Yes, our fashion choices impact the world: the fashion industry is a top global polluter. So, yes, your choices towards each brand you direct your money to, matter. Fast fashion is not sustainable, and fast fashion brands will definitely not become sustainable any time soon. Your choices have an impact. It's up to you whether that impact is positive or negative.
Climate change was described by naturalist David Attenborough as the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced.
Intense drought, storms, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, heat waves, and warming oceans… These are all challenges we are facing and will continue to face because they will become more frequent and intensive in the near future if nothing changes.
Many groups have accused fossil fuel companies, wealthy countries, politicians, and rich people in general of being the cause of this problem. According to an article from the BBC Future, it’s a fact that the richest 10% of people consume around 20 times more energy than the poorest 10% and that a quarter of all emissions since 1751 have occurred in the US alone. However, we know that climate change is caused by human activity, which means we are all part of it. Pinning down exactly who is responsible isn’t going to solve our problems.
So, what can we do to help save the planet? Apart from being informed and doing our research, there are endless other easy ways to reduce our carbon footprint on a daily basis - we need to pay attention to details and come up with sustainable options. We need to think green and favor eco-friendly.
Bearing that in mind, we’ve come up with 5 easy ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices.
The carbon footprint of the Fashion Industry
There are many studies that prove in fact that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world.
Many of us save receipts to easily keep track of the cost of our clothes. However, the cost behind each dress or pair of jeans that usually goes unnoticed is the most important one - the cost to the environment.
The devastating statistics speak for themselves. According to the 2020 Fashion On Climate report published by McKinsey & Company, “research shows that the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG emissions in 2018, equalling 4% of the global total. This is equivalent to the combined annual GHG emissions of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Around 70% of the fashion industry’s emissions came from upstream activities such as materials production, preparation, and processing. The remaining 30% were associated with downstream retail operations, the use-phase and end-of-use activities.”
Reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions - that is to say, reaching carbon neutrality - will require far-reaching changes in human activity, which in fashion terms includes changing both the way we produce clothes and how we consume them.
In most countries, untreated toxic from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers, contributing to water pollution. Also, did you know that to make one cotton t-shirt takes three years worth of drinking water? About 2,700 liters of our precious resource - already scarce - to produce a single shirt.
The water consumed to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water. - Stephen Leahy, The Guardian
Considering the fashion industry’s significant carbon footprint, the choices we make while shopping can make a real difference to the environment.
5 easy ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices
1. Invest in trans-seasonal clothes
Did you know that fast fashion companies created “micro seasons” to push consumerism? There are now not only 4 seasons, but 52 seasons a year. That’s way too much.
In order to help save the planet, we should be filling our closets only with items that we can wear every season. It’s both extremely functional and beneficial to the environment.
Clothes that can be styled and layered for every season are the way to go, but don’t forget that while fast fashion may be cheaper at the moment, you’ll end up needing to constantly buy more - the quality is not good enough to last.
The next time you need to go shopping, consider buying good quality, transeasonal pieces. Buy items that you know are going to work all year round such as jeans, t-shirts, fine dresses, timeless coats, and jackets.
2. Donate your unwanted clothes
We can scratch our itch for new clothes by buying from vintage and secondhand clothing shops. We’ll be giving clothes a second life and slowing down the fast-fashion cycle.
Donating your unwanted clothes to a good cause, rather than leaving them hanging in your wardrobe, will both help you and others to be more sustainable. They will invest in your old pieces, rather than buying something new. A great way to do this is to have a one-in, one-out policy.
Since clothing that is placed in regular garbage is either incinerated or ends up in a landfill, by donating you’ll be helping stop textile waste. In New York City, for instance, 193,000 tons of clothing and textiles are tossed annually, and only 15% of their used clothes are recycled or donated - the rest - about 10.5 million tons a year - goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. Now, let’s consider the number of synthetic fibers, such as polyester - that are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable - left for a 200 year-long decomposition. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.
As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy. - Emma Watson
3. Learn to repair clothing
Have you heard the motto “Repair before you replace” before? Small rips, holes, and missing buttons can easily be fixed.
Sustainable fashion isn’t really about what sustainable brands are in your wardrobe. It’s more about your mindset and habits. It’s more sustainable to keep your old fast fashion and wear it than to get rid of it and buy new clothes from sustainable brands. Learn to repair, reuse and repurpose. Embroidering a plain t-shirt, turning pants into shorts, and adding a ruffled bottom to a plain tank top are just a few examples of what you can do.
Also, it may sound obvious, but it’s so important. Look after your clothes properly and you will have to replace things less often. From properly storing to washing inside out, go the extra mile to ensure your clothes stay at their best for longer.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the average number of times a piece of clothing is worn decreased by 36% between 2000 and 2015. In the same period, clothing production doubled. All of this due to the quality and longevity of the garments.
4. Buy consciously
Making a conscious decision to shop with sustainable and ethical brands can and will reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices. By selecting sustainable brands you are helping stop the negative environmental impact that the fashion industry is causing, and in turn, reduce your own carbon footprint.
Human exploitation, unsafe working conditions, and unfair pay are also industry-wide issues in the fashion industry. Supporting sustainable and ethical brands that treat and pay workers fairly is not only helping the environment but ensuring that the clothing you choose to spend your money on hasn’t taken advantage of workers or used child labor.
Avoid buying that statement piece you know you are only going to wear for one occasion and invest in something with more longevity that you can wear again and again. Pick more versatile pieces that can be styled in different ways and resist the impulse to buy. Unfortunately, about 5% of the population exhibits compulsive buying behavior.
Based on the type of fiber we choose, we contribute to more or less water, chemicals, and land usage in growing crops and producing fabrics. For instance, cotton - a natural fiber - requires so much water to produce clothing. Buy organic cotton as an alternative.
Buying with consciousness also means contributing to the circular economy - share your wardrobe, buy second-hand, rent… These are all easy ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your fashion choices.
5. Keep an eye on your washing
Washing our clothes less frequently will help them to last longer while saving time and natural resources.
Did you know that for an average shirt over a year, 80% of the emissions produced during the “in-use” stage of its life cycle are from washing and tumble drying? Washing at low temperatures - 30º or less - helps reduce those emissions.
Every time we wash a synthetic garment - such as polyester or nylon - about 1,900 individual microfibers are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. These microfibers are then ingested by small fish, later eaten by bigger fish, introducing plastic into our food chain.
It is true that we can only do so much at once, but we are confident that with time we’ll reap the benefits of the seeds we are planting now. With eco-friendly choices, we further act as a steward for our ecosystem. Learn more easy ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your workday routine and beauty habits in the blog.