Staying on trend could spell harmful consequences for the planet. Here’s how to give your style a sustainable make-over
Recycling, walking where possible and taking your own reusable cup to the coffee shop; all helpful ways to ensure you’re contributing to a sustainable lifestyle, but many of us don’t realise the impact our shopping habits have on the planet. In the past 15 years, global clothing production has doubled to meet demand, meaning a consequential increase of more man-made CO2 emissions, which is not good news for the environment. In fact, second to the oil trade, fashion is the most polluting industry in the world. According to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (ellenmacarthurfoundation.org), if retail trends continue, the fasion world could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
Fast fashion is largely to blame. “This term refers to the trend of manufacturing clothing with breakneck speed, at incredibly low prices,” explains Veena Dookoo, director of Rocket Charities Ethical Fundraising Merchandise (rocketcharities.co.uk). “Although fast fashion is most commonly used amongst high street retailers, sadly we sometimes tend to see a similar approach in charity fundraising merchandise as well, as some charities are under pressure to raise money quickly. Unfortunately, this has a negative impact on the planet and often leads to poor working conditions for people in developing countries, who are involved in the manufacturing process.” Thanks to the rise of online shopping too, the nature of click and buy makes fashion purchases instant, adding to the quick pace of the industry. It’s no wonder the environment can’t keep up. Another key issue is the ratio of wearing to wasting, which tips largely in favour of the latter. In the UK, we buy 38 million garments a week and dispose of 11 million. “That’s a lot of landfill,” says Alice Wilby, a sustainable stylist, who teaches a short course on eco-friendly fashion at Central St Martins (University of Arts London). “When you consider that 64 percent of the fabric we wear globally is made of synthetics that will most likely never biodegrade, we are looking at a disposable fashion crisis akin to single-use plastic.”
Although these stats make for a rather damning read, there are still plenty of things we can do to make a difference. “We need a radical rethink about how we value and interact with clothing, because sadly the production is polluting our waterways and destroying biodiversity and habitats,” says Alice. “Cotton, for example, is a thirsty crop. It takes about three thousand litres of water to make a t-shirt and between 10-20 thousand litres to make a pair of jeans. Often cotton is grown in regions that are already suffering from water scarcity. Cotton production in Uzbekistan has drained the Aral Sea, reducing an area the size of Ireland to a small pond. And, synthetic material doesn’t fare any better. We extract precious fossil fuels to make it, creating 40 percent of the industry’s carbon footprint as a result. When they’re washed, synthetics release millions of microfibers into our waterways, ultimately ending up in the sea, eaten by fish and then in turn, by us. And when made into cheap clothing, which is then disposed of after a few wears, synthetic clothing ends up in landfill, unable to biodegrade and further polluting the planet.” Luckily, a shift in attitudes has already started – in 2018, a third of consumers bought clothing once a month, down from 37 percent in 2016, according to research from Mintel. This may not be huge, but it’s a start nonetheless.
1. Shop with ethical brands
“With terms like ethical, sustainable, conscious, responsible, transparent, and organic often being used interchangeably, it can be confusing to know how you can shop ethically,” says Flora Davidson co-founder of Supplycompass (supplycompass.com). “Certifications such as Fairtrade and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) are good indicators of social compliance, so it’s handy to look out for those. Apps like CoGo and GoodOnYou help you find sustainable and ethical businesses and show brands according to their ethical ratings. Having an understanding of the raw materials helps as well; fabrics considered to be amongst the most sustainable are linen, recycled PET and organic cotton. Some key brands to look out for are: Stella McCartney, Finisterre, Patagonia, People Tree, Reformation, Kowtow, Know the Origin and Veja. Reformation’s goal is zero-waste and they have created the RefScale to monitor their carbon footprint and they work with a range of recycled fabrics. Know the Origin are committed to a 100 percent transparent production process, presenting information on every manufacturer and supplier they work with – something we are working to change in the industry, to make global supply chains transparent and trusted.”
2. Get into the habit of questioning companies
“It is only from an informed point of view that the public can make a difference,” says Veena. “You should look for fundraising merchandise that has certifications on the labels that indicate ethical manufacturing in the supply chain, and be prepared to pay more. Prices that look too good to be true, often are. You must ask yourself, is the price that I am paying for this product a fair price for the work that has been involved in making it?”
3. Buy second-hand
“There is an amazing wealth of second-hand clothing out there,” says Alice. “Secondhand clothing already has an existing carbon footprint, so environmentally it’s very ethical to buy pre-owned items.” Brands such as Xupes, who are a pre-owned luxury goods retailer specialising in designer watches, handbags and jewellery, help support this cause. “We work hard to educate on the benefits of investing in quality design that will last for decades, over purchasing a cheap throwaway item that will end up in landfill,” says Joseph McKenzie, co-founder of Xupes (xupes.com). “Buying pre-owned not only makes financial sense, but it also provides access to vintage designs that aren’t available from retailers any more. Add in the sustainability factor and we think it’s a proposition that really resonates with a lot of people. It’s also about encouraging people to re-sell their unwanted fashion items to create a cycle of buying and selling pre-owned, which in turn, will lead to reduced waste.”
Always try repairing your garments before throwing them out. Brands such as Patagonia and Nudie Jeans offer a repair service. If you don’t know how to mend a seam or sew on a button, look on YouTube, or take it to a tailor.
Make the effort to recycle your clothes. Depop is a great buying and selling app for your clothing. You can make a little bit of money, whilst also helping to lower your environmental footprint.
Rent items for events like birthdays or weddings to avoid buying more. There are loads of rental companies that offer amazing emerging, as well as established designers and sustainable brands, too.
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