As end of season sales are coming to an end, new autumn/winter products are starting to roll into stores. Naturally, we’re all a bit tempted to update our wardrobes for the coming season. But before you blindly start shopping in your usual favourite stores, do a bit of research. More and more countries around the world are starting to declare climate emergencies, and the global community is becoming more aware than ever about being eco-friendly and sustainable. Where you shop can help to make a difference.
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in today’s world.
Fashion production and distribution contribute to water and soil pollution. Dyes used to colour clothing often contain toxic chemicals. The average fast-fashion retailer receives around 3 deliveries per week to satisfy consumer cravings for constant newness, so you can imagine the massive scale on which this production is made. And to top it all off, there’s all the textile waste that both consumers and manufacturers create. Simply put, the current fashion systems are not sustainable.
It’s estimated that the fashion industry uses 2% of all freshwater extraction (79 billion cubic metres of water) annually for fabric manufacturing. This makes them the third-largest global user of water. It takes about 10,000 litres of water to make one kilogram of cotton, and processing that kilogram takes another 100 litres of water. Most cotton production areas also require water for irrigation, as they aren’t located in rainy areas. This has already caused environmental damage: the Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its former size, and irrigation is largely to blame.
Overproduction is also a major issue when it comes to manufacturing. It is estimated that the fashion industry produces 150 billion garments per year, 30% of which is never sold. Rather than discounting or donating the goods, many companies burn or discard the units when they are no longer in season, basically to keep their image fresh. About 12 million tons of clothing is sent to landfills per year from people. The fashion industry sends 92 million tons of textile waste.
Many fashion brands have their clothes made overseas due to lower manufacturing costs. The garments then have to be shipped all around the world to the various store locations several times per week. Sometimes the goods are shipped to warehouses first and then have to be driven to the store location. More often than not items are all individually wrapped in plastic for protection. The fashion industry produces around 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually from textile production and distribution.
What Can You Do To Help?
- Start wearing sustainable fabrics! These include:
- Recycled fabrics: brands as big as Adidas are starting to use recycled/upcycled fabric. They can be made from old textiles or even ocean plastic, so this is killing two environmental problems with one stone.
- Tencel: This soft fabric is made from eucalyptus trees, only requires a little bit of water for manufacturing, and absorbs dye very quickly. 98% of usual waste dumping is eliminated during the manufacturing process.
- Linen: This is a natural, breathable, and biodegradable fabric. It is grown on marginal lands that don’t compete with food crops, and it is found worldwide.
- Hemp: this strong, absorbent, and high-yield fabric can be grown pretty much anywhere. It grows quickly and its seeds and oils can also be used for food.
- Organic cotton: this type of cotton is grown without the use of harsh chemicals and saves 41% of water used with conventional cotton.
- Wool: Cosy and warm, wool is also tough, durable, natural, and holds dyes easily without the use of chemicals.
Note that inorganic fabrics don’t imply that they are less eco-friendly than natural fabrics. A recycled polyester piece may be more sustainable than cotton from certain areas of the world. Make sure you are reading the tags to check the fibre content. Look for 100% recycled or organic items.
- Shop less, and shop smart when you do. Cut down on impulse shopping and only buy pieces that you know you will wear and love for years to come. Research sustainable brands in your area or online stores that ship to you online. Sustainable brands breaking the vicious fast fashion cycle are on the rise, like Sumissura. They only produce custom-made clothes made from ethically sourced materials, and therefore have no stock. Another great option is to buy second-hand: try thrift/vintage stores or shopping through reselling apps to extend the life of a preloved piece. Apply this principle to the clothes you already have. Remember that clothes are not disposable, so hang on to them for as long as possible.
- Recycle/donate your clothes. There are many reasonable circumstances for getting rid of unwanted clothes. But there are much better options than the garbage bin. Donate your clothes to a thrift shop, or if they are too worn find a place to recycle them. Some stores now offer textile recycling bins, or your city may offer textile recycling.
Remember, fashion works on a supply/demand basis. As long as we keep on promoting sustainable fashion, that type of industry will rise and succeed.
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