals, and removing harmful chemicals including sustainable carpet projects for the State of California.


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