In her Faculty Distinguished Lecture, Meredith Professor of Fashion Design & Merchandising Diane Ellis focused on the positive innovations and the troubling environmental issues in the fashion industry.
“The fashion industry is a $2.3 trillion industry that employs 1 out of every 6 people,” Ellis said.
Her presentation, “Planet Fashion: Our Clothes. Our Industry. Our Planet.” focused first on the latest fabrics on the market, including innovations in smart textiles that improve athletic performance, monitor health, and provide protection.
She then turned her focus to the environmental impact of current industry practices and of rising consumption.
Ellis said there was $13 trillion in spending by U.S. consumers in 2019, much of which is spent on clothing.
“Clothing is an important mode of expression. It gives us identity,” Ellis said. “But we seem to think happiness is based on what we have and what we own – on stuff.”
Overconsumption of clothing is increasing, Ellis explained.
“We own 60% more clothes today than we did in 2000, but we wear them half as long,” she said. “More than half of the textiles purchased are thrown away in less than one year.”
Ellis said that an average of 70 pounds of textiles are thrown away annually by each American. She had 28 current students and one future student bring trash bags full of textiles onto the stage to help the audience visualize one ton of fabric waste.
Other environmental issues facing the fashion industry include the increased use of synthetic materials, which do not biodegrade, and the increased focus on “fast fashion” by consumers.
“Fast fashion works on a 25-day cycle,” Ellis said. “Why? Because of us. We want to buy so much. We want instant gratification.”
Another major issue is industrial slavery among workers in the apparel industry. Ellis cited a statistic that 80% of those working in the industry are women, but only two percent of them earn a living wage. Most of the clothing made in these conditions are sold in the United States.
A global issue faced by the fashion industry is environmental pollution. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, Ellis said, second only to the oil industry.
“We cannot continue to think more is better. We have to rethink how we can reuse what we have on an industry level,” Ellis said.
After identifying these challenges, Ellis closed her lecture on a positive note, sharing innovations by the industry to encourage recycling of clothing, use of dyes from natural sources, and machinery that uses little or no water.
Ellis also offered insight on what consumers can do to make a positive change. Her recommendations include buying more environmentally-friendly products, reducing purchasing, and choosing sustainable brands.
“We need to change our mindset and get away from disposables. We need to buy fewer and better,” said Ellis. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘Can I be socially responsible in wearing this and in disposing of this?’”
Major change will only come with a change in consumer demand.
“Every purchase you make is a vote,” Ellis said. “If you require brands to be sustainable, they will be.”
About Diane Ellis
In addition to her role as professor, Ellis serves as Meredith’s Fashion Merchandising & Design program coordinator. A Meredith faculty member since 1982, she is also a visiting professor for Paris American Academy in Paris, France, each summer. Ellis is a member of the International Textiles and Apparel Association and is on the Advisory Committee of the Paris American Academy. She has won three awards during her tenure at Meredith for excellence in artistic expression and teaching and for outstanding service to the College.
About the Faculty Distinguished Lecture
The Faculty Distinguished Lecture was designed to represent a significant achievement of research by a faculty member. The first lecture was presented in 1964 by Professor of English Norma Rose. Diane Ellis presented the 58th Faculty Distinguished Lecture. The event is sponsored by Meredith’s convocation committee.