“Is this even possible?” I hear you ask.
Yes, it is possible. But first of all, Happy Earth Day!
If you are not familiar with Earth Day, it occurs every year on the 22 April and is celebrated globally. This special day is an opportunity to not only celebrate the Earth but also raise awareness about the issues our beautiful planet is going through, not in the least due to human activities. Each year committees raise awareness about the climate change, plastic pollution, global deforestation and lack of sustainability in our agriculture. Today, however, I want to talk about fashion.
I love fashion. I have experimented for a long time with finding my style and I am always on the look-out for new ideas. I see a lot of talk about the upcoming trends, new collections and seasonal sales, and they are interesting talks at times. But I find it sad to see how little talk there is about the sustainability of fashion, how little people know about the impact of this constant flux of trends.
When it comes to shopping for clothes sustainably, there is this perception that it’s going to cost you a fortune. On some level, this perception is right: many fully sustainable, eco-friendly brands are pricy, and they are so for a reason: sourcing natural, ethical and environmentally-friendly materials can be costly, paying fair wages is not cheap either. But most of all, it comes down to our fast-paced world being unable to support sustainable pathways of getting the product from the manufacturer to the customer, and the customer not willing to wait for longer lead times because we are so used to having anything we want here and now.
The Environmental Cost of Fashion
According to the European Parliament and World Economic Forum, fashion industry contributes to 10% of all human activity-related greenhouse gas emissions, while only 1% of the clothes get recycled, with 87% of it ending up in our landfills. To put it in a perspective, in 2016 the entire agricultural sector was responsible for 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and the transportation contributed to 16%, with less than 2% belonging to the aviation. People bash celebrities and politicians for flying private jets. Many of us save money to buy an electric car or bike around altogether, but how many of us consciously make sustainable fashion choices?
It’s ok if you cannot quite count yourself into the conscious consumer camp just yet – it takes a while to realise the impact the fashion industry has on our planet, especially when chain stores don’t really share the facts behind their new sustainable collections. But if you do want to learn more about making sustainable fashion choices that are easy and don’t cost a fortune, read on!
How much wear do you get out of your clothes?
Some get a new outfit for every occasion, others use the existing one a few times before they donate/dispose of the piece. Some keep using the same pieces for years. So let me ask you this question first – or better yet, ask yourself:
How much wear do you get out of your clothes?
I was brought up to treat clothes as necessity. I never had too many things but was lucky to have enough. There were beautiful things too, things I would wear for occasions. But the needs always came first. We never went shopping just for fun or because we simply wanted something new. Instead we would go clothes shopping if something wore out or didn’t fit. And if the item was in a good condition but was too big, my auntie altered it. Sometimes she would sew something completely different from our old clothes, and sometimes we would buy a piece of fabric and she would sew us something new. There was this almost innate sense of appreciation of the necessity, the resource and the labour.
Nowadays we view clothes as the means of self-expression, and rightly so – they are a powerful tool. In a world where we don’t get to know people too close and judge them by the cover (not good at all!), a person’s clothes can make or break the image. We can convey our feelings, our ideas and beliefs through clothing. Designing and styling are not only a skill but a work of art. What’s disappointing, however, is how the world of clothing has turned into a race. Trends change almost on a weekly basis; what was in fashion yesterday is so ‘last century’ today. To keep up with the fast fashion shops mass-produce cheap, low quality clothes (which aren’t always cheap to buy). They use fabrics that harm the planet, and they pay low rates to people who work tirelessly to produce these clothes to keep up with the demand.
Of course today the major brands have developed sustainability programs and fair trade policies to minimise the environmental impact and to protect those making your garments behind the scenes, but they only represent selected range. They have yet a long way ahead to go fully sustainable, and my fear is that they never will. On the other hand, there are some small brands that are fully sustainable, but they are also quite expensive, which doesn’t help the consumers make better choices, especially when the budget is tight.
So how can you make sure that your fashion choices are as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible, even if you are on a budget?
Easy Sustainable Fashion Tips That Won’t Leave You Broke
Are you still not sure what you can do to lessen the impact of the fashion industry? Are you also concerned about your budget when making fashion choices? Here are a few ideas that won’t leave you broke:
Get to wear the piece as much as possible
Getting a decent wear out of the clothes you have is a sure way to save some money and the environment. Just think about how much fast fashion contributes to global pollution and climate change! Do you want to be part of it by buying things you wear a couple times and throw out? Just think. A good dress or a suit could last you for years before you need to retire it. Instead of buying something new every time, have a look at what you have first. Can you rewear that dress for dinner that you wore to a party a couple years ago? Can you combine a few pieces you own in a different way and accessorise them for a new look? I can promise – there are so many options you haven’t yet explored!
Evaluate if you really need to buy new clothes
So you are walking past a shop window and see this gorgeous piece you really-really want. Or maybe it’s just something pretty and not even your usual style but you still want it. Instead of impulse-buying it, stop yourself and ask a couple questions. Do you already have similar items in your wardrobe? Is it a style and colour that you definitely love and would wear? Can you see yourself wearing it and when would you wear it? Is it a classic piece or a seasonal hit? If you already have ten pairs of skinny jeans or five pairs of cream shoes, you probably don’t need another one. If it’s a seasonal hit, something in bold colours and a peculiar cut, it probably won’t stay in your wardrobe for long as it will get out of fashion or won’t be practical. So why waste money and feed the harmful ‘demand’ that makes retailers produce more and more?
Swapping things with friends or family members of your size can be fun! And it can also save you a few pennies along with the environment. Why spend money on a once-off thing that has already harmed our precious planet while it was being produced and will keep harming it when it ends up in a landfill?
This is another option when you need to buy something new. Second-hand shops and charity shops sell pre-loved things that are in a good condition. Most things barely even get worn before they are sent for a second chance in life. Local charity shops may have some fancy dresses if you need one for an occasion. You may even find premium brands that would normally cost hundreds!
Donate or sell clothes that are in good condition
This way not only you are eliminating unnecessary waste and giving your clothes a second life, but you are also letting someone else enjoy them just like you enjoyed wearing them (if not even more!). Facebook Marketplace and Depop are great resources to start selling your clothes, or even offering them for free if you don’t have any charity shops or clothes banks around.
If you can sew, you can remake your old unwanted clothes into something new – for yourself or for somebody else. You can even turn them into home accessories (cushion covers?), pet clothing or dolls clothes! The possibilities are next to endless.
Finally, if you can’t repurpose, sell or donate your unwanted clothes, you can always bring them to a recycling centre. It may be difficult during the times of Covid-19, but we will eventually get out of it. Check if you have recycling centres in your area that accept clothes. Some councils provide clothes banks. If not, shops like Zara, H&M and TKMaxx have clothes recycling bins in-store. Some shops operate a women’s charity scheme, while others use these clothes for recycling to fuel their sustainable program. There is a multitude of options to consider before you toss that old top in the waste bin.
By implementing these simple steps you can significantly cut down on your personal environmental footprint and that of your fashion choices, while staying more true to you and saving a penny or two. But if you think you are ready to give more, check out the next level:
Extra Steps to Lessen Your Fashion Environmental Footprint
As I have previously mentioned, many major brands now have a sustainable clothing collection. You can see some of them in the list below so you know what labels to look for when shopping the next time.
Street Fashion Brands Sustainable Collections:
- Adidas: Primeblue, Primegreen, Vegan
- H&M: Conscious
- Mango: Committed
- Nike: Sustainable Materials
- Superdry: Organic Cotton collection
- Zara: Join Life
This is just to name a few, but it can give you a start. Many of these collections are based on recycled or sustainable materials. Sustainable may mean organic (not genetically modified and does not use pesticides or crop enhancers), recycled, a material that does not use a lot of water to be produced or the production of which does not require the use of harsh chemicals (such as petroleum), or even a renewable material like bamboo.
- Organic Bamboo
- Organic Cotton
- Organic Hemp
- Organic Linen
- Recycled Cotton
- Recycled Denim
- Recycled Polyester
Sustainable Synthetics and Semi-Synthetics:
This list is not exhaustive, and there are way more options to choose from at a deeper look. I, personally, love recycled denim – it is a proper, thick, almost vintage denim that doesn’t stretch that easily (no stretched out knees). I also try to choose organic or recycled materials, like cotton. I do, however, try to avoid recycled polyester – just like any other polyester, it doesn’t feel nice on my skin and peels just as much. Cotton makes much softer, nicer knit jumpers and cardigans.
Beware that at this level of sustainable fashion you can’t be frugal anymore, unless you wear your clothes for a really long time (think years to come!). If you are not buying the sustainability claims of high street fashion brands, or think you’d rather covert into a die-hard environmentalist, there are definitely a lot of brands you can choose, but the price tag will be very premium.
I hope this post give you some ideas what to do next time you’re clearing out your wardrobe or thinking that you need new clothes. Remember that the change will never come if we sit and wait for it. We are the change.
Happy Earth Day,