As the world becomes increasingly aware of the pollution caused by our capricious obsession with styles and trends, it’s no longer as easy to turn a blind eye to our collective fashion footprint.
Despite this increased awareness about the importance of sustainability however, the fashion industry’s environmental impact remains significant.
Fashion is responsible for around 10 per cent of total global emissions alone – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. From the chemicals used to make the dyes to the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from transportation – it all places a heavy toll on our planet. So much so in fact, that the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year as the economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.
But it’s not just manufacturing causing the problem. Once with consumers, half of the C02 emissions that make up our fast fashion footprint come from the electricity usage associated with washing, tumble-drying and ironing. Often that electricity is generated by coal-fired power stations and other fossil fuel sources.
Our Collective Fashion Footprint
When you buy a cheap new top or dress or pair of trousers in a shop or online – it comes with an invisible planetary price. It may not affect your wallet but it affects the world we share. This impact is known as your fashion footprint and it’s something we need to reduce. If we cut down demand we will see greater change at a more rapid pace than if we wait on large corporations to do something about it first.
As Liv Simpliciano, the policy and research manager at Fashion Revolution – campaigning for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry says: ‘If many individuals change their habits, that becomes a collective.’
Here we have compiled some easy ways to make your wardrobe a little more climate-conscious:
It may seem obvious, but this is the simplest and easiest way to reduce your fashion footprint. Less demand means less production, resulting in less damage to the environment. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but instead of buying for retail therapy, ask yourself, “Do I really need a new pair of jeans?” More often than not, the answer will be no.
Choose eco-friendly materials
If you do need a new pair of jeans, look for a pair made from low-impact denim and materials. What your garment is made of disproportionately contributes to your fashion footprint. Natural and organic fabrics like cotton, hemp, linen and jute have little effect on society or the environment but some of them do need a lot of water to be produced, particularly cotton. Sustainable synthetic materials
Wear what you have
Simply putting your clothes to use more often rather than throwing them away, means that you’re reducing your emissions-per-wear, not to mention cost-per-wear. It’s time to fall back in love with your wardrobe. Style up your existing pieces with different accessories; reinvent your clothes by taking some pieces to a tailor or try combining different tops with different bottoms.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your fashion footprint is to buy second-hand clothing. Shopping at thrift stores such as Thrift For Good in Dubai, online marketplaces, flea markets or pre-loved clothes apps is a great way to find unique, one-of-a-kind pieces while supporting the circular economy. Not only are you giving clothes a second life, but you’re also saving them from ending up in a landfill. Plus, if you’re not buying new clothes, that also decreases the demand, and therefore production.
Seek sustainable brands
Sustainability is big on the radar for many companies so it is easier nowadays to find one that actually does try to help rather than simply greenwashing their brand. Choose brands with a zero-waste ethos and who produce garments with low embedded emissions, reducing waste throughout the supply chain.
Buy clothes that will last
Cheap, fast-fashion clothes are often made from low-quality material that wear out quickly and need to be replaced frequently. By investing in clothes that are made to last, you can reduce the number of items you need to buy over time. Clothing made from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, Tencel or linen is always a better choice. These materials are grown without the use of toxic pesticides and they are biodegradable and compostable. Spending a little more on clothes, will save money in the long term – not to mention the planet.
Rent your wardrobe
Clothes renting companies are having a moment. More and more there’s a buzz about renting wardrobe items for occasions/events or just to try something new. It’s a great option if you wish to have something different to wear for every occasion and if you don’t want to store any additional clothing. The best part is giving it back for someone else to have the pleasure of wearing it. Siz.ae, a fashion rental company based in Dubai offer a great service where clothes are picked up, dry-cleaned and ready for the next rented request. High-end pieces plus designer items can be rented for a fraction of the real price. Fantastic concept and ethos.
Embrace the air dry
Start to ease your reliance on a tumble dryer, especially if you live in the UAE where summer heat means clothes can dry in no time. Elsewhere, summer is upon us so hang your clothes outside to let them dry naturally; turning colourful items inside out to prevent fading and drying delicates flat.
Choose the cold cycle
Pay attention to the washing instructions. Read the label – you’ll be surprised how many items can and should be washed in cold water. This not only saves on energy but also will, for the most part, increase the longevity of your clothes.
Judge when it needs washing
Don’t wash your clothes too often if you can help it. For example, denim jeans don’t need regular washing (apparently the brand director for Levi’s washes his jeans every six months) but neither to most pants or outerwear. Its much more energy efficient to spot clean an area before you throw the whole garment in the wash.
Say goodbye – the sustainable way
Once your clothes have well and truly reached the end of their life, it’s time to think about where they’ll go next – and landfill should be your last resort. If your garment is in good condition, then your options are to sell, swap or donate it. What if the items are too worn to sell or donate?
Well – they still may have potential in another form. Items such as a t-shirt can perhaps be turned into cleaning cloths; an old jumper could be re-purposed into a tea cosy!