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Environment

Emma Watson wore a dress made of plastic bottles to the Met Gala

For this year’s Met Gala, Emma Watson wanted to show the potential of holistic fashion--clothes that are made in ethical and sustainable ways.

This is a big deal because the Met Gala is one of the most vaunted fashion events in the world. Millions of people scrutinize the outfits worn and the point for most attendees is to look good. So centering an appearance on environmental advocacy is a bold move--but if anyone were to take up the mantle of activism, it would be the great Emma Watson.  

Each part of her outfit was meant to evoke different parts of the fashion supply chain, which is sprawling and environmentally destructive , but often invisible to consumers.

First off, sourcing materials.

For the outfit’s fabric, designers somehow spun recycled plastic bottles into different yarns. Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants in the world, harming animals and leaching toxic chemicals into ecosystems. Other designers have tried to incorporate recycled plastic into clothes, but the idea has never really caught on in a convincing way. Emma’s dress could give the movement a boost and bring an abundant artificial resource into the global fashion supply chain.

For the linings, organic cotton and silk were used. Cotton is typically drenched in chemicals while cultivated, jeopardizing the health of workers and seriously damaging the integrity of the environment. Organic cotton and silk are cultivated without heavy chemicals.

Both textiles were also raised with “high social standards,” which likely means that workers were treated fairly and paid a decent wage. Millions of garment workers around the world are routinely exploited while making clothes for some of the world’s biggest brands. Insisting on clothes being made by dignified workers can end this injustice and reduce global poverty.  

Finally, Emma made sure that all 3 pieces of the outfit could be reused. The trousers and bustier can be worn on their own and the gown can be worn with a future red carpet look.

This might seem benign, but red carpet looks are traditionally used only once, partly because they can be impractical or thematic and partly because of the expectation of novelty in celebrity culture. This tradition breeds excessive consumption. Young people mirror this habit at school dances (it is “Prom Season” in the US) and it plays out in the broader culture through fast fashion--the consumption of cheap clothes worn only a few times and then discarded. Fast fashion distorts every part of the supply chain, leading to the destruction of the environment and rampant abuse of workers.

Emma’s vote in favor of #30wears departs from this trend and could encourage her fans to dress in similarly sustainable ways.

As she wrote in a Facebook postabout the Met Gala dress, “[the outfit] represents a connection between myself and all the people in the supply chain who played a role in creating it.”

Shopping for clothes is almost always decontextualized. Clothes are stylishly arrayed, row after row, in stores or on web sites. There’s no sign of the people who toiled, the materials used, the miles traveled, and there’s no description beyond the “Made in X” line on the label. This vanished past makes it easy to forget moral responsibilities around a purchase and it reduces the chance that a shopper will reflect on the consequences of his or her consumerism.

Remembering that everything you buy is connected to other people and the health of the planet doesn’t have to be a drag.

As Emma shows, doing so can make you feel AND look great.