When Maxine Bédat first started her career at the United Nations, she knew she wanted to make a difference.
Thinking back, Bédat tells A Plus she remembers wondering if there was a way to "do something to right the world before it's all gone wrong?"
So she began to explore various product markets, getting in the habit of tracking down the people and the histories behind the products she loved.
It "brought a whole [new] sense of meaning to an otherwise inanimate object… that I didn't appreciate before," she says.
Then, Bédat connected with a high school friend who had similar passions.
“We wanted to have that same connection… know that the products we were purchasing [were] doing the right thing in the world," Bédat says.
But as research continued, she realized that thousands of brands didn't know where their products were being made. When asked, they had no response, or would credit the production to "China," rather than specific people and places.
"As we became more informed we also saw that apparel is not just a labor issue," Bédat says. "We're basically wearing the equivalent of a gas-guzzling car around." On a larger scale, Bédat explains that "apparel is actually the second most polluting industry in the world."
And, of course, that's a huge problem.
So Bédat cofounded a eco-friendly fashion brand called Zady. There, she launched The New Standard, a platform to raise awareness surrounding the issues within fashion production while promoting sustainable fashion.
"We know about our cars, we know about oil, but what fast fashion brands will not tell you is that our clothing is a big chunk of all the emissions and with individual apparel consumption continuing to rise, all our 'cheap' clothes have a very expensive price for the environment," Zady reports on its website.
"We buy 400 percent more clothing than we did even 20 years ago."
Fast fashion, Bédat explains, is when brands produce low-priced clothing, focusing on manufactured trends with a quick (even daily) turnaround, trends that make hardly any sense in one's wardrobe over time. More importantly, the clothing is made from harmful fabrics which lend to their poor quality.
"[This] has been pitched to us as democratizing fashion, but really we're just being sold poorly made clothing on this artificial trend timeline that doesn't ever make us look good or feel good about [ourselves]. Which is why we buy 400 percent more clothing than we did even 20 years ago," Bédat says.
Contrastingly, "slow fashion" is designed more like technology. "It's about the user experience," she adds. This ensures the clothing will fit, last, and please the consumer while production returns to clean, natural materials that don't harm our environment.”
In regards to such environmental harm, Zady’s new platform made many startling points about the fashion industry and its effects.
Among them, Zady reports that the fashion industry consumes 1.5-2.5 trillion gallons of the world's water source each year. And because polyester is used in 52 percent of clothing, those plastic fibers pollute our water supply every time we clean our clothes.
Moreover, synthetic fertilizers, containing nitrogen, are used in soil for growing the majority of the U.S.'s cotton crops. Because of this, nitrate enters the groundwater and becomes part of the water cycle. Plants, including aquatic ones, thrive off this nitrate, thus overpopulating and taking up too much of the oxygen in the water.
"[This leaves] less oxygen for marine life," Zady reports. "This reduced oxygen content, referred to as hypoxia, kills any marine life that can't move (such as mussels) and makes fish and other mobile marine life move to areas where the water contains healthy levels of oxygen. The result of fertilizer runoff? Literally lifeless water, also known as dead zones."
Already about 2.5 billion people on the planet don't have access to clean water, according to UN Water, and the fact that the fashion industry pollutes our waters only compounds the situation.
Additionally, the industry endangers our wildlife, spreads toxic chemicals, and contributes to deforestation and desertification.
This massive environmental impact has caught the attention of some major celebrities, including Emma Watson, who also joined in the fight to promote sustainable fashion.
In 2010, Watson and People Tree, a company that purchases exclusively Fair Trade products, collaborated on a clothing and home goods line, Upworthy reports. "Her 24-item collection used upcycled materials and organic cotton, and it was stitched, woven, and embroidered by fair-trade groups."
Then, she publicly took part in the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC), a platform that raises awareness of sustainability, ethics, and social welfare issues through high profile events and people, according to their website.
With that, Watson and her stylist Sarah Slutsky put together various looks — all sustainable — and went public wearing her outfits on tour for her upcoming film, "Regression."
"Inspired to consider the whole process of creating a fashion look, [Emma and I] are thinking about all the people, pieces and moving parts! This rack includes designers that are considering local craft and production, artisan skills, the environment, sustainability and the longevity of fashion!" Slutsky writes on Instagram.
But the need for change is something larger than one person or a few brands, and this year's climate change summit is the perfect place for a larger discussion.
This December, Bédat will join leaders in Paris to take an actionable look at the climate at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11).
"The conference is crucial because the expected outcome is a new international agreement on climate change, applicable to all, to keep global warming below 2°C," COP21.gov reports.
On a smaller scale, Bédat reminds consumers to be extra conscious of their fashion and shopping choices.
Checking the quality of the seams, reading the labels for natural materials, getting a better indication of where it's made, and asking questions of the brands you're buying from, are among Bédat's suggestions.
"Going back to the beginning, I've always just been exploring ways to make an impact and I just see that the purchase of things that we make every day, the ones that seem innocuous, are actually the ones that hold the most power," she adds.
"It's that same high you get from [say] yoga — you're doing the right thing in that world and that feels so good," she adds.
And in making a change, our world can only become a better place.