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Professional Attire that Protects Your Planet AND Your Pockets!

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

Guest writer Mariah Matias, Sustainability Expert and Earth & Environmental Science Senior at Lehigh University

The “fast-fashion” industry-more commonly known as the garment industry-has grown to become the largest manufacturing business in the world. With the advancement of technology grew the mass production of clothing. As major brand manufacturers learned to minimize costs and maximize profits, the fast-fashion business began to exude globalization and capitalism. Consequently, we as consumers are the ones paying the true price for the production of cheap clothing. But how?

Dude, your clothes are CHEAP!

Fashion cycles started off as merely 2 cycles per year and have risen to as many as 50-100 microseason per year.[1]

Source: World Resources Institute, 2019

Additionally, a whopping 82 pounds per year of textile waste are produced per person in the United States, while about 80 billion new pieces of clothing continue to be purchased worldwide per year (400% more than a decade ago). In 2014, the average U.S. household spent $1,786 on apparel and accessories. That same year, the average consumer bought 60% more clothing compared to 2000, but only kept each garment half as long.[1]

Now, it’s no secret that clothing quality has significantly decreased with time.

But why?

With the introduction of the “fast-fashion” industry boomed structural poverty and oppression of international factory owners and workers responsible for fast and cheap garment production. Major brand manufacturers minimize costs and maximize profits by threatening to move production to another country if clothes are not cheap enough. In the 2015 documentary film The True Cost, an international factory owner even says “They’re hampering me, I’m hampering my workers.”[3] This resulted in much pressure being put on manufacturers to make clothing FAST and CHEAP.

Cheap clothing isn’t just costly for people, but the planet too...

Cotton is the most common natural fiber used to make clothing and has inevitably grown to become high in demand, especially in countries with the highest industrial outputs. The demand for cotton in India, for instance, has led to the production of genetically modified (GM) cotton. GM crops require more pesticides, which are known to cause environmental degradation, birth defects leading to mental and physical disabilities, and an increased rate of cancer. Cotton production alone is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides. Additionally, cotton is a thirsty crop. The amount of water needed to produce a single t-shirt and pair of jeans is 20,000 liters-the amount of water capable of sustaining one person for 17 years.[2]

In addition to being water-demanding, garment production is carbon-intensive as well, accounting for 20% of industrial water pollution. Globally, we use 5 trillion liters of water each year for fabric dyeing alone. This is enough to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.[2]

How can you save your money AND the planet?

As campus interviews and Career Expos begin to creep up, professional and affordable attire become essential. How can we choose to spend our money both responsibly and ethically while still looking sharp?

1. Attend Clothing Swaps

Clubs and organizations at Lehigh have been known to host a “Pop-Up Swap and Shop” (an idea formed by The Mending Project, Lehigh Eco-Reps, and Lehigh Eco House). Look for future dates and events for this clothing swap, it may be a great idea to keep an eye out for future events like this!

2. Thrift Shop

There are GREAT thrift shops in the valley that sell both casual and professional attire. Listed below are a few shops known for selling trendy secondhand clothes, specifically for teens and young adults.

3. Shop Eco-friendly Brands

Such brands include manufacturing processes that are less destructive to the environment and less stressful for the producer. Review information on top eco-friendly brands that are still stylish and professional!

While shopping ethically may seem daunting and expensive, there are plenty of environmentally-friendly alternatives to contributing to the “fast-fashion” industry. Clothing swaps, thrifting, and shopping eco-friendly brands are all great ways to ball on a budget while still saving the planet and looking good doing it. The power is in the consumer, so remember to shop wisely and sustainably this interview season!


1. “Cotton.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, 2014,

2. Drew, Deborah, and Genevieve Yehounme. “The Apparel Industry's Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics.” World Resources Institute, 7 Mar. 2019,

3. “Watch The True Cost: Prime Video.” Amazon, Amazon,

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