As someone who genuinely loves shopping, finding out just how harmful and wasteful the fashion industry is, was just as upsetting as finding out that One Direction weren’t actually going to reunite after an 18-month “hiatus.” In other words, very upsetting. People are becoming more aware of how harmful the fashion industry is – but after spending an hour or so researching statistics, it’s so much worse than I originally thought.
- In 2016, 1,130,000 tonnes of clothing was purchased in the UK alone – up 200,000 tonnes since 2012.
- It’s estimated that the value of unused clothing in wardrobes is around £30 billion and that £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill each year.
- A garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second, and half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres go into the ocean each year.
- Textile dying is the second largest polluter of clean water in the world.
These statistics are only a handful that prove we can no longer turn a blind eye to just how wasteful the fashion industry is – the future of our planet quite literally depends on it. It’s overwhelming looking at the industry as a whole, but the best place to start is with your own practices. It’s time to build a sustainable wardrobe.
Start Shopping Smarter
Now I’m not suggesting giving up shopping altogether – it’s one of my favourite things to do, I would never! But when statistics show that the average woman owns 95 pieces of clothing and only wears 59% of them regularly, it’s time to change the way we shop. Just like you shouldn’t grocery shop when hungry, don’t go clothes shopping before looking at what you already have. Chances are, there’s a whole bunch of beautiful clothes sitting at the back of your wardrobe that you’ve forgotten about.
If you need the clothing, keep the 30 wear campaign in mind while you shop. Popularised by Livia Firth of The True Cost, the campaign challenges you to ask yourself whether you’ll wear the piece of clothing 30 times after buying it. If not, give it a miss. If you find something you can picture yourself wearing 30 times, ruminate on it for 48 hours. If you still want it at the end of those 48 hours, and it makes you look and feel amazing, go for it.
Another thing to look at when building a sustainable wardrobe is at the quality of the garment, especially what it’s made out of. Polyester is the most popular fabric in the fashion industry, but one of the most unsustainable. It’s derived from petroleum and the oil manufacturing industry is the world’s largest pollutant. It also takes up to 200 years to decompose. Rayon, also known as viscose, is touted as a sustainable alternative as it’s a plant-based fibre. However, 30% of the rayon going into clothing comes from dissolvable pulp sourced from endangered and ancient forests – be sure to check that you’re buying clothes made from certifiable viscose that comes from non-ancient tree sources.
Look for recycled cotton (organic cotton is good also, but only if certified by GOTS), linen and wool – they may be more expensive, but they’ll last longer. Fibres like tencel and refibra from Lenzing are great options too and are becoming more attainable from places like M&S, ASOS and H&M. They’re safe on your skin and on the environment.
Your Trash May Be Someone’s Treasure (and Vice Versa)
Recently, I bought a Kate Spade jumpsuit that retailed for £350 for only £80! Where did I find such a great sale, you ask? Depop! I used to hate second-hand shopping, as I was always concerned someone had died in it…and I’ve seen one too many horror movies in my time to risk wearing haunted clothes. But honestly, it’s so much fun, and you feel great for going the more sustainable route. Second-hand shopping gives you the opportunity to give clothes a new lease on life. I was once charity shopping in Clapham Junction and a woman found a Burberry coat! If you can find that in Clapham, imagine what you can find in Chelsea.
If you’re looking to clear out your wardrobe, there are a few options other than the charity shop route. Talk to friends and family, and offer to swap unworn clothes. If you work in a predominantly female office, talk to HR and see if you can organise a clothing swap in your workplace – £5 per item of clothing, and donate the proceeds to charity! Speaking of charity, organisations like Smart Works take unwanted work clothes and donate them to women in need who are going to job interviews.
Providing one tonne of clothing for direct re-use by giving to charity or selling online can result in a net greenhouse gas saving of 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – save your clothes, save the planet.
Beg, Borrow, Steal… or Rent!
If you’re looking for a new dress for dinner, date, formal or if you just want to post a photo of yourself on Instagram that isn’t the red coat you wear for roughly half your grams (guilty!) one of fashion’s latest innovations is renting clothes. Platforms like HURR and Girl Meets Dress gives you the option to rent beautiful clothes for a set period of time, and return them after the event. Both platforms aim to promote a more sustainable and circular fashion economy. The fashion rental industry is set to be worth US$1.9 billion by the end of 2023 – this is a trend that’s here for the long run.
Lengthen Your Clothing’s Life
The clothes you purchase have an average lifetime of 2.2 years, which doesn’t sound too awful. But if you extend the life of your clothes by nine months, you reduce the environmental impact of your clothes 20-30%! If you double the number of times you wear a garment, you decrease its environmental footprint by 44%.
One of the best things to do when building a sustainable wardrobe is to learn some basic care and repair. YouTube and WikiHow are full of guides on how to mend your own clothes and if you’re really that terrible with a needle and thread, a lot of places will offer affordable alterations. Or do what I do and whine to your roommate until she ends up fixing it for you! It pays to be whiny.
Ignore the Influencers
Easier said than done, but one way to build a sustainable wardrobe is to ignore the Instagram influencers peddling fast fashion. A lot of influencers offer promo codes to places like Fashion Nova, Missguided and Boohoo, and with the swipe up feature on Instagram, you’re driven to act (and buy immediately). These fast fashion retailers push out up to 900 new pieces out each day. These influencers also use fast fashion to keep content fresh – sending out the message you can’t be seen in the same outfit twice (even though a lot of what they get is freebies).
Replace those influencers with ones like Gina Martin, Tolmeia Gregory and Whitney Bauck – kickass influencers who use their platform to promote sustainable fashion (amongst other great causes), and look great while doing it!
It can be overwhelming trying to build a sustainable wardrobe – but it’s still time to start taking it seriously. You have power as a consumer – when you shop, you’re showing your values through your choices. Companies listen to consumers – look at how many brands have banned fur and exotic animal skins over the past few years and how many are now implementing sustainability initiatives. The more we do to slow down fashion and create a less wasteful, more circular fashion economy, the better. Even if you take baby steps, you’re still going in the right direction!
Words by Kate Evans