“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or composted, then it should be restricted, designed or removed from production.”
– Pete Seeger, Folk Singer & Social Activist
Every piece of new clothing, if not made sustainably, can be the product of countless chemicals and dyes, all of which can be harmful to the earth, air, groundwater as well as the people making the clothing and even the people who try it on and then wear it.
It’s not easy to unravel garments green credentials.
The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter, after oil. That means even if you’re diligent about correctly separating your recycling, put solar panels on your roof and collect rainwater, and strictly buy local, organic produce, you’re inherently implicit in fashion’s shameful truth just by getting dressed every morning.
What’s perhaps most shocking, is how far-reaching the industry’s impact is. It touches on four major areas: waste, water, toxic chemicals and energy.
Here are some frightening statistics: the average T-shirt uses 400 to 600 gallons of water to produce (that’s equivalent to seven to 10 full bathtubs); a pair of jeans uses 1,800 gallons of water (that’s about 6,800 one-liter bottles); the fashion industry uses 1,600 chemicals in their dyeing processes, only one per cent of which have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency; a T-shirt can travel up to 3,500 km before it lands on a consumer’s back.
But it’s not just the industry that’s at fault; consumers play a part, too. Kelly Drennan, founding executive director of Fashion Takes Action says that we consume 400 per cent more clothing today versus 20 years ago and the average garment is only worn seven times before it gets thrown out.
Fast fashion, pop culture, and traditional as well as social media have created a cult of consumerism that’s more rabid than ever before.
Drennan says “No one wants to be seen or photographed in the same outfit, and because a lot of these clothes are made so cheaply and cost so little, it’s more convenient for consumers to dispose of their wardrobe,”
“At the same time, there’s no real education to consumers around the impact of what this level of consumption is doing to the planet.”
While most people likely donate their old clothes to charities, the ones that are ripped or stained usually get thrown out and end up in a landfill or being incinerated. But the reality is, old clothes can be shredded and ground down to make new consumer products like paper, automotive and building insulation, under padding for carpets and stuffing for pet bedding.
“Most people think of rags, but these old clothes can engage other sectors.”
There is a pressing need to transform the way clothes are made. Eliminating wasteful practices, reducing electricity, water and chemicals consumption can have a positive impact on our and planet earth’s health and wellbeing. Choice of our clothes has impact on environment therefore making intelligent and thoughtful buying decisions can help to create clothing with minimal negative impacts upon the environment, animals and human welfare.
How we as consumers care for our garments has a big impact?
Doing full loads of laundry, washing your clothes in cold water and hanging them to dry are easy ways to help reduce impact
Drennan espouses the seven Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, rent (on websites like Rent frock Repeat and FreshRents), repurpose (YouTube is filled with videos that can show you how to transform your old clothes), repair (instead of throwing out ripped or torn garments, or ones that don’t fit as well anymore, take them to a tailor to be fixed), and most of all, research.
“Go to your favorite brand’s website and if they aren’t talking about their sustainability practices, that should be a red flag,” she says.
The Fashion Transparency Index is also a great resource to see who’s doing what right. Compiled by Fashion Revolution, a non-profit collective of designers, academics, writers, business leaders, policymakers, brands, retailers, marketers, producers, makers, workers and fashion lovers, it examines the sustainability practices of 150 top brands and retailers to educate consumers on how to shop and what to look for.
Below are some tips to make your closet sustainable and green:
Organic cotton: Conventional cotton uses tons of fertilizers. The scenario changes completely in case of organic cotton. Organic cotton uses far less water too.
The main benefit of organic materials, however, is that the crops aren’t treated with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and Genetically Modified Organisms. It saves lives, is better for the environment and farming communities.
Clothes Swapping: Exchange clothing and accessories that you no longer wear (or have never worn) for someone else’s barely-worn (or never-worn) items. Shop someone else’s closet, declutter yours and build a completely new wardrobe on a budget. The clothes may not be brand new, but they’ll be new to you.
Change Laundry Habits: Wash at 30° C, no tumble dry and limited ironing will cut your clothing footprint. Running full loads of laundry in a house hold can save 99pounds of CO2 every year. Most clothing shrinking occurs as the last 5-10% of the water is driven out. If clothing is removed when it is a little bit damp, there will be less shrinkage increasing the clothing lifespan. Avoid “wash separately” clothes. Find alternates to dry cleaning or switch to organic/ natural dry cleaning places.
Quality Over Quantity: Buy less, choose well and make it last.
Recycle and Donate: Recycle your clothes, never trash. Trashed clothes go to landfills. Earth has its own clothes, does not need ours. Donate and encourage reuse.
Sustainable closets live long!