Nearly a quarter into the 21st century, we now know the detrimental impact of the fast fashion on our environment. We raise issues with sustainability (or the lack of) in the fashion industry. We urge manufacturers to produce less and produce sustainably and consumers to shop consciously.
Fortunately, some manufacturers listen and learn, and make efforts to reduce waste and produce more eco-friendly and timeless collections that consumers can wear for years.
Unfortunately, not all manufacturers care and employ new strategies to reduce waste. Fad trends in fashion still prevail and the majority of manufacturers still operate an unsustainable economic model that uses a lot of precious resources, employing cheap labour and producing so much waste there is no excuse for it.
And despite all the awareness, despite all the talk about the true victims of the fashion industry, many of us, consumers, are still unsure what exactly we can do to help put a stop to this vicious cycle.
If you are not very familiar with the topic of the fashion industry’s environmental footprint, I recommend you read my last year’s Earth Day post about fashion and sustainability.
Today, I simply want to give you a few very simple but effective strategies that will help you cut your personal contribution to the waste the fashion industry is creating and will give you a chance to take an active part in reshaping the industry for the better future.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
In an ideal world, sustainable fashion would be the one that uses only sustainably produced fabrics and materials, mostly organic, non-toxic, and fully ethical. It would have a low environmental impact by using renewable energy, and be locally produced to ensure minimum transportation from the manufacturer to the end user. It would entail minimal or no waste, curb overproduction by moving away from fast fashion and encouraging slow fashion. It would also include a robust material recycling program.
But this is an ideal world, a utopia. Many of these aspects are possible today, but as much as they should be driven by the manufacturers, some of them have to also be driven by the consumer. For example, waste occurs on both levels. Having a robust clothes recycling program will not do much unless there is a high level of consciousness among the consumers. If we, as consumers, toss unwanted clothes in a bin, dooming them to end up in a landfill, this is on us and not on manufacturers.
So in the real world, fashion can be (more) sustainable by:
- Producing less toxic materials: synthetics are the most widely used types of fabric in the modern fashion industry. Unfortunately, synthetics are mostly plastics that undergo a very toxic processing using various chemicals. This is bad news both for us and for the planet, as it contaminates large areas and we end up breathing and consuming this contamination. But it’s not only synthetics that are to blame. Some natural products, such as leather, also undergo a chemical processing to decontaminate it, give it certain properties and prevent it from rotting/decomposing. By choosing fabrics that are natural, organic and do not involve toxic processing in their creation, we can reduce the use of toxic materials and reduce the toxic waste.
- Using less water: traditional production of cotton requires a lot of water to sustain its growth. So do other textiles. By moving toward organic cultures and cultures requiring less water, we can create clothes more sustainably.
- Burning less fossil fuels: many manufacturers still rely on burning fossil fuels for energy. Many synthetics are also produced using oil, which is a fossil fuel that involves a lot of destructive processes to unearth and is very slow to replenish. By moving away from synthetics and switching to renewable energy sources we can reduce the use of fossil fuels.
- Using less chemicals and pesticides: traditional production of cotton and other textiles (and even leather for that matter) relies on heavy use of pesticides. Many other chemicals are involved in the treatment of soil and the product itself, which are harmful for us and the environment. By going organic, these can be reduced to a minimum, if not fully eliminated.
- Producing less waste: toxic or not, waste is a different problem altogether. Fast fashion promotes consumerism, constantly pushing new trends and ideas onto consumers, creating this race to buy something new and ‘hip’ and get rid of the old. By not participating in this race we can nudge the manufacturers towards a more sustainable model that would reduce the waste.
How Can You Make Your Wardrobe More Sustainable Starting Today?
Here are 5 very simple ways that will help you make better choices when it comes to your wardrobe and positively impact the environment, as well as, hopefully, send a message to manufacturers that would make them reconsider their operational models.
5 Simple Steps to Build a Sustainable Wardrobe
Look at the labels when shopping. What is the item made of? Is it polyester? Cotton? Something else? Synthetics and traditionally cultivated natural fabrics have a huge environmental footprint and can be quite toxic both to the environment and the wearer.
Ensure that you choose Organic Cotton, Organic Linen, Organic Hemp or Organic Bamboo over any synthetics or traditionally grown cultures. If it’s not organic, see if there is an organic alternative. Many high street chains offer organic ranges nowadays and many pieces now have an organic version. Choose organic whenever you can.
A word on silk: although a natural material, it is usually not produced ethically. When buying silk, it’s best to ensure that it’s not only organic, but also ‘peace’ silk. Peace silk does not harm the silkworms that produce the silk from mulberry. Peace mulberry silk is high-quality, ethical and is very comfortable to wear.
With the multiple programs on clothes recycling, many manufacturers now introduce a range of clothes that are made using recycled materials. You can find Recycled denim, cotton, polyester, silk and cashmere among the others. While recycled polyester and other synthetics are less favourable of all choices, it is still a better option than buying new synthetics. The same goes for fabrics of animal origin that are normally not considered ethical, such as silk or cashmere.
Not all manmade fabrics are toxic and wasteful like polyester. Lyocell, also trademarked as Tencell, is a fibre made from cellulose from wood. It does not require the use of pesticides or excessive water, and is very sustainable – even more so than cotton. Modal is another renewable material that is sustainable and not toxic.
When it comes to buying big brands such as Gucci, D&G, etc., or buying clothes made of natural, animal-derived fabrics, such as wool or leather, go vintage. First of all, big brands are costly and generally not that bothered with sustainability – they know they won’t go out of business just for the name and reputation they have made. Second, animal-derived fabrics are almost never ethical and often not that environmentally friendly at all (look at leather, for example). Why inflict more suffering on the animals, contribute to environmental pollution and stuff the pockets of the big designers, when you can save yourself some money and buy these clothes vintage instead? Vintage does not necessarily mean it’s been worn by anyone else, many people sell their pieces after wearing it once or not wearing at all.
Vintage things can be thrifted in local second-hand shops. Alternatively, there are online shops and platforms that sell vintage clothes. If you are based in Ireland, I highly recommend checking out Reverie Vintage.
Choose Classical over Trendy
This is a final piece of advice and may not be as straight forward as buying vintage or checking composition labels, but it is a great helper in building a timeless wardrobe that will not look out of place a couple months later. It doesn’t mean your clothes have to be boring, black and white kind of style (unless this is your favourite look!). You can still wear colourful, bright items but choose solid colours and subtle patterns such as polka dot or stripes instead of wild prints, and go for tailored or straight, clean cuts. Make sure that clothing that you pick feels true to you, sits comfortably and is the right size. If you really love the way you feel in these clothes, you won’t feel like you need more and more clothes to fill the gaps in your wardrobe.
I hope this helps you build a better, more sustainable wardrobe starting today. It isn’t very difficult, as you can see. It only takes a little change in shopping habits and consciousness. Together, let’s make it a year of sustainable fashion revolution!