The fashion industry is a cornerstone of our society, with new trends and styles coming into our closets every year. But what are the long-term impacts of our shopping sprees and wardrobe updates?
The clothing industry is a major contributor to climate change and pollution, particularly in the fast-fashion sector. The global fashion industry releases an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, a number that is expected to increase as our consumption of ready-made clothes increases.
The environmental impacts of clothes are rooted in every step of the industry, from production to wear to disposal. But can our t-shirts really affect the planet to such a great extent? Let’s take a look!
The Carbon Footprint of Our Clothes
When considering our carbon footprints, many of us overlook the impacts that our clothes have. Our small purchases add up quickly though, and with the global fashion industry reaching a value of $2.5 trillion, our clothes have an enormous impact!
The majority of fast-fashion is produced in developing nations, in factories that are severely under-regulated in their environmental impacts, and that are often coal-powered. Moreover, approximately 49% of fast-fashion is produced with synthetic material like polyester and spandex, which come from oils and fossil fuels.
Even clothes that are made of natural material (wool, cotton, etc.) have major carbon footprints. Cotton production alone uses 3.3 million acres of land and 16 billion cubic meters of water every year. The land used for material production is also a major contributor to global deforestation, with large swaths of rainforests cleared to make room for leather, cotton, and wool production.
Along with the severe impacts on climate change, the clothing industry also plays a key role in global pollution. With such a significant portion of our wardrobes made from synthetic material, our clothes have a major impact on the global plastic crisis.
At first glance, the plastic in our clothing may not seem like a major issue, but studies suggest that 35% of all microplastics in the world originate from our clothes. These microplastics break down and enter waterways when we wash our clothes, and fill the oceans with irreversible plastic pollution. This plastic even enters our food!
Clothing is obviously an essential part of our daily lives, so how do we reduce the environmental impacts of our wardrobe?
A key part of reducing our carbon footprint is an awareness of our consumption practices. Using tools like the Fashion Footprint Calculator can help us keep track of our personal impacts and help us stay up-to-date on sustainability practices, including:
– Identifying sustainable brands – Avoiding excessively washing our clothes – Best practices of clothing disposal
One of the best ways we can reduce our impact is by avoiding the unsustainable fast-fashion that makes up so much of the clothing industry, and instead opting for second-hand or sustainably-made clothes. When shopping second-hand isn’t an option, investing in good-quality clothes that don’t easily break down or need replacement can also significantly reduce our overall impact.
Look out for brands that are making moves in the right direction. For example, companies looking to improve their footprints can utilize quality testing to ensure long lasting, sustainable practices. These quality controls help reduce fabric and textile waste, and assure good-quality materials in every step of production.
By staying aware of our fashion’s footprint, we can keep our clothing choices sustainable and green.
To live a more sustainable and environmentally friendly life, we first need to educate ourselves on what changes we can make and which of our habits are the worst from an environmental perspective. But a lot of people don’t have the time to spend hours researching these things and need short, fast and easy guides on how to make better choices. Parents especially have less time to change to better habits that will be part of making the future for their children better.
So here is a guide on how you can shop what you need more sustainably.
Second Hand shopping online
Location: Not only does online thrifting allow more people to shop sustainably due to lack of time, but also bringing the option to those who do not have physical second hand-stores close to where they live.
Please do keep in mind to try to shop from within your own country, or as close to you as possible to keep the emissions for transportation down.
Search engine: A lot of the apps and websites where you can buy pre-loved items make it easier to find specific things you’re looking for, compared to wandering around in the physical stores trying to find x, y, z. Through the search option, you can search for specific brands, items and sizes. Especially the part of being able to search for sizes makes it easier and more inclusive for people with larger sizes, as most of what is sold in vintage and thrift shops are sizes S-L.
Notification options: If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can in some apps and websites choose to get notifications if an item is added that match your search word. This saves you time so that you don’t have to check for it every single day, but can rely on the notification to let you know.
Follow people with similar taste, size and hobbies: In some apps, like TISE and DEPOP, you can follow specific people making items put out for sale by those people being displayed for you. That way you can create almost like an app that shows you the items of your interests, size and style.
Sustainable and ethical stores
While shopping for items that are already on this earth, to lessen the need fo using new resources, buying pre-owned or upcycled items is not for everyone. Perhaps you are looking for a specific kind of item and you just can’t find it on any of the online thrifting options.
There are stores who’ve made it easy for you to save you time from researching for all brands who use sustainably sourced materials and who used ethical practices for their workers. These stores, which you can find both online and in some cities, have done all of that work for you as they only stock items from brands who make the cut.
As there are many readers here from Sweden, I’ll mention a couple of these physical store options for you here. That way you can try the clothes on before purchasing. These all do have online shops as well for those who do not live in any of those cities.
You can go to some of these stores who sell only from ethical and sustainable brands, look at their list of what brands they are selling and go onto the websites of those specific brands and see all of their items, as the retailers with many brand only chose a few of the clothings from each brand.
Check out the website and app GOOD ON YOU where they amongst other things, research on different brands and rate them on 3 points – Environmental Impact, Labour Conditions and Animal Welfare. For brands that have been rated badly, they often offer “Good Swap” by showing brands with similar style of clothing but by brands who’ve been rated good.
Follow ethical fashion-gurus on social media. They often mention brands that are good, and call out Greenwashing when deserved. Some people I recommend following for ethical fashion is:
Nowadays clothing has become somewhat disposable. The majority of the clothing produced today are made with poor quality, without longevity in mind and in many cases even planned obsolescence(made to break within a certain time with the intent to create a need for the customers to buy new)
This is a guide of how you can give your clothing a longer life, keeping them looking new for as long as possible.
Do it yourself if you have the skills or if its small and can be done by hand. Or you can look for guider or videos online to see how you can fix something yourself even if you haven’t done it before
Get a professional to do it. Support your local tailors.
Opt for visible repair, partially because you don’t have to worry about the mending looking perfect but it also adds to encourage fixing what’s broken. Let’s make it a trend! #VisibleRepair is a very active hashtag, so you can find a lot of inspiration of what you can do on Pinterest or Instagram.
Remove pilling to make your garments look like new again. Rent, borrow or buy a pilling machine, or try using a razor to see if that works.
Repair as soon as possible, so it doesn’t get worse and therefor harder to fix.
Dye bath when colours are faded instead of buying new
Cover stains instead of throwing away if they won’t go away with any tricks. Another version of Visible Mending. Maybe use iron-on-pads or find other creative ways to cover those stains.
Snip loose strings and threads as soon as you see them (I know it may be tempting to pull in those loose threads, but that can actually make the problem worse. Snip the thread off as soon as you notice it.)
Wash less often (Washing adds wear and tear to your clothes. While necessary when clothes are dirty, unnecessary washing shortens the life of your garments.)
Always check label guidelines to make sure you are following instructions
Liquid laundry detergent wears off the fabric less than a powdered one
Wash with colder water
Skip the fabric softener/conditioner
Hand wash if possible
Use a lower spin cycle
Wash your garments inside out
Air dry (direct sunlight can fade colours) If you have the time, drying in natural sunlight and air is usually best. Dry whites outside and dark colours indoors.
Always wash similar colours to remain the garments colours as long as possible
Use delicates bags for your extra sensitive items, like lace underwear
DAY TO DAY
Hang or fold correctly (try to fold along the seams of the garment)
Airing your clothes can be enough for several uses with natural fibered clothing
Use a steamer instead of an iron – or hang garments in shower room when usingth shower or spray with water, hang up & let wrinkles unfold with the help of gravity
Spot clean small stains instead of washing the whole garment
Invest in good hangers as the thin ones can cause the shoulder parts of your clothing to misshape
Store clothes in a dry space
Fold your knitwear.The weight of jumpers can cause them to lose their shape.
Materials that don’t smell, can me aired out. You can read our guide on materials here:
Whether it’s for financial or environmental reasons, you may consider doing a period of not purchasing any new stuff, or at least new clothes. But how do you keep your love or need for fashion if you don’t shop anymore?
There are actually several different option, so here’s a guide for you, along with some tips of apps and website where you can thrift, swap or even get things for free.
Buying second hand is a great option to get (to you) new clothes considering the situation we’re in where the business models of fashion is to produce an abundance in clothing, using precious resources, land and energy.
It’s a lot better to use what we already have than to use new resources.
As second hand shopping is become more popular, I’m hoping that people will shop their clothes with the second hand value in mind. Quality will keep its value for a long time, while cheap and poor quality fast fashion items will have little to no value after a short time of being used.
In a world where we every day get marketing in our faces of what is trendy and not, avoiding trends and looking to thrift stores makes it easier to find your own personal style.
The downside to shopping second hand online is that you can’t try things on before buying it. But there are many pros about thrifting online, like being able to search for specific items and sizes, saving time and for many people – stress, and of course not everyone have many second hand shops near them. In some website or apps you can even set to get a reminder if a specific item comes up for sale.
But please do keep in mind the shipping when purchasing online. While thrifting is a sustainable way to buy clothing, if you have them shipped from far away the carbon footprint of the transportation could become quite large. So try to buy second hand as locally as possible.
I know it can take some time and getting used to the idea of buying pre-used clothes. Personally I used to get very stressed by being in thrift shops as they were often disorganised and very busy. When I was younger I used to think it was unhygienic.But can we just take a moment to address that a lot of the people who think it’s not fresh to buy used clothes seem to have no issues staying in hotels, sleeping in sheets slept in by hundreds of people before them, or eating at restaurants with glasses and cutlery also been used by hundreds, if not thousands of people. Clothes can be washed too, right!?
Here are some links to where you can thrift online. These are just a few options, there are so many more and as thrifting is becoming more popular, even more are popping up. Use your computer or phone to find options near you, both for physical and online stores.
There’s a separate list for swedish apps and websites, as we have a majority of Swedish readers at the moment.
Have some clothes in your wardrobe that you’re not using? Perhaps they don’t fit anymore, your style has changed or you’ve grown tired of it. Well, most people do and just imagine what treasures are out there not being used and appreciated.
Want new stuff but don’t want to spend money?
Let me walk you through the concept of a clothing swap.
Either organised by a company, organisation or simply between friends – people bring clothes they no longer enjoy or can use and then you can swap with each other.
A strategy used by Stories behind things of which I’ve been to a clothing swap event, you leave your things and get tokens for them. Depending on what kind of item, quality and brand you get different amount of tokens. This way there will be no loss in bringing quality items, as you could get either another high quality item or several more simple items. As long as they’re whole and in good condition you can leave them for tokens.
The items then have a “price” of x tokens, depending on the qualities mentioned above.
Do some online searching to see if there are any clothing swap events or organisers near you, or you can check out an app called Bunz which works in a similar way. It’s based on users actually using it, so in some places there’s no one who’s gotten started yet but if you start by putting your things in and then encourage others in your area to join too, you can swap that way.
Or why not create an event with some friend who have similar sizes and do it less formal over dinner or coffee.
Another way to get things for free is to simply ask your friends and family if they have anything they’re not using and ask if you can look through it and pick some stuff, either to keep or simply to borrow from them.
There’s actually people giving things away for free somtimes. Check to see if there’s a local facebook group of people giving things they no longer want for free, or on market place in your area as some people put things up there too.
Especially after the hit series Marie Kondo where she shows how to declutter and get rid of stuff, more people than ever are getting rid of their belongings so get more space (physically and mentally) in their home.
“Sharing economy is a term for a way of distributing goods and services, a way that differs from the traditional model of corporations hiring employees and selling products to consumers. In the sharing economy, individuals are said to rent or “share” things like their cars, homes and personal time to other individuals in a peer-to-peer fashion.” – Wikipedia
As our resources and the use of them are becoming more crucial, the idea of a shared economy where co-owning an renting rather than everyone owning everything themselves is becoming increasingly popular.
The time for buying an entirely new outfit for a single event became more accessible and popular with the growth of fast fashion brands offering the latest fashion for an unreasonably low price needs to end. You can read more about what fast fashion is here and why it is so important that that business model changes.
If you ever need to wear something once for a specific event, like a job interview or a wedding, or if you just really like to dress in different items often, clothing rental is just the thing for you.
Clothing rental is no longer just about renting tuxedos or fancy maid of honour dresses. It is becoming more common with rental companies offering more day to day clothing, an instead of just for one specific event, to subscribe and use the rental as more of a clothing library where you can borrow new items every month.
Perhaps you find something you really like and want to invest in, but want to try it out in person before making the commitment to buy an item that is rather expensive (as the quality and working conditions most likely are much better than the fast fashion options most people wear these days)
Here are some options to clothing rental companies in the UK, US, Australia and Sweden. But there are many more options out there so search online to find what options there are near you. Remember that it is not sustainable to keep shipping clothes for swaping or thrifting across the world, so try to find an option as locally as possible.
Do you too have a pile of clothing that you love but need some kind of repairing or alterations?
If the mending it beyond your personal skills, you can either ask someone you know who does, or you can support your local tailors.
The same goes for altering clothing. Maybe you have some items you love but they need to be shortened, sewn in or in other ways be modified. Try doing it yourself or as mentioned above – take it to a tailor to make it fit you as perfect as possible with the help of a professional.
Have a stain you can’t get rid of? Hide it with a pin, pad or do something called visible mending – an upcoming trend to make the mending of your clothes obvious but do it in a creative way. For inspiration see the hashtag on Instagram or Pinterest.
In Sweden, there’s a repair company called Repamera where you can send your clothes for mending that requires the skills of a professional, they fix it and send it back to you. There might be a similar option in your town or country, so that could be worth checking out if you don’t have a physical tailor close to where you live.
REMAKE or UPCYCLE – alter clothes or fabrics to new items. There are also plenty of brands and people creating new clothes from fabric scraps or other unused old fabrics. Search online to find what options there are near you!
Here’s a pyrmaid to keep in mind when wanting or needing something
In the Fashion Material Guide I go through the difference between Natural Fibers and Synthetic Fibers as well as a short description of the materials with their properties along with pros, cons and challenges.
This is a more in depth guide on synthetic fibers. Why it’s so popular, what the issues are and how to tackle these issues.
So first, let’s take a quick recap of what synthetic fiber is.
Synthetic fibers are completely artifial, made by humankind which allows the properties of the fabrics much easier to design. It is made from petroleum – fossil fuels. It’s a kind of plastic.
WHY IS SYNTHETIC FIBERS SO POPULAR?
Artificial fibers are more durable and because it is completely fabricated by humans, it’s easier to design different properties like water resistance, stain resistance, dyeing in specific colours is easy and you can also make it elastic or wrinkle free.
One of the reasons it is so durable and last longer than natural fibers is because it’s plastic – which most of us now know isn’t biodegradable and takes centuries to break down.
It has become very popular amongst retailers and customers alike, for the fact that the petroleum and the process of making the fibers and textiles is very cheap compared to natural fibers.
WHY IS SYNTHETIC FIBERS BAD?
First of all, it’s made from fossil fuels. And since we’re in the midst of a climate emergency, we need to keep it in the ground.
But let’s look at some other negatives about synthetic fibers.
It’s very heat sensitive and can be damaged, melt or burn
It’s not good for the skin, many people getting allergic reactions to it
A lot of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals are used during the production and can cause health problems for those working with it and there’s also a risk of it being leaked into nature and water streams
It can get very uncomfortable and can make you both sweaty and freeze as the material doesn’t breathe or catch air pockets like cotton
Since it doesn’t breathe, you sweat more easily and the smell stays in the fabric and can’t be aired out like natural fibers, which leads to you having to wash it more often (although lately new syntethic fibers have been designed specifically for this, which is why synthetic fibers now can be perfect for athletic wear)
They are one of the main sources to micro plastic pollution in our oceans and water systems. Which leads us to the next part of this post. How to minimise the release of micro fibers
HOW TO WASH SYNTHETIC CLOTHES WITHOUT RELEASING MICRO PLASTIC FIBERS
While this might not be 100% effective, it sure does make a big difference. Especially if a lot of people start applying these tips to their laundry routine.
Use liquid laundry soap as the powdered version “rubs” against the fabrics which releases more micro fibers.
Put a new filter on your washing machine, that is made to catch micro fibers and throw the lint in the trash and do not wash it down the drain.
Put your synthetic fibered clothes in a bag that catches some of the micro fibers. Guppy Friend is one brand that had those.
Cora Ball is a rubber ball that catched some of the plastic fibers so you can put that in the wash with your clothes.
Fabric conditioner increases the release of microplastic fibers. It’s not even necessary and breaks down the elasticity of the fabrics as well as often containing toxic chemicals. Skip the conditioner or use some vinegar instead. You will get used to not having your textiles smelling strongly from chemical fragrance. Your skin will also thank you.
Wash less often. If you get a stain, treat the stain only and don’t wash the whole garment.
Wait until you have a full load to laundry before you wash, as it minimise the friction and thus release less fibers.
Wash in colder water. While it’s also good to not use the warmer settings to save energy, it’s also better for synthetic clothes as the heat can damage the fabric which then release more fibers.
Share this information with everyone you know. The more people aware of the issue and who implements these tips, the less microplastics in our water systems.
Reduce the rotation speed. The faster the spin cycle, the more friction and the more fibers released.
NAMES OF SYNTHETIC FIBERS
RECYCLED PLASTIC CLOTHING
There are more and more brands making clothing out of recycled plastic, such as PET bottels or ghost fishing nets.
But even this has positives and negatives.
Recycled polyester still realeases micro plastics which is very harmful not just for the marine life but for humans, too. If you watched the little video above in this post, you’ll know why.
There are even incidents of brands marketing with having their products being made from PET bottles, forgetting to mention that those were new and unused bottles. A clear case of Green Washing.
But I do have to say some companies are using this as an opportunity to clean the oceans from it’s plastic waste and making products with it, funding the cleanup and making more people move away from buying newly produced synthetic fiber clothing.
One of the companies rescuing plastic waste, making it into clothing or products is Econyl.
Did you know that about 50% of all plastic in the ocean comes from the fishing industry? So the best way to stop the plastic waste in our oceans is to not eat fish.
Have you ever heard the term Fast Fashion or Slow Fashion?
Do you know what it means?
Not everyone might be aware of what Fast Fashion is, or on what scale it is destroying the planet with its pollution and massive use of new resources. So let’s take it step-by-step.
This is the first of a series of blog posts here about Fast Fashion and how to move away from it towards more sustainable and ethical options.
In this post I will go through what Fast Fashion is and how bad it is
Then I will make posts where I dig deeper into the different alternatives as well as bringing up some of the challenges of Slow Fashion.
So let us begin.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast Fashion is a term used to describe how low cost brands quickly produce clothes inspired by new trends and put them in stores for customers to access for a low cost.
To keep customers coming back and spending more money, there are two main factors.
They create new products and trends every week now compared to the 2 seasons SS/AW that used to be the standard.
The quality of the clothes are often very low quality, making them break or look bad after a few washes. Since the prices are so low, it is also cheaper to buy new clothes than to fix the low quality ones you already have. Which is why Fast Fashion is also sometimes referred to as ‘Disposable Fashion’.
So another aspect of Fast Fashion is that the clothes not only moves fast from runway to the possession of consumers, but also to landfill.
Why is Fast Fashion bad for the environment?
The environmental impact, as with all things produced starts at the source of the resources and materials to the afterlife when the piece is going to landfill.
From growing cotton that needs an immense amount of water and the pesticides used to keep bugs away from the plants, to the harmful chemicals needed to turn bamboo into fabric, to the poisonous dyeing techniques to the millions of barrels of oil that are used to make polyester each year as well as releasing microplastics into the water when washed.
“The apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil. Fast fashion items are often worn less than 5 times, kept for roughly 35 days, and produce over 400 percent more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.”
Some fast facts:
A pair of jeans produces as much greenhouse gases as driving a car aprox. 130km.
It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, enough to meet the average person’s drinking needs for two-and-a-half years.
Textiles account for 34,8% of global microplastic pollution.
A garment is worn just 4 times on average.
20% of global industrial water pollution comes from the treating and dyeing of textiles.
It’s estimated that we make 400 billion mᒾ of textiles annually. 60 billion mᒾ is cutting room floor waste.
Less than 1% of collected clothing is truly recycled into fresh textiles.
Clothing consumption produces 1,5 tonnes CO₂ x household x year.
Ethical aspect of fast fashion
There are 75 million people working to make our clothes, 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35.
The majority of these people live in poverty, being paid less than a living wage while also often exposed to verbal and physical abuse and working in unsafe conditions.
In Bangladesh which is one of the most common places for garment factories for Fast Fashion brands, a living wage is around $340/month but the average clothes maker makes only $68 per month. A fifth of an income needed to provide a decent standard of living and for a full-time worker to have enough money to live above the federal poverty level.
Not to be confused with minimum wage. This setup often puts the workers in a poverty trap from which is basically impossible to get out of.
And let us not forget the health risks for those working in the fields with toxic pesticides or with carcinogenic dyes or treatments like for example chromium which can cause lung cancer, stomach ulcers and anaemia.
The lands around the factories also get poisoned and those who are affected by that are often those who work there. The Daily Mail revealed tanneries in Dhaka dumping 22,000 litres of toxic waste into the Buriganga – every day.
Deaths in the fast fashion industry is unfortunately not a rare occasion.
Rana Plaza Collapse
On 24 April 2013, the garment factory Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster and the deadliest garment-factory incident in history.
There were 5 garment factories in the building all manufacturing clothing for 31 big global brands.
The majority of these multibillion dollar companies were extremely resilient to together donate a total of $30 million for the victim’s families. An amount that took 2 years to reach. Comparing that to the €300 million pledge for the rebuilding of Notre Dame by two fashion billionaires within a day of the fire makes one ashamed of humanity.
Some of the clothings brands that are still to have donated any money to the ones who suffered from the disaster are Carrefour(French), NKD(German), J.C. Penny(American) and PWT(Danish).
So how do we stop this?
First of all, we stop funding the companies doing this. We need to stop buying products by the brands responsible for this inhumane model of business.
I know this might seem bleak and seem hopeless, but there are more than plenty option to how we can solve this.
Some of the topics I will dig deeper into in this series is:
Mending and repairing
This and much more to come the following weeks.
If you want to learn more while you wait for the next posts, I recommend you to watch the eye-opening documentary The True Cost. It’s available on Netflix or to download on their website TrueCostMovie.com