What is fashion eco-guilt, and how can you avoid it?

What is fashion eco-guilt, and how can you avoid it?

Posted by Rose on 15th Apr 2024

All the bad environmental fashion news out there can take a toll on your mental health.

Whether it’s that children are manufacturing some of our clothes, or how scientists are finding microplastics in the ocean, it feels like there is bad environmental news everywhere you look. In honor of Earth Day, we’ll be talking about what to do to avoid eco-guilt, some of the positive ecological news out there, and how to boost your mental health to avoid eco-guilt.

What is eco-guilt?

Eco-guilt refers to stress or anxiety that you may feel as a result of your perceived or actual negative impact on the environment.

It stems from a sense of responsibility or remorse for your personal actions that contribute to environmental degradation, such as excessive consumption, wastefulness, or carbon emissions.

Understanding eco-guilt in fashion

Sure, everyone needs clothes. However, the fashion industry is a polluting and resource-intensive sector, contributing to environmental degradation, waste, and social injustices.

Fast fashion is cheap, disposable clothing. The fast fashion industry emphasizes cheap and trendy clothing that doesn’t last long.

It’s also toxic. Fast fashion is produced with fire retardants, heavy metals, coloring agents, pesticides and permanent-press chemistry. It poses a threat to the people who make it and the consumer alike, not to mention that it poisons the earth and its water.

Many clothing brands capitalize on cheap labor in developing countries; even children work in some of these sweatshops.

The complexity of fashion supply chains and the lack of transparency of many brands make it challenging for consumers to know the true environmental and social impacts of the clothing they purchase.

A few tips to avoid fashion eco-guilt

There’s a lot to feel bad about, but does feeling bad help? Here are a few ways to keep your energy up, and lessen that eco-guilty feeling.

Invest in sustainable clothing pieces that are well-made

Look for classic pieces that will hold up over time. Search out garments that can be composted, such as Sympatico’s line of hemp/Tencel clothing.

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Buy from transparent fashion companies

Make sure you can answer these questions about your clothes: Who made them, how were they made and with what materials? Support companies that offer transparency about their supply chain.

Read positive eco-news

This site, Happy Eco News, shares interesting articles about cool environmental initiatives –they have a robust section about sustainable fashion.

Or check out the article I wrote about how a turn toward eco-friendly practices started healing the Loess Plateau in China faster than we might have imagined possible.

You have the power to create change

Another interesting vocabulary word is eco-paralysis. It is also known as environmental paralysis or environmental apathy, and it refers to feeling overwhelmed, helpless, or immobilized in the face of environmental issues and challenges. But it’s important to remember, especially on Earth Day, that you do have the power to create change.

Shifting blame and taking action

Our personal choices should be in line with our values. Everyone can make incremental shifts and do better, and it feels good to try. However, it’s important to be clear about the source of environmental problems.

Large corporations including those in the fashion industry, most environmental degradation  It’s their responsibility to clean up their practices, and our responsibility as consumers is to pressure them and our governments to do so.

Sustainability journalist Alden Wicker calls things as she sees them and says if we're going to significantly move the needle on our environmental ills, we need to think bigger. She writes, “Conscious consumerism is a lie. Small steps taken by thoughtful consumers—to recycle, to eat locally, to buy a blouse made of organic cotton instead of polyester—will not change the world.”

Although I think change begins with small intentional actions that can build to a cumulative effect, Wicker makes a valid point when she argues that we "Take the money, time, and effort you spend making ultimately inconsequential choices and put it toward something that really matters."

Shifts to make more of a systemic difference

Wicker offers a handful of suggestions for concrete actions and mental adjustments that will make more profound differences:

  • Instead of buying expensive organic sheets, donate that money to organizations that are fighting to keep agricultural runoff out of our rivers.
  • Instead of driving to an organic apple orchard to pick your own fruit, use that time to volunteer for an organization that combats food deserts (and skip the fuel emissions, too).
  • Instead of buying a $200 air purifier, donate to politicians who support policies that keep our air and water clean.

Many times, there’s also something to get involved in right in your backyard, something that affects your community. In my case, it’s literally in my backyard. There’s a forest back there that’s managed by the Bureau of Land Management. I’ve become involved in advocating against selling mature and old-growth trees for timber.

What action can you take to celebrate Earth Day?

Don’t let eco-guilt or eco-paralysis control you

Why not honor the Earth with a “do your best” approach to individual action coupled with collective efforts in reducing negative environmental issues? Invest in sustainable fashion, take good care of your clothes and keep them for years, and get involved in causes that benefit your community or the world. Take care of your mental health to avoid eco-guilt and don’t let negative Earth news get you down.

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