You’ve likely started to think about sustainable fashion if you are like most people. What are the right questions to ask about clothes we purchase?
Are you unsure where to begin? We can help you understand some key issues in sustainable fashion and make informed choices next time you shop for a new clothing item.
What’s the problem with “fast fashion”?
We’ve heard much lately about the environmental issues caused by “fast fashion”, the market for low-quality, on-trend clothes that don’t last more than a few uses or for more than one year. Sustainable fashion is not fast fashion.
A recent report by Parliament’s environmental audit panel found that around 300,000 tonnes worth of clothes are disposed of in landfills each year in the UK. Clothing manufacturing is as polluting and harmful as single-use plastics. Polyester, a cheap fibre, is used in fast fashion garments. It can release microplastics that can end up in our oceans and seas.
Hubbub, an environmental charity, found that people are changing their ways of thinking and acting to avoid unsustainable practices. The survey found that just over two-thirds (65%), of UK consumers want government to do more in order to reduce the harmful effects of fashion on the environment.
There was a research what people were doing to make sustainable fashion more sustainable. Over half of them said that they had already stopped buying ‘throwaway’ clothing.
Which fabrics are more durable than others?
Global textile production is responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. This is more than all international shipping and flights combined.
Wool is one of the oldest and most sustainable materials. It is biodegradable and renewable, and can be recycled. It is now possible to trace wool production and ensure animal welfare standards. This can allow you to make more sustainable purchases, such as knitwear.
Cotton, a natural fibre that is lightweight and breathable, is still used in jeans. It’s easy to see how cotton has become a beloved fabric when you consider that 15,000,000 people bought new jeans in 2020, according Statista data.
Cotton is a very thirsty crop. It requires 10,000 to 20,000 litres to produce 1 kg of clothing.
Organic cotton is more sustainable, but more costly, and uses less water. To ensure the highest quality production, make sure you check the manufacturer or brand of clothing made from cotton.
Is synthetic fabric sustainable?
Today, 69% of clothing is made of plastic-based, synthetic fibres. This includes nylon, acrylic, and elastane. Polyester, which accounts for 52% of all fibre production, is the most popular.
However, synthetics can have an impact on the environment long after they are made. Many microplastic particles, in the form microfibres, are released when synthetic fabrics are washed. All of the contaminants are not filtered out by water treatment plants. This means that they can end up in rivers, seas, and polluting marine life.
Are fabrics made with recycled materials more sustainable than those made from new material?
Many brands are shifting to recycled synthetic fibres. They advertise clothes made of these fabrics as being ‘more sustainable’ and ‘consciouser’. These synthetic fabrics are made from polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), the most widely used single-use plastic bottle. They are produced in their billions every year.
Sarah Divall is a fashion expert at the environmental charity Hubbub. She said that recycled fabrics are more sustainable than synthetic polyester because no new plastic was needed to create your new outfit. Recycled polyester could lower emissions by as much as 32% when compared to virgin polyester.
Recycled polyester is still more energy-intensive than organic cotton or wool, so it might not be the best option for sustainability. It’s about choosing fabrics that will last. Maybe you’ll be able to wear them for many decades.
However, recycling synthetics doesn’t eliminate microplastics. Fibres continue to be shed from recycled yarns just as much as they are from virgin yarns.
EcoVero is a brand new, trade-marked ‘wonder fabric’. It is made from wood pulp from sustainably managed European forests. It is not a sustainable fabric like traditional viscose, but it does have its pros and cons.
How do I know if a fashion label is sustainable?
All brands are keen to promote their eco-credentials. However, there isn’t always enough information on the stages of often lengthy international supply chains.
The only way to determine if a garment was ethically manufactured is to look at the manufacturer’s websites. Support UK designers and brands such as Community Clothing, which supports British manufacturing through the use of textiles made in UK.
You can also check out Good on You ratings, which allows you to compare fashion brands based on their impact on the environment, animals, and people.
Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index is worth a look, which ranks 150 of the largest retailers and brands based on their practices.
Is second-hand buying more sustainable?
Experts agree that second-hand clothing is more sustainable than new clothes. Ali Moore, Love Not Landfill, stated that second-hand clothes are more sustainable than new purchases as long as they replace old ones. Fashion industry produces 80 billion new garments each year. This uses energy, oil, water, plants and animal products. Keeping existing clothes alive by passing them on to other people is a great way to contribute to environmental problems.
It is possible to make clothing last for up to 9 more months. Although it may seem small, it can have a significant impact on the planet’s carbon, waste, and water footprint.
The Love Your Clothes campaign estimates that nearly one-third (or more than 1,000 per household) of all clothing in the UK has not been worn in the past year. This is more than 30 billion.
Donate to charity shops by supporting campaigns like Oxfam’s Second Hand September, which is now in its second-year and aims at celebrating pre-loved shopping and raising awareness about the negative effects of fast fashion. There’s no reason to limit your second-hand clothing purchases to one month. Why not continue the good work throughout the year?
Oxfam estimates that over 14,000 tonnes (or 47 million) of clothing are diverted annually from landfill by donations to its High Street shops, boutiques, and online shop. You can have fun organizing ‘swishing events’ where others can take your hand-me-downs, subject to Covid restrictions.
Is bamboo sustainable? What makes the clothes we already have the most durable?
Other ways to embrace sustainable fashion include buying less clothes and purchasing better quality clothes, as well as making the most of what you have. Sarah Compson, a textiles expert at the Soil Association said that the most significant problem is the explosive growth of the textile industry. If you are looking for new clothes, organic is often the best choice. However, it is worth considering the options available to you. The most sustainable clothes are those already in your closet (or someone else’s). You might also consider shopping at resale websites like Vinted, Ebay and depop, or visiting vintage shops and charity shops.
Renting a unique outfit is possible through one of the increasing number of rental platforms like My Wardrobe HQ or Hurr Collective. M&S just launched a rental program for partywear.
Regular wardrobe purges at home are a good idea. You can also use apps to help you make the most of your clothes and only buy what you really need. 30 Wears, for example, encourages users to wear clothes at least 30 times before they need to be replaced. Save Your Wardrobe offers practical advice and help with repairs and recycling. A capsule wardrobe is a great way to go ‘seasonless’, and create your own timeless style.
Take advantage of textile recycling to recycle your old underwear and T-shirts. The worst of the items will be used to fill mattresses and car seats.