In the last few months I have been thinking a lot about the amount of clothes shopping I do, (which is quite a lot I admit), and particularly about the processes and resources required to make all those clothes. I have been doing some reading about it and learning about the differences between ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ fashion. Following this research, I have committed myself to firstly, cutting back massively on the amount of clothes I buy every year, and secondly when I do buy, purchasing only buying better quality garments that will last for longer, from ethical, responsible and sustainable companies. I am also committed to looking at second hand options first, when I think I need a new coat/dress/pair of jeans.
Just to be clear, ‘Fast Fashion’ is a term for designs that are manufactured quickly and cheaply to capture current fashion trends. This philosophy of quick manufacturing, quick turnaround and cheap “throwaway” fashion is prevalent in a lot of our large high street retailers. ‘Slow fashion’, on the other hand, is a relatively new awareness and approach to fashion, which considers the processes and resources required to make clothes, particularly focusing on sustainability. The idea is buying from companies that produce clothing through ethical and sustainable production, AND buying less clothes, in that the clothes that we do buy, are well made, built to last and have a minimal impact on the environment.
Fast fashion is something that has only come into the existence in the last 20 years or so, mainly because clothing production has doubled between 2002- 2015. Globally, we buy 80 billion pieces of clothing every year. Every year! Yes, of course we all have to wear and buy clothes, but given that we do, we all have some responsibility in being part of the solution.
Did you know for example, that it takes 715 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed for one t-shirt? That is almost three years’ worth of drinking water. (Source: WWF). Worse, the amount of water required to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair jeans is a mind blowing 1,800 gallons. (Source: Treehugger)
Every time we pop into town and think about buying a couple of cheap items for that date night or that interview next week, clothes that we will probably only wear once or twice and then discard, we are casting a vote for fast fashion. Fast fashion, which not only is damaging the environment, in that it is polluting our water ways and oceans on an unprecedented scale, but is often also using exploitative practices, for example, child labour and workers suffering unsafe, unhygienic conditions for minuscule wages.
Let us remind ourselves that making clothes takes up A LOT of resources. Fabric production is massively labour and resource intensive. Even for natural fabrics, the plants have to be grown, harvested, processed and weaved to make the clothes that we buy. Worse, synthetic fabrics are made from oil and are plastic based, are not biodegradable and shed plastic microfibers when washed.
Microfibers are the tiny plastic particles that are released into the water every time we wash clothes that are synthetic (e.g. nylon, polyester, and acrylic). They are incredibly small so they pass through the filters at the water processing plants and enter our waterways and oceans. Once in the ocean, they enter into the food chain. Up to 700,000 micro-plastic fibres are released from a single clothes wash, (Source: The Sustainable-ish Living Guide – Jen Gale), which is a frightening statistic when you consider how many machine washes we all do every week.
So what can we do about this? Is there something we can do as individuals to try and minimise our own impact: Yes of course there is! Here are a few do’s and don’ts:
Try committing to a buying ban. Just for a month. If that’s easy for you, go for 3 or 6 months.
Commit to buying 50 per cent of your clothes second hand. Try secondhand clothes on eBay. I’ve found some fantastic designer clothes for bargain prices in the past.
Wash all your clothes at 30 degrees and consider buying a Guppyfriend Washing Bag which captures microfibers. It is the first scientifically approved solution to prevent microfibres from entering into rivers and oceans. It results in fewer fibre losses and thus helps your garments last longer. Not only that, but the profits from the sale of the Guppyfriend Washing Bag go to STOP! Micro Waste and the STOP! Plastic Academy to raise awareness about plastic pollution.
When buying clothes, seek out natural fibres like cotton, linen and wool.
Go through your wardrobe one rainy afternoon, and have a big clear out. I bet there are items you had forgotten you had. Put stuff you don’t wear anymore on eBay, or, if its too old and worn to be sold, use as rags around the house/garage/garden. Put aside any nice pieces that you are just not feeling the love for anymore, and get together with friends and have a clothes swap evening over a bottle of wine.
Try and buy only clothes that you know are from ethical sustainable sources. A few are listed at the foot of this post. I know its not easy on first glance to work out whether a company is ethical or not, but keep an eye out for brands who try to have a low impact on the environment. Ask questions! The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the leading certification for organic, non-toxic fibres and clothing. Brands who have this certification sell products that contain no dye with heavy metals, no formaldehyde, and no pesticides.
Remember that cotton uses unbelievable amounts of water in production and it’s important to remember that all new clothing will have an environmental impact. To be 100 per cent sustainable, go for second hand or vintage brands.
Upcycle clothes. For example, make a pair of jeans into shorts. I have minimal sewing skills, but there are plenty of local businesses that offer clothing alterations.
Buy clothes on a whim. Consider what resources have gone into making that skirt that you have had your eye on. Howe often will you wear it? Is it something that you will keep for years, or just wear once?
Bin clothes you no longer want. Clothes that ends up in landfill (and horrific amounts do) contribute to greenhouse emissions as they rot.
Assume charity shops are the best place for your unwanted clothing. Be mindful of what you give. I thought that everything that went to charity shops was sold in the shops in the local community. Wrong! Because the demand is much lower than the supply, most is sold abroad. Well, still better than going to landfill, right? Not necessarily. Dr Andrew Brooks book Clothing Poverty argues that the flow of old clothing from the Western world has had a negative effect on local textile industries in many countries. This is particularly so in Africa, where a third of all globally donated clothes are sold.
I know its easy to think that one little crop top isn’t going to make any difference to the climate crisis, but it really is. If everyone stopped buying cheap throwaway clothing overnight, it would make a MASSIVE difference. We have all got a responsibility to make the small changes that are in our power to make personally now . We cannot bury our heads any longer about the crisis we are facing and making a commitment to boycott fast fashion is a very good step in the right direction. ❤️🌎
Have a look at these fantastic websites for inspiration.☀️