Waste not, want not: the sustainability of fashion

In most western societies we are brought up with a taste for shopping; it’s in our DNA. Who doesn’t love that trigger-happy feeling of buying clothes? That essential ‘retail therapy’ which makes a bad day into a good one?

But regrettably our love for shopping is literally poisoning the planet

Here are some slightly sobering facts about the fashion industry which should make us stop and think before purchasing something again.

The fashion industry is:

  • the third most polluting industry in the world (after the oil & gas industry and agriculture); and
  • accounts for 10% of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • uses 7,000 litres of water to make one pair of jeans; and
  • will have produced 148 million tons of fashion waste by 2030.

Millenials grew up with the prosperity of being able to buy everything at anytime, but Generation Z is much more eco-conscious when it comes to spending habits. Although only 15% of people currently recycle old clothes, the younger generations appear to adapt their fashion buys towards eco-friendly alternatives. Thanks to them the second-hand market for clothing is booming, and millennials are now increasingly latching on to the trend of shopping more sustainably. Data shows that around 30% of women between 20-35 in the US buy ‘pre-loved’ clothing’, and the figures suggest it’s a trend that will continue to expand.

Since 2019 the market for second-hand clothing in the US expanded 21 times faster than the conventional apparel market. By 2029 the secondhand, pre-loved market, is projected to a have a staggering value of over $80 bln in the US alone (about 30% of the total market for apparel). Generation Z in the UK was trailblazing ahead of the US in 2020, scoring 117% more second- hand sales than their peers in the US (source EBAY).

One survey found that the coronavirus has intensified people’s wish to act responsibly when it comes to buying clothes: a whopping 88% of European and British consumers now believe more attention should be paid by the fashion industry in reducing pollution.

How is the fashion market responding to the real need to be more sustainable?

It helps that many big brands are now making waves in the sustainability sector and are putting sustainability at the core of their operations. Below are a few examples of changes being made by some of the market’s players.

Kenzo: ‘Adopt a better future’

  • Have teamed up with WWF (World Wildlife Fund) in an effort to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022 (tigers are a staple symbol for the French fashion brand);
  • They aim to work alongside governments, communities and conservation organisations;
  • Created tiger tees, sweatshirts and dresses made from organic cotton.

Tommy Hilfiger: ‘Every challenge is an opportunity’

  • Tommy’s global campaign ‘Moving Forward Together’ aims to “unite and inspire” the fashion industry to become more eco after the damage of Covid-19.
  • TH invites people to digitally create eco-friendly clothing using second-hand fabrics and revamped styles.

Gap: helping the industry meet its sustainable goals

  • In partnership with Textile Exchange, Gap has launched an online resource which is publicly available that explains the environmental impacts of various fabrics and with it aims to help consumers as well as other companies.

Stella McCartney: Green & Chic

  • Exemplar designer in how to use sustainable materials in high fashion, like organic cotton, recycled polyester and rebuffed cashmere;
  • The brand’s offices and studios are powered by renewable energy
  • Her website has a plethora of informative resources for shopping sustainably, as well as interesting facts & figures on the industry as a whole.

ASOS: ‘Reimagine fashion’

  • Launched a new Circular Collection, with eco-friendly pieces that reduce amount of waste created by using recycled materials and making clothes more durable and ‘versatile’.

Adidas: vegan trainers

  • Have launched a whole new collection of shoes called Vegan, which are 100% sustainable!

But there are still, unfortunately, plenty of online and offline retail stores peddling ‘fast fashion’ and they continue to produce trillions of tons worth of clothes and shoes and destroy unsold or returned items in huge quantities. Did you know that the items you return are often thrown away as it is cheaper to bin it than to actually take it back and put it back in stock. But the item may be cheap enough for you not to bother to return it in the first place and hence throw it away yourself!

Fashion is killing the planet...

So, maybe, when buying from well know fast fashion brands, like BooHoo, H&M, Nasty Gal and Forever 21 (and many others), remind yourself that the production process behind the item you are buying so cheaply, is most likely heavily polluting some local waterway somewhere in South East Asia, is being transported aided by fossil fuels and leaves a trail of trash everywhere in its wake. You may not want to buy it again.

All of us can and should be the change in forcing our favourite brands to create clothes that last longer and pollute less and hence make us feel better about ourselves. This article from the FT suggests exactly that.

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