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How Dressing for Success Can Take on a Whole New Meaning for the Environment

Young business leaders are becoming more aware of the origin of their clothing, how it's manufactured and the effects their purchases could have on the environment.

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Although it's been a classic rule of thumb for decades, the rhyming adage "dress for success" can be interpreted in more ways than one. Some see it as a means to an end — to get the results they want, to close an important deal — they need to dress like a winner! Proper business attire is a sure sign of respect for yourself and others. When in the middle of an important negotiation, looking and feeling good is just as crucial as other factors that will affect the outcome. These days, there is something that is perhaps even more important to consider: Social responsibility and the environmental impact of your wardrobe.

The capacity to generate environmental consciousness by wearing sustainable fashion is trending. Many of the world's premier designers have made the vital decision to forgo collections that use real animal fur, and instead have made the switch to vegan "fur" and "leather." Additionally, the usage of recycled fabrics has increased incrementally, as consumer awareness continues to rise, specifically regarding issues of sustainability with the clothes that they wear and the foods they choose to eat.

On a social and cultural level, creating a better and healthier work environment for factory workers in third world countries is also impacting the consumer's decision about whether or not to purchase certain items of clothing, even if that decision is being made halfway around the world. In our digital age, the fashion-conscious consumer who also happens to be concerned about social issues, climate change and the environment, can much more easily access the origin of the designer pieces that are sold — for example, in their favorite NYC department store.

Related: Sustainable Fashion Is The New Trend

The German statement "Kleider machen leute" can be translated to "Fashion makes the person," and it corresponds with the sage advice to "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." This may be rooted more deeply than we think. A number of studies have demonstrated that what you decide to wear on any given day can impact both your physical and mental performance.

A growing body of research suggests that there is, in fact, a biological reaction that occurs when one puts on a stylish dress or a bespoke tailored suit. A conclusive common response is that the well-dressed subject "feels like a new person." Scientific studies have postulated that wearing formal business attire actually demonstrated an increase in abstract thinking — an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. Other experiments suggested the effects are related to feelings of power and confidence that ensue from putting on "suitable" formal attire.

On the other hand, wearing informal clothing during a business meeting may hurt your credibility during times of negotiation. Some studies show that male subjects wore their usual comfortable, casual clothing were unable to get the results that their counterparts in suits were able to obtain.

However, like many other common business practices, the need to "dress for success" should not supersede our desire to preserve the environment. Educating ourselves about the dangers of fast fashion and its negative impacts on the environment,can help us to understand that just because something looks good doesn't mean it is good. We can recognize that dressing for success should require more than our personal declarations.

Related: Is Sustainability the Future Of Modern Fashion Industry?

The negative impacts of fast fashion

As the concept of "fast fashion" has become familiar to many, it's now found to be ubiquitous in conversations regarding environmental consciousness, with a continued focus on the relationship between fashion and sustainability. Defined as cheaply-made, mass-produced garments copied from runway couture, fast fashion quickly finds its way onto the racks to be sold at a low price point. Swift production, distribution and marketing means that retailers are able to maximize on current trends, enabling consumers to acquire product differentiation at lower prices.

The production of fast fashion, which uses massive amounts of water and energy, is having a devastating impact on the environment. This includes the ongoing depletion of non-renewable sources and production that results in one-tenth of total global carbon emissions. Business Insider warns that textile dyeing is the world's second-largest polluter of water, because at the end of the process, the leftover water is commonly discarded into rivers and streams. Adding insult to injury, 85% of textiles end up in dumps each year.

The fashion industry is the second largest consumer of water, among all other industries. To make one cotton shirt, it takes approximately 700 gallons of water, and a whopping 2,000 gallons are required to produce a pair of jeans, resulting in dried-up water sources. Here's another frightening statistic: Washing clothes releases half a million tons of microfibers into the oceans each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

On top of all this, fast fashion poses societal problems, especially in developing economies. Eighty percent of apparel is made by young women between 18 and 24, according to the nonprofit organization called Remake. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported disturbing evidence of forced labor, as well as child labor, in multiple countries in South America and the Asian-Pacific region. Profits and sales often take precedence over human welfare in order to maintain the speed at which fast fashion is produced.

Related: Meet the Entrepreneurs Who Are Trying to Save Our Planet With Sustainable Fashion

The solution: Slow it down!

What can we, as a society, do to counteract fast fashion? The answer seems obvious: Practice "slow fashion," which is an extensive movement that proposes putting a stop to mindless consumption to mitigate the effects of excessive production and overcomplicated supply chains. It advocates for manufacturing that respects the environment and, of course, the world's inhabitants — both humans and animals.

The World Resources Institute posits that companies must design and invest in better business models to augment the usefulness and life cycle of clothes. Governments around the world are recognizing the need to be more actively involved in the damaging effects of the fashion industry. Launched by the UN, The Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is tackling the damage resulting from fast fashion, as it fervently seeks to "halt the environmentally and socially destructive practices of fashion."

Cotton, one of the primary fabrics used in fast fashion products, generates more environmental issues. For example, pesticides considered necessary for its growth present health hazards to farmers. As a counterpoint, there are plenty of other fabrics that are environmentally friendly, more sustainable and optimal for use in the manufacturing process — such as linen, wild silk, hemp and lyocell — and organic cotton poses none of the dangers of traditional cotton.

Some conscientious shoppers are reducing their consumption of fast fashion by buying from secondhand sellers. Buying someone else's unwanted clothes or donating those that you no longer want, many of which are like new or barely worn, can change the game significantly. Renting clothes is another popular solution, especially for a one-off occasion such as a wedding or a themed party. Retailers like Adidas are doing their own experimenting, with things like personalized gear, which cuts down on returns, increases customer satisfaction and reduces inventory. Ralph Lauren has declared that the company will use 100% sustainably-sourced materials by 2025.

Modern, successful entrepreneurs know that dressing for success means making fashion choices that empower them to look good and feel confident, for everything from their daily interactions with colleagues to a crucial meeting that could further their career path. However, more and more, these young business leaders are becoming aware of the origin of their products, how the clothing is manufactured and the effects their purchases could have on the environment. This enables them to be proud of the environmentally-friendly choices they are making to support our planet. When one is considering how to help reduce the negative effects of fast fashion, remember this other saying: "Less is always more."

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