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Fashion show held at site visible from space — and it's shining light on 'a global sacrifice zone'

Each outfit represents the various ways that waste from the fashion industry damages the environment.

Each outfit represents the various ways that waste from the fashion industry damages the environment.

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum

In Chile's vast Atacama Desert, an environmental organization partnered with fashion activists to put on a fashion show amid heaps of discarded clothing so vast that they can be seen from space. 

The models wore outfits stitched together from the piles of textile waste, sending a clear message about the fashion industry's devastating impacts.

What's happening?

According to the Guardian, the show was a collaborative effort between Desierto Vestido — a non-governmental organization that raises awareness about the environmental damage caused by textiles — fashion activist group Fashion Revolution Brazil, and Artplan, a Brazilian advertising firm.

The outlet explained that the show took place in April and centered around the theme of the four elements — earth, water, fire, and air. Each outfit represents the various ways that waste from the fashion industry damages the environment. 

Models used a dusty road lined with hundreds of unwanted garments as their catwalk, showing off secondhand clothing that would've otherwise been left to rot in the desert sun.  

The World Economic Forum posted a video of the event — dubbed Atacama Fashion Week 2024 — on its Instagram account (@worldeconomicforum). 

Maya Ramos, a stylist and visual artist who designed some of the models' clothing, told the Guardian: "The problem is more than fashion and the supply chain. It's a societal problem. People, through a lack of connection with nature, are consuming more than they need at an unbridled pace."

"I think this has to come down to the prevention of mass clothing production. Instead of figuring out what to do with the waste, prevent the production in the first place," one commenter on the video said. 

Why is fashion industry waste important?

According to WEF, citing data from AFP and The Independent, Chile imports over 66,000 tons of secondhand clothing annually, nearly 43,000 of which is illegally dumped in the Atacama Desert.

Many tourists flock to the desert because of its breathtaking beauty, but locals who live near the dump sites have a much different perspective, per the Guardian

"This place is being used as a global sacrifice zone where waste from different parts of the world arrives and ends up around the municipality of Alto Hospicio," Ángela Astudillo, co-founder of Desierto Vestido, told the outlet.

The outlet explained that this is among the poorest cities in Chile, where the locals regularly inhale toxic gases as the discarded garments are incinerated. In addition to being harmful to humans, the piles of unwanted clothing destabilize the soil and damage the ozone layer, the Guardian reported.

According to WEF, the fashion industry is incredibly polluting, responsible for 10% of annual global carbon pollution and 20% of worldwide industrial wastewater contamination. Meanwhile, 73% of clothing materials are landfilled or burned every year, and only 1% gets recycled, per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

What's being done about textile pollution?

The Guardian reported that Chilean officials are issuing fines to people caught dumping clothing in the desert. However, only populated areas are regularly monitored, making it hard to enforce the rules. 

Luckily, the fashion industry is slowly becoming more sustainable. The global secondhand clothing market grew 18% last year, 15 times faster than the overall retail sector, as WEF noted, citing data from ThredUp

Several clothing brands, such as Eileen Fisher and Sandro, will even let customers send in or list old clothing on their website for cash back, making it profitable to buy secondhand. 

You can also help reduce fashion waste by shopping at thrift stores, supporting eco-friendly brands, and upcycling or selling old clothing.

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