Dig through your closet at home and you’ll likely find at least one basic cotton t-shirt. The t-shirt is a wardrobe staple that transcends the fashion boundaries of age, class, and gender, but its life cycle is a little more complicated than its simple style lets on.
In their new video, TED-Ed traces the major footprint the shirt industry leaves on the planet.
Your t-shirt came a long way before ending up on the shelf at your neighborhood clothing store. After the cotton is grown on a farm in one part of the world, a process that requires large amounts of water and pesticides, it needs to be treated, woven, and dyed at a facility, sometimes in a totally separate country. At this point the fabric still isn’t ready to hit stores—it needs to be woven together by hand, often by low-wage workers in Bangladesh, India, China, or Turkey. Only then are the shirts ready to make the long journey from the impoverished nations where they’re made to wealthier markets like the U.S. All this transportation required to get a clothing item into the hands of the consumer is why apparel production accounts for 10 percent of worldwide carbon emissions.
After buyers take their t-shirts home with them, the impact doesn’t stop there. That shirt will need to be washed many times over the course of its life cycle, eating up water and energy along the way.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Fortunately, there are some easy choices shoppers can make to be gentle on the environment. Instead of supporting “fast fashion” outlets, find places that sell organic apparel that’s made close to home. Or better yet, buy second-hand from a thrift store. You can continue your environmentally-conscious streak after making the purchase by washing your clothes less and drying them on a clothes line.
For more ways to make your daily life a little greener, check out these eco-friendly suggestions.