I admit it. I like fashion, well I did before COVID lockdowns meant that I wear the same darn outfit for an entire week - OK, season, because there is nowhere to go!
Sure, clothing is an essential part of our everyday lives, but it is also a way of expressing ourselves and our values. The clothing you wear impacts the way you are perceived by others, and it can be creative and fun. But, how do we reconcile fashion or even just the necessary clothes that we wear when it comes to the impacts of the fashion industry?
The issues with fast fashion
Purchasing clothing items that align with your sustainability goals can be difficult due to the fact that the fast fashion industry is responsible for a large percentage of today’s clothing production.
Fast fashion clothing items are often made with cheap, synthetic materials, and poor construction. These types of clothing have a very limited lifespan, as they tend to get worn out and fall apart with use. Once sent to the landfill, these synthetic fibres can take up to 200 years to decompose.
On top of the waste accumulation that comes with fast fashion, the mere production of these cheap clothing items causes water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, and increased water consumption.
It is safe to say that there is a need for sustainable fashion in order to protect the planet and help people live more eco-friendly lives.
How can fashion be sustainable?
First, it is important to acknowledge that 100% sustainable fashion isn’t possible. This is because the fashion industry as a whole relies on consumers to continue purchasing clothing in order to be profitable. In addition, no matter how sustainable the production of your clothing, washing synthetic fabrics still releases microfibres into the natural environment, and a significant portion (10-20%) of the energy of an article of clothing is associated with laundering.
However, this doesn’t mean that fashion can’t become more sustainable. There are many different ways that you can support the production and consumption of more sustainable fashion.
Here is a list of some of the different elements of sustainable fashion. Depending on your individual circumstances, some methods of sustainable fashion may be more accessible or doable for you.
Purchasing clothing that uses environmentally conscious production methods is one way to become more sustainable. For example, you may wish to buy items that use natural materials such as organic cotton, organic hemp, and organic linen.
Clothing can also be made from recycled materials that would otherwise be sent to the landfill. On a similar note, apparel that is made with 100% one material (ex. 100% cotton) can be recycled as opposed to blended fibres which cannot be separated. However, there are almost no true fibre recycling programs aside from some very sustainable, closed-loop companies such as Patagonia and a few others.
You may wish to look into slow fashion in order to find brands that use sustainable materials and production methods in order to produce long-lasting clothing that won’t need to be replaced.
When it comes to fast fashion, workers are often underpaid, work in unsafe factories and buildings, and are not protected by workers rights. One way of becoming more sustainable includes supporting brands that ensure fair wages and working conditions.
Check out brand certifications in order to learn more about how their workers are treated. For example, some fashion brands may be Fair Trade Certified!
Keep in mind that smaller brands may not be able to afford certifications. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions! A brand that treats their workers properly won’t hesitate to answer you!
Instead of purchasing new items, you may want to make use of the many clothing items that have already been produced. By buying second hand or vintage fashion, you are giving these items a second life and saving them from the landfill.
This can be a great option for those who have smaller budgets or are still figuring out their style. In addition, second hand or vintage shops are very accessible, as most cities and towns have at least one shop you can visit. There is always the option of online vintage shops as well!
Buying locally-made clothing can be another way to make your wardrobe more sustainable. One benefit of locally made fashion is that it produces less carbon dioxide. This is because there is less of a need for garment transportation.
Locally made clothing is generally produced on a smaller scale, meaning that their items aren’t mass-produced. Because of this small-scale production, local producers are also less likely to produce more than they need! This results in less wasted production.
Lastly, supporting local businesses means that we are supporting our local economy as well as local families.
Instead of purchasing new or second-hand clothing, you may want to consider repairing and upcycling the clothing you already own. In many cases, the rips, tears, and missing buttons on our clothing don’t signify the end of their lives but can be easily repaired.
There are plenty of online resources that can teach you the basics of sewing and clothing repairs in order to prolong the use of your favourite items. If you are unable to fix items yourself, bring them to a handy friend or a professional!
Slight alterations can also be made in order to get a more tailored fit or an updated appearance when it comes to clothing that no longer fits or has a somewhat dated appearance.
For a deep dive into what sustainability means in the fashion industry and more ideas for greening your wardrobe, check out Episode 37 of the Live. Well. Green. podcast.
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