Leandra Mira, leading organizer of Pittsburgh's FridaysForFuture & Climate Youth Strike, Photo by Jared Wickerham, Pittsburgh City Paper

The Little Green Dress: Eliminating Fast Fashion

by Natalie Bencivenga


June 10, 2020

For Leandra Mira, leading organizer of Pittsburgh's FridaysForFuture & Climate Youth Strike, education was the first step towards more sustainable style. “Last spring when I learned about veganism and began striking to protest our lack of action on the climate crisis, I realized that having a sustainable closet was a big part of the lifestyle adjustments that I wanted to make,” she said.

Mira began her protests in May of 2019, sitting on the steps of the City-County building in Downtown Pittsburgh. Fellow activists, students, families, and even Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto took note until COVID-19 sidelined the action inspired by Sweden’s student climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

After researching the parallels between fast fashion and industrial agriculture, she was ready to tackle her closet. “Both industries have similar practices to do everything in the cheapest way possible. This leads to fast fashion contributing to 10% or more of total carbon dioxide emissions every year,” said Mira.

Fast fashion, a term used to describe inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends, may seem innocuous at first, but is having devastating effects on both the environment and labor forces. Five dollar tank tops come with a hefty price to pay.

“The conditions for workers, many of them children, are terrible,” said Mira. “Imagine being exposed every day, all day to toxic fumes and materials that are making you sick and those toxins seep into the water and air. Factor in that the workers are making 30 cents an hour and you have a truly unethical environment.”

Fast fashion has contributed to an uptick in clothing sales by 60% since 2000, but people are discarding clothing more quickly than ever before. Eighty-five percent of textiles end up in landfills and washing many of these fabrics contributes to microplastics in the water supply.

“Clothes are literally being worn for an Instagram photo and then thrown out,” she said. “We have to do better.” Last summer she embarked on a “no new clothing” season and only thrifted or swapped for garments. She plans on doing that again this season.

“It’s fun to swap clothing with friends, it’s fun to thrift and upcycle pieces. I’m forcing myself to learn to sew. I want to reimagine clothing that has already been worn by someone else.” Waste not, want not may have sounded like an antiquated notion, but Mira is hoping that people will begin to recognize that you can still be stylish without exploiting the environment or labor forces.

So how does she hope to see fashion in 20 years from now?

“I imagine a future where everything is about local production. I want to see small boutiques that buy from local production houses using sustainable methods that treat workers fairly.” For instance, in her future, Pittsburgh would have its own special clothing stores unique to the city instead of chains.

Mall culture would be different, too. “I hope malls in the future will be about smaller, local brands based regionally rather than every city in the country.” She believes social media will come into play, showcasing vintage and upcycled fashions for sale. Instead of buying fabric, she believes designers will thrift for used clothing and recreate the fabrics into one-of-a-kind pieces.

“A lot of people are being awakened to this idea and realize that second-hand clothing is of great quality. I love the unique style it adds to my closet and it makes me feel good. We are adopting reuse and recycle across industries and if we can just recognize our collective buying power, we can rethink an entire industry for the better.”

Now that’s fashionable thinking.


Natalie Bencivenga is a regular columnist with The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter.