Text image reads "The Future of the Costuming Industry by Sarah Prit"

Fast fashion is one of the top polluters on Earth, comprising of over 10% of total carbon emissions, with 85% of all textiles being thrown out each year.  Clothing production has doubled since 2000, and while people are buying more clothing each year (400% more than 20 years ago), they are keeping them half as long.  The dance industry relies heavily on costuming as part of a show’s aesthetics.

 

If fashion companies continue their upward production trend, fast fashion could account for 25% of carbon emissions by 2050.  To put that into perspective, at just 10%, the fashion industry emits as much pollution as all air and sea travel/shipping for the world in an entire year.  Its creation requires petroleum, as well as acids like hydrogen chloride (mainly used for plating metals and cleaning).  In just 29 years this amount could more than double without intervention.  With fast fashion contributing to significant water use, labor issues, and more, how can they responsibly source their products?

The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water worldwide, with one cotton shirt taking 700 gallons of water to produce.  Insider reports that 700 gallons is enough for an individual to drink eight cups a day for three and a half years!  Uzbekistan, whose main export is cotton farming, dried up its Aral Sea (pictured below) after 50 years of production, which was once one of the world’s four largest lakes.

 

Furthermore, it’s difficult to check every label for every costume piece we’d like to purchase, especially when our clothing needs to accommodate our movement.  For the most environmentally conscious of our readers, clothing without polyester, a plastic found in the majority of clothing, is preferable as polyester takes three times more carbon emissions to produce and doesn’t break down (a concern for when we launder clothing, which is responsible for an estimated 35% of microplastics found in the ocean each year).

Among the most devastating of impacts from fast fashion is that of the labor industry in local markets.  Most costume companies, while headquartered in the USA, manufacture their products in countries in South America or Southeast Asia, where labor laws are much more relaxed.  Approximately 20% of apparel is made illegally, whether the laborer is underage, working more hours than allowed by US and local laws, or in outright unsafe conditions.  Fashion companies often purposely seek out these countries due to cheap labor and lenient local laws and regulations, and as such, carry a heavy burden to change industry trends.  It’s imperative that they look to lessen the social and environmental impact of their products, especially since this is a growing industry.

A grid of 9 images of the Aral sea through time. The upper right, being the oldest and most visible as a lake, to the lower right showing the lake as almost entirely dried up.

A lot of companies are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint by using recycled fabric, and recycling water used in production to use in other areas of their facility.  Move Dancewear is actively pursuing these initiatives on top of making additional technological advances in their product creation.

Technology can help reduce waste when it comes to measuring fabric; precise cuts and sustainably-designed costumes will help reduce or even fabric scraps and waste.  It can also transform recycled materials into something usable for future products, such as common fabrics like nylon and polyester.  These two materials can be upcycled from plastic bottles and fishing nets, respectively.  Technology also allows companies to dry print their materials (this adheres designs we often see on tshirts and similar).  This means water doesn’t need to be contaminated in the process.

Vegan-friendly fabrics also help the environment, as livestock emits significant carbon into the atmosphere and consumes a lot of resources to raise the animal.  Many companies are seeking animal-free materials as they’re generally cheaper, and suppliers don’t need to worry about deforestation (such as what’s happening to the Amazon in Brazil) to make way for livestock.

Lauren Crosslin in a bucket hat and black crop top and skirt poses in the sunlight in front of a bridge and water. Lauren is blonde with light skin and red lipstick and looks directly at the camera.

Corporate social responsibility is a major factor in why companies are moving toward sustainability; people care about where and how their products are created.  Having control and accountability over the supply chain is extremely important.  That’s why the most responsible companies often visit and audit their manufacturing sites for safety (though not all do this), and give back to the local communities where they operate via scholarships, educational programs, and more.

 

We vote with our dollars; companies listen to their consumers if enough say they need sustainable materials and supply chains.  We can read labels all day long, but if we aren’t outwardly telling companies what we want, taking our business elsewhere may further delay seeing desired changes, as the company isn’t likely to see the trend right away.  We need to make our desire for sustainability known, and request these companies explain their responsible sourcing efforts on their websites (something that, at the time of this article, was not found in any measurable form).

We can also ensure costumes have second, third, and fourth lives.  Some places reuse or rent costumes, and studios with multiple smaller performances sometimes even encourage costumes that consist of home necessities (I’ve yet to meet an experienced dancer without black leggings).

 

There are plenty of options companies and consumers have to ensure they deliver an entertaining show with engaging costumes in a sustainable way.  Start asking the tough questions to apply pressure to these affordable changes that will benefit each and every person who lives on our planet.