Lessen Your Fashion Footprint
It’s no secret that the global fashion industry has a staggering impact on both the planet and the people within its supply chain. The fashion industry produces 8-10% of the world’s CO2, along with a host of other environmental and social concerns. The industry is responsible for excessive water usage, contributing approximately 20% of all industrial water pollution. In fact, over ⅓ of all microplastic pollution comes from the fashion industry. Textile waste is another pervasive issue for the industry. Textile production rates are high, but recycling rates are low. In 2015, 73% of all fibers produced ended up in a landfill (Niinimäki et al., 2020) Only a fraction of the textile produced in the United States is recycled each year (Environmental Protection Agency, 2019).
Additionally, the fashion industry is notorious for its unethical labor practices, such as low wages and unsafe working conditions. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these issues were felt now more than ever. When fashion retailers shuttered their stores in 2020, the repercussions were felt by the most vulnerable members of the fashion supply chain. Manufacturers in Bangladesh alone reported $1.44 billion in cancelled orders, leaving garment workers without pay (Brydges & Hanlon, 2020). Click here for more information on the impact of the global fashion industry on people and planet.
While these impacts may seem overwhelming, there are many things that can be done at the individual level to lessen your fashion footprint. While there are many different ways to practice sustainability, here are a few easy ways to begin your sustainable fashion journey:
- Take care of the clothes you own: Taking good care of the clothes in your closet is a great sustainable practice that lengthens the life cycle of a garment and keeps it out of a landfill for longer. There are many simple ways to take care of your clothes, including repairing damage as it occurs (try these simple mending techniques or get creative with visible mending!) and washing your clothing with care (wash items less frequently, follow instructions carefully, use cold water to wash your clothing, and avoid use of a tumbler dryer if possible).
2. Make mindful purchases: The most sustainable clothes are ones you already own! However, if you are looking to purchase new clothing, consider second hand clothing (Depop, TheRealReal, Vestiaire Collective, or local vintage or thrift stores) or brands that incorporate sustainable practices into their business model. Research a brand before purchasing, and find out how their products are produced. While brands do not always make this information readily available, third-party organizations make conducting research quick and accessible! Additionally, when purchasing new clothing, consider the reasons why you are buying it. Avoid buying new items, simply because they are cheap or on sale. Instead, invest in high quality, durable items that fill a gap in your wardrobe.
3. If you do make a purchase, choose sustainable fibers: While no fibers can be unequivocally labeled as “sustainable”, some fibers are more sustainable than others. Choose fibers that use less resources (water and pesticides) like linen, hemp, TENCEL lyocell, or organic cotton, or fibers that are part of a circular economy, such as recycled polyester or nylon. If possible, avoid buying clothing made from blended fibers (ex. 50% cotton, 50% polyester), as they are difficult or impossible to recycle.
5. Progress, not perfection! Adopting sustainable habits takes time, so don’t focus on being 100% perfect. Instead, focus on small, lifestyle changes that you can sustain in the long run!
By Mathilda Savocchia
Brydges, T., & Hanlon, M. (2020). Garment worker rights and the fashion industry’s response to COVID-19. Dialogues in Human Geography, 10(2), 195–198. https://doi.org/10.1177/2043820620933851
Environmental Protection Agency. (2019, October 30). Textiles: Material-Specific Data. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-material-specific-data.
Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., & Gwilt, A. (2020). The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 1(4), 189-200.