It’s no news that the fashion industry has a negative impact on the environment- especially fast fashion. The topics of poor labour conditions, negative environmental effects and questionable ethics have all frequented headlines in recent years. As the result of production, transportation and waste, fashion produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, and if consumer habits and manufacturing processes don’t change soon, the industry will use up a quarter of the global carbon budget by 2050. In a world panicking about the climate crisis, but never seeming to take action, it’s not hard to feel daunted in the face of such a huge problem. Now we’re looking at how we can break the cycle, starting in our own closets.
Lately, things have been improving a little. As people become aware of the impact their purchases make, they are seeking better and more environmentally-friendly alternatives. According to 2019 research by the Boston Consulting Group, a third of consumers have already switched from their preferred brand to a more sustainable one, and half of consumers plan to switch brands if another becomes more sustainable than their current one. With a consistently growing demand, maybe it is possible to manufacture a greener future.
What does a sustainable fashion future look like?
While it isn’t difficult to choose organic over farmed, or paper over plastic, it’s harder to change a practiced mentality towards excessive shopping. A 2017 publication by the Ellen McArthur Foundation stated that the average number of times a garment is worn before it is abandoned has decreased by 36% over the past 15 years. Persistent sales and a never-ending cycle of new styles enable shoppers to treat fashion as disposable, and make it easier to justify wearing a sweater fewer times before throwing it away. However, the trending Marie Kondo mantra to get rid of items unless they “spark joy” seems to prove that a minimal mindset can go mainstream.
To reduce clothing waste, the most apparent solution is to simply buy less and make smarter purchases. The idea of changing so many people’s habits seems nearly impossible, but some of that pressure could be lifted if clothing stores we buy from assume some of the responsibility too. The industry has been evolving and improving, but not nearly as fast as necessary. In fact, the improvement rate measured by the Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse Fashion Report decreased by a third over the past year. To continue the remaining momentum, it’s important that the groups and forces which have power within the fashion industry like investors, NGO’s, policies, and the media use their influence to drive transformation.
There is an increasing range of options which make shopping sustainably and secondhand convenient to everyone. Mainstream brands like Patagonia and Reformation are leaders in their fields who make significant efforts to decrease their environmental footprint and reject fast fashion by using greener materials, or providing repair services to increase the life of their items. More accessibly, there is the local thrift store, and more recently, buy-and-sell apps and websites like Depop, Poshmark and TheRealReal which allow people to purchase used clothes from home. There are even subscription services like Rent the Runway which allow people to rent clothes for special events or everyday life. These shopping options remove the consumer from the buying loop and reduce their carbon footprints by reusing clothing items that might have otherwise been thrown away.
Another aspect of buying sustainably is choosing clothing made of sustainable fabrics. Cotton is a huge consumer of water, and polyester releases microplastics into water systems during a washing machine cycle. Textile dying is the second largest polluter of water globally; contaminating rivers in production countries like India and Bangladesh, and causing health problems in the surrounding communities. Some responsible alternatives include recycled fabrics or organic fabrics like linen and hemp.
Where do your clothes end up?
After some clothing is deemed unwearable, the owner is faced with a few options to determine its fate- not all of them equal. Large clothing companies like H&M use in store donation bins as part of a green campaign using the company I:Collect, who partners with many companies like Levi’s and The North Face in similar programs. In exchange for a donation, customers receive a coupon to redeem on their next purchase. Though the message of the program is positive, it is often criticized for being a marketing initiative and continuing to promote excessive buying. In a statement in 2019, H&M’s sustainability manager revealed that only 0.1% of donations they receive are actually recycled into a new piece of clothing.
The McKinsey Report states that current clothing recycling methods are not advanced enough to deal with the amount of textile waste being produced, and that there isn’t a market large enough to absorb all of the waste. But most clothing waste is never even donated or recycled, and instead is thrown away and goes directly to landfills.
To ensure that the life of your clothing is prolonged, you can take part in a clothing swap, or mend or resell the item yourself. Donating your clothes also gives them a second chance to be used again and diverts them from the landfill. DDA’s services make donation easy and convenient, and create a second positive community impact that wouldn’t be possible if donations were made directly to thrift stores.
Learn more about DDA’s donation program and donate today!