We looked last time at how making changes in the foods we eat can have a huge impact on how sustainable our lifestyle is. After food, the second most important area of our lifestyle may be the clothes we wear. As the UN’s ActNow fashion initiative and the Fashion For Good organization, the current methods for producing clothing simply are not sustainable. Again, as consumers, we have great power to change our habits and force producers to do the same.
How bad is it?
According to the UN, the emissions from textiles are almost the amount of the entire European continent. This means that, on average, changing how we buy clothes is more important than how much we drive or fly. Also, the textile industry today is the second-largest polluter of clean water after agriculture. It takes a lot of water to make clothing too (especially cotton), up to 10,000 liters for a pair of jeans. The microplastics and synthetics that now make up 25% of what we wear (according to the UN) do not decompose in landfills and shed plastic into our water when we wash them. Lastly, the fashion industry is notorious for exploiting workers with low pay and poor working conditions: this is the truth behind that $5 t-shirt.
What can you do?
Both organizations mentioned above stress the same basic approach to changing our fashion habits. First, buy less and buy better. Only shop for items you truly need and keep wearing what you have as long as you can. See if you can find it secondhand or swap it with a friend before buying new. Learn about the label and see if you can find the item from a producer committed to sustainable practices (this app ranks brands by their ethics). Remember, items that are 100% one material are easier to recycle.
Care for your clothes in a sustainable way. Always wash cold on a quick cycle and hang dry to conserve energy. Use a microfiber ball to keep them out of the water supply. And, you probably don’t need to wash your clothes as much as you do - we tend to wash clothes even if they aren’t dirty. Learn to sew and check youtube for other repair tips to extend the life of your clothes.
Try to keep your old clothes out of the landfill. Upcycle them into other household items. Resell, swap with friends, or donate. Depending on the item, you may be able to recycle it (this website lists a bunch of clothes recycling programs). 95% of textiles that are thrown away could be recycled. Don’t forget that clothes make great rags, and we always need more rags.
Any small step you can take from this list makes a difference. Although I’m laying out as much as I can to help you, I don’t mean to overwhelm you with a seemingly impossible checklist. The goal is to make the changes you can and that leave you feeling better and not overly anxious. Then, over time, we can make even more changes. If enough of us make enough small changes to what we wear, we can create a sustainable fashion industry, and with it a better world for each other and for the generations to come.