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Fast fashion’s eco-activism campaigns do more harm than good

‘Merching for a cause' perpetuates many of the problems it claims to help.

If you're feeling distressed about an environmental disaster, such as the wildfires in Australia or deforestation in the Amazon, make a donation directly to a charity that can help. Please do not buy a T-shirt from a fashion company that says it will donate a portion of profits to helping the problem, while adding another piece of cheap clothing to your closet.

This trend of “merching for a cause” is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First, it assumes that the buyer does not understand the connection between the fashion industry (particularly fast fashion) and the climate crisis. It's believed to be the second most polluting industry globally after oil and gas, due to the huge amount of water and chemicals required to grow textile crops and manufacture clothing, the problem of plastic microfibres shedding when synthetic fabrics are washed, and the methane released when clothes break down in landfills.

As Sara Radin wrote for Fashionista on this topic,

“For brands that seem totally unconcerned with their carbon footprint most of the time to suddenly launch a fundraiser aimed at providing relief in the face of climate-related natural disasters, then, is more than a little ironic.”

Second, it perpetuates the outdated idea that the world can be saved by shopping. It can't be, and anyone who thinks so should take a look at Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the date when demand for resources and services in a given year exceeds what the planet can regenerate in that year. It's clear we need to shop less, and there's no way around that.

Buying ‘merch' to assuage environmental guilt is also an ineffective use of one's money. It makes more sense to donate directly to a charitable organization, rather than paying a company to produce a T-shirt and trusting it to donate a portion of its profits. Even companies that claim to care about these causes could donate more money if they gave directly, but, as Radin explains, this “would be less visible to consumers.” And we need to keep in mind that these campaigns are more about free advertising than long-term environmental commitment. That is why you'd be smarter to support brands that have standing relationships with environmental projects.

And do we even need to talk about the stuff itself, and the inevitable clutter that piles up when we buy, buy, buy? How often are you really going to wear that T-shirt with a picture of a burning forest on it or sad-looking koalas? We need a return to buying what we need, using what we have, and wearing it for longer.

So, please, reject the pop-up greenwashed fashion campaigns. If you care deeply for a cause, by all means make a donation, but do it without deepening the climate crisis through the mindless production of yet more cheap clothing.

‘Merching for a cause' perpetuates many of the problems it claims to help.