While female celebrities are destined to be asked about their outfits, sometimes it can be a good thing. Emma Watson, millennial darling, UN Ambassador, feminist and, most recently, Disney princess, showcased her perfectly-styled Belle fashion on the “Beauty and the Beast” press tour and all of her red carpet wardrobe was sustainable and eco-conscious, a goal she has been pursuing for the past few years.
While most of us rarely think twice about the clothes that we wear, the clothing manufacturing industry contributes to huge environmental and human problems. Cotton is one of the worst as the most commonly used natural fiber: It requires immense amounts of water and absorbs a lot of pesticides and insecticides. When it is made organically, these chemicals are eliminated but it still requires a lot of water, is expensive to farm and has to be shipped across the world, leaving a carbon footprint. Dye manufacturing also uses many chemicals that are often improperly disposed of, polluting nearby rivers and ecosystems. The shipping required for garments produced overseas emits pollutants and uses great amounts of fuel to bring items from cheaper factories.
Vogue produced some helpful numbers in an article from April 2016. They cited that 150,000,000,000 new clothing items are produced each year and 2,500,000,000 pounds of used clothing end up in landfills each year, producing 2,100,000 tons of CO2 emissions (second only to the petroleum industry) and using up between 70,000,000 to 100,000,000 trees to make cellulose fabrics such as rayon and modal. It takes 700 gallons of water to make one T-shirt and a Bangladesh garment worker only earns $91.45 in a month.
With all these issues inherent to the industry, it’s surprising that more celebrities and people in general don’t advocate for it.
Meanwhile, Watson made her commitment to sustainability public at the Met Gala in 2016 when she wore a Calvin Klein outfit made entirely of recycled plastic bottles. At one of the biggest fashion events of the year, Watson chose to model something sustainable and made from entirely recycled materials. And while most red carpet gowns can only be worn once, Watson’s Met Gala dress had detachable parts — pants, a bustier and a train that could all be worn again and in different combinations.
“It’s just not enough for me anymore that it’s a beautiful item or a beautiful piece,” said Watson in a CNN interview in 2016. “I want to know that it’s not leaving a negative mark.”
In February, Watson launched an Instagram account to document her sustainable style on the “Beauty and the Beast” tour, called the_press_tour. In the captions, Watson explains the brand’s history and their eco-friendly practices, as verified by a brand consultancy firm dedicated to sustainable practices, Eco-Age. Not surprisingly, the costumes for “Beauty and the Beast” also adhere to Watson’s standards. On a post from March 29, the_press_tour describes Belle’s red dress and cape, made from upcycled wool bought at a vintage fair, dyed using natural dyes, using hand-woven linen bought off eBay, and employing an Indian supplier who hand-weaved and herbal-dyed certified organic cotton.
Anne Hathaway is following Watson’s lead, wearing only sustainable fashion on her tour for “Colossal,” out for wide release this month. She has debuted some vintage items, including a dress bought for $20 at a flea market, and she plans to rewear some of her red carpet ensembles.
Despite the existing trend of eating organic and being eco-friendly, few celebrities have really come forward to promote sustainable fashion as Watson has. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to make the decision to make ethical fashion choices. Watson is a good role model in many regards, and shows us that it can be done.
As for ways that everyone can aspire for sustainable fashion, Watson embraces the #30wears campaign: One article of clothing should last you at least 30 wears in order to get the most use out of it. Italian film producer Livia Firth (formerly Livia Giuggioli, before she married Colin Firth) actually began the #30wears campaign, founded Eco-Age, and has designed her own sustainable fashion line.
For the rest of us, here are some ways to consider more sustainable options when shopping for clothing:
Consider your purchases carefully. Think about if you will wear something 30 times. Instead of following the impulse to buy something just because it’s cheap, think about how much you’ll wear it and instead look for longer-lasting items that may cost a bit more — quality over quantity.
Purchase secondhand items from thrift stores and fashion upcycling websites. Donate your used clothes if you won’t wear it anymore.
Avoid synthetic materials like nylon, polyester and acrylic that take thousands of years to decompose.
Try to buy from companies that are committed to sustainable practices and are open about their manufacturing.
Ultimately, it’s everyone’s responsibility to commit to sustainability, not just celebrities and influencers. If Emma Watson can make a Disney princess an environmentally conscious feminist, we can all make an effort.