This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
Green is the new black
Fashion is one of the world’s worst polluting industries, accounting for roughly 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. That’s an energy consumption greater than the global aviation and shipping industries combined.
According to waste charity WRAP, the annual footprint of a household’s newly bought clothing, along with the washing and cleaning of its clothes, is roughly the equivalent to the carbon emissions from driving a non-electric car for 6,000 miles. What’s more, three-fifths of clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced.
If these facts aren’t sobering enough, consider that a quarter of globally produced chemical compounds – many seriously harmful to human and animal health – are used in the textile-finishing industry. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Leadership forum, the Global Fashion Agenda predicts that by 2030 global apparel consumption will rise by 63%. If they’re right, the impact of this will be devastating to the planet.
Fortunately, as consumers we are incredibly powerful and our buying habits give us the power to stop all this irreparable damage. Is it time for you to reassess your toxic relationship with fashion?
Ditch fast fashion
The term emerged in the 1990s on the back of a post 80s globalisation boom which saw fashion houses compete for larger market shares by producing more and more lines per year at lower costs. The environmental fall out has been astronomical. Fashion has become a throwaway commodity, with high street brands such as Zara now producing up to 24 collections a year.
These clothes and shoes are cheap for a reason. The industry is so unregulated that even chemicals that have been banned due to the hazards they pose to humans and wildlife are still being used. Many of them are bio-accumulative, disruptive to hormones and carcinogenic. These clothes are not meant to last; quite the opposite. Fast fashion brands want you to buy more and more in their search for greater profits.
According to the WWF, it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed to make just one T-shirt. Organic cotton, by comparison, uses 243 litres. On top of this, organic cotton is generally made without fertilisers and pesticides, which inevitably get washed out into waters and soils, causing serious problems to animal and human health.
As a starting point, look for brands that use organic cotton that is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, the toughest standard for textiles manufacturing. There are loads of brands now only selling organic cotton products. Check out this list, for starters.
This isn’t just about animal welfare. Vegan fashion is now at the cutting edge of textile innovation, with considerably smaller environmental footprints. Materials can include substitutions such as Pinatext from pineapples, mycelium from mushrooms and Woocoa, a wool-like material made from coconut and hemp.
As well as being hugely innovative and the environmentally – and socially – superior choice, vegan fashion brands are first and foremost committed to cruelty free manufacturing and animal free production. We won’t go into details, but if you want to find out more about how animals are used in fashion, please click here.
Swap, rent, share and donate
Chances are you already have all the clothes you need but if you do want or need something new, there are plenty of sustainable options. If you have an event to go to, why not ask a friend if you can borrow an outfit or try renting one.
There are also plenty of clothes swapping schemes around. Check out Rehash Clothes as an example and see what initiatives are available to you locally. Even celebrities are getting in on the act. At the 2020 BAFTA’s, attendees were asked to only wear reused outfits in order to host a carbon neutral awards ceremony.
Once seen as the fusty option, shopping in charity shops is another fantastic sustainable option. And there’s no better time to visit one as charities have been hit hard in the midst of the pandemic.
On that note, try to find brands aligned to a charity or have a proven commitment to giving a percentage of their profits to environmental or social causes. Brands part of the 1% For The Planet initiative give 1% of total sales to hundreds of registered charities. TOMS shoes has a Buy to Give model. Ivory Ella donates 10% of annual profits towards saving elephants (in total the company has donated over £1 million to charities).
And plenty of brands are giving back in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Among other initiatives, shoe brand Allbirds distributed free pairs of their bestselling active shoes to healthcare workers in the US.
Look into brands that make apparel nearer to you. Just like food, the ideal is to buy goods as close to our homes as possible to reduce our carbon footprints and the environmental impact of large global supply chains. This is tricky when it comes to organic cotton, which tends to be produced in subtropical regions, but maybe this is an exception to the rule. We appreciate it’s not always clear cut.
It’s all about the circular economy. If we can produce a system with no waste, where everything is reabsorbed into a process, then we’re on track for a sustainable future.
Parts of the fashion industry are beginning to wake up to the benefits of a circular or closed loop manufacturing system. By recycling or upcycling instead of using raw materials fashion brands can drastically reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Yogacycled has an activewear line made entirely from recycled plastic water bottles. And Outdoor-wear company Patagonia, as part of its Common Threads initiative in 2005, use recycled goose and duck down that’s reclaimed from cushions, bedding and other used items that would otherwise go to landfill.
Check out these brands championing the circular economy.
It’s not just about protecting the environment, it’s vitally important to protect people. Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, a spotlight was shone on the fast fashion industry for a brief moment. An accord was even signed by those, such as Primark, responsible for the accident.
But the industry has an incredible amount to improve on. Workers, even in the UK, can be paid as low as £3 per hour by fast fashion offenders such as River Island, New Look, Boohoo and Missguided. Ethical brands are transparent in their communications on their workforce. If you’re in doubt, just ask – if they have nothing to hide, they will gladly tell you.
Choose brands that employ highly skilled artisans or craftspeople to make their products. You’re not only more likely to support individuals and not corporations, but you’re helping keep traditions alive. Check out Tribe Alive, a fashion brand led by a group of female artisan co-ops from around the globe which make organic or upcycled materials that are free of toxic chemicals and dyes.
Ditch plastic-based clothes. They are most likely toxic. A 2016 study found that, on average, polyester fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of plastic microfibres each time they go into the wash. Older jackets shed more and almost half the barely visible fibres made it through water-treatment plants into rivers and seas. Another study estimated a single six-kilo load of synthetic laundry could release 700,000 tiny bits of fibre. These microplastics pass through our waste water and wreak havoc on marine ecosystems. We cannot survive without healthy oceans, so common sense tells us we need to stop poisoning them with toxic chemicals and plastic. Your clothes choices can play a huge part in this, so it’s easy to become part of the solution.
So buy natural apparel. Natural materials are biodegradable and don’t release microplastics into our water systems when you wash them. But be careful, and try to choose organic. Not all natural materials are ethically and environmentally ok. Wool might seem to be the ultimate renewable material, but it is generally not good for the environment and comes with a whole host of problems. Try to buy organic or recycled cotton, organic linen, khadi or the old hippy favourite organic hemp.
We would recommend never buying new fur, silk, leather, down, and angora. There are recycled and upcycled options for these materials, as well going down the second-hand route (if you can stomach it). We absolutely understand how emotive these materials are and why many people reject them entirely. There are also, plenty of alternatives that are sustainable, such as Peace, Spider or Art silks.
Break the habit
Ultimately, being truly sustainable is about making the most of what you’ve got and being resourceful when you need something new. It’s not finding your favourite sustainable brand and buying its entire collection. It’s about rejecting pressure to follow trends, buy something new because you have to or purchase on impulse for the pleasure. It’s about having a wardrobe full of high quality garments with a style you will love for years to come. Spending more on better quality clothing saves money in the long term and most importantly will help the planet and our species survive. The more we choose sustainable apparel, the cheaper it will become. We don’t need to wait for governments to legislate or for companies to reform, we can make a choice right now to effect change and genuinely help the planet and future of our life on it.