We might not know what the new normal will be – but it needs to be sustainable.
Sustainability is our only option if we are to guarantee the future of our planet.
It sounds dramatic, but it is the reality.
Experts predict that we have just 12 years to prevent irreversible damage caused by climate change, also known as global warming.
Each of our personal footprints contribute to this warming, and therefore we are each responsible for helping to slow it down.
But of course, there are some big corporations and industries that are contributing more than others – and perhaps surprisingly, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world.
But why is fashion so polluting?
There are three main factors in this - how our clothes are made, how much is made and how long they last.
How our clothes are made:
We have to start at the beginning. All of our clothes are made from individual fibers that are blended, spun, woven or knitted into our garments. These fibers are either natural – like cotton, wool, and silk or synthetic – like polyester, nylon and elastane. But each of these fibers comes with its own set of problems.
Producing natural fibers requires land to be cleared so that crops can grow or animals can roam. This means habitat destruction, biodiversity loss and a decline in soil quality. It also usually means thousands of gallons of water and pesticides.
Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, start out as oil that is extracted from the earth. This process requires drilling and the use of additional fossil fuels, while depleting a finite resource and the risk of devastating oil spills.
Once you have your fiber blended and spun into yarn, the next step is usually dyeing. In many dyehouses wastewater isn’t treated, meaning that toxic chemicals get released into our waterways. Local communities who rely upon these waterways for food, water and bathing are then exposed and suffer from sickness and disease. (An example of how environmental and social justice is linked)
Once yarns are ready to be knitted, or fabric is ready to be cut and sewn you start to experience material waste. Most clothing patterns produce large volumes of off cuts – textile waste that is rarely recycled and at best ends up in landfill.
The process of making our clothes is energy intensive and wasteful. But there is more to consider.
How much is made:
It is estimated that 80 billion new pieces of clothing are consumed every single year!! Yet there are only around 7billion people on the planet.
Instead of brands following historical spring/summer and fall/winter seasons many companies are now having 5 seasons or releasing new items every week.
In fact, so much clothing is being produced that brands have been caught burning stock that they have been unable to sell and trashing returned items without ever logging it back as inventory.
But it is not just the number of items we are buying, it is also how we care for the ones we have.
How long they last:
Fundamentally we wash them too often, wear them too little, and toss them too soon.
Laundering our items actually damages their integrity, the detergents we use often contain polluting chemicals while our driers are energy intensive.
But worse than this, thanks to unethical practices in factories many stores sell their products at impossibly low prices, allowing them to become disposable items, and worn no more than just a few times.
You pass them on to thrift/charity stores though, right? Thrift stores taking in these items work hard to recycle or sell the items coming in, but unfortunately they cannot sell them fast enough, forcing them to ship our barely used items overseas, where markets are now flooded with second hand clothing, that nobody wants.
So, what can we do?
It is hard to consider the footprint of each of our day to day decisions when we don’t directly witness the consequences they have, but small changes in our habits can have big impacts.
Look for garments made from organic and recycled materials.
Choose items that have been made from zero waste patterns or with natural dyes.
Shop Fair Trade or Made in the USA.
Use soap nuts, fiber catchers and dryer balls.
Buy less, wear more. Wash cold, hang dry.
Choosing clean, ethical fashion over fast fashion is hugely beneficial to people and the planet and helps reduce the impact the fashion industry is having on global warming.