NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The word “sustainable” is tossed around quite a bit these days, but what does it mean when it comes to fashion?

It’s a movement that aims to change the entire cycle of fashion, starting with production and consumption and ending with waste.

The fashion industry is one of the world’s leading pollutants, CBSN New York’s Nina Kapur reported.

(credit: CBS2)

Studies show nearly 3/5 of all clothing ends up in a landfill or in incinerators within a year of being produced.

More than 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from clothing and shoe production.

So as a consumer, what can you do?

“Thinking about clothing re-use, whether it’s thrifting, swapping, rentals, take-backs is one good thing, but also looking behind the storytelling of every brand,” said Sara Kozlowski of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Experts say the best thing you as a consumer can be is educated, and speak with your wallet. They urge you to do research on the companies you’re shopping at: Do they use recycled materials? Do they grow fibers using organic methods? Do they treat their factory workers humanely?

“We’re seeing a lot of materials made from recycled fibers. At the retail level, we’ll see a lot of opportunities for takeback systems, meaning that everyone from Eileen Fisher to Adidas you can bring back your garments,” Kozlowski said.

Eileen Fisher is an industry leader when it comes to sustainability. The company will re-sell used clothing in good condition at a lower price, or use the fabrics to make pillows, decor or even stitch them together to create one-of-a-kind pieces.

“We’ve become known for our organic fibers, our certified dying processes and finishing processes, we’re using the least toxic dyes possible,” said Amy Hall, vice president of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher. “One of the biggest goals for us is to keep the clothing in use for as long as possible in its original state.”

Of course, not everyone can afford even recycled items from luxury stores. So experts recommend investing in good quality pieces that will last a lifetime, if you can. They also suggest swapping clothing with friends, renting and donating – anything that will keep it out of a landfill.

“I think in a way I would say every dollar we spend helps – with any brand that you chose – helps to really vote towards better practices,” Kozlowski said.

Consumers have more power than they think. Experts say by shopping sustainably and recycling, we can leave the planet better than we got it.

Fast fashion is a major leader in waste. It’s an extremely common business model that promotes rapid production of cheap clothing to keep up with ever-changing trends. But these pieces don’t last long, and are often tossed to the side quickly. For example, quick-drying workout t-shirts made of polyester may be cheap, but can take up to 200 years to decompose.


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