We love a good bargain, and we love it now. But our practices, of cheap, instant and disposable fashion are harming the planet on a widespread scale. The demand we have created over the last number of years particularly supports the use of inhumane working conditions, child labour, and massive pollution.
Vibrant colours, prints and fabric finishes are appealing features of fashion garments, but many of these are achieved with toxic chemicals. Textile dyeing is a massive polluter of clean water globally, somewhere after agriculture (but perhaps not the statistic that is so often bandied around).
Greenpeace’s recent Detox campaign has been instrumental in pressuring fashion brands to take action to remove toxic chemicals from their supply chains, after it tested a number of brands’ products and confirmed the presence of hazardous chemicals. Many of these are banned or strictly regulated in various countries because they are toxic, bio-accumulative (meaning the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can excrete or metabolise it), disruptive to hormones and carcinogenic.
Polyester, the plastic-containing fabric is the most popular fabric used for fashion. But when polyester garments are washed in domestic washing machines, they shed microfibres that add to the increasing levels of plastic in our oceans. These microfibres are minute and can easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways, but because they do not biodegrade, they represent a serious threat to aquatic life. Small creatures such as plankton eat the microfibres, which then make their way up the food chain to fish and shellfish which are eaten by humans.
And for what? To bring us that neon playsuit that we’ll wear once when it didn’t rain in June and then decide is in bits (or insert personal equivalent here). This entitled, naive and wasteful attitude became the norm. It didn’t even seem to be tempered by the collapse of the Dhaka garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013. ASOS saw their profits soar 28% in 2018, and 2019 saw their sales spike by 12% to £2.7 billion.
Not forgetting, the alarming rate our desire for sartorial newness is filling landfills, releasing methane and leaching chemicals into the soil. The grim picture we’re seeing is far from the images of beauty that the industry wants us to aspire to. In short, fast fashion is destroying the planet, and needs a complete u-turn. There are big changes that need to be made from the top of the industry by fashion giants for the real difference to be made.
But fashion is listening. Longtime eco-warrior Stella McCartney has always blazed a trail in this regard and continues to innovate towards sustainability, and more and more brands are following suit. A google search for “sustainable fashion brands” brings up a heartening number of brands committed to bringing their lines to consumers at minimal or zero impact to the environment. With a notable example being fashion start-up Panagia, or this list of sustainable brands as endorsed by vehement sustainability warrior Emma Watson .
So what can we, the humble armchair style-lover do to stay sustainable, but still look sartorially-savvy?
In order to reverse some of the startling statistics about clothing waste, we all need to be more conscious of what we are buying, however, it can be confusing to know where to begin to make our wardrobes more sustainable. So what is the fashion equivalent of buying a reusable bottle and using metal straws instead of plastic ones?
"Consumer-facing coverage of sustainability often focuses on either disastrous environmental and ethical news or future purchasing behaviour, which can leave us feeling either powerless to make a difference as an individual or confused about where to start," sustainability expert Brooke Roberts-Islam of Techstyler says.
There are, however, small changes which are a step in the right direction - from the things to look out for on clothing labels to how you should actually be washing your clothes.
1. Wash Your Clothes Less and Avoid the Tumble Drier
Wash your clothes less shown that laundering accounts for 60–80% of a garment's total environmental impact, so you can significantly reduce your impact even by washing your clothes after every few wears. And to wash your clothes at 30 degrees (this is reported to reduce energy usage by up to 40% compared to the standard 40-degree wash) and dry them naturally to further save energy. Sustainable Fashion Ireland have plenty of advice on this on their instagram feed.
2. Donate your clothes!
Donating your unwanted clothes to a good cause, rather than leaving them hanging in your wardrobe will help others to be more sustainable, who will invest in your old pieces, rather than buying something new. A great way to do this is to have a one-in, one-out policy – live by the mantra that every time you buy something, you'll donate something else in your wardrobe.
3. Repair and upcycle your clothes!
Hole in your leggings, seam coming undone on a dress? Don’t just bin your clobber. Get them repaired! Tailors are pretty economical. Round up your bits and bobs that need repairing and you’ll most likely get a small discount too. You could even get a sewing kit and do it yourself. There’s loads of sewing workshops being held by the likes of Sustainable Fashion Dublin. Rag Order Dublin, a tailor with a serious upcycling flair has come to the attention of the media for her creative twists on tired pre-loved clothes
4. Buy Locally.
Cut out the enormous middle-man that it supply chain, and buy locally. Your seller will usually have information about where the item has come from, what it’s been made from and where the material was sourced. Plus, you’ll be supporting the local economy and not contributing to the behemoth that is online ordering at the moment.
5. Shop second hand!
Call it vintage, call it charity, call it second hand, whatever you call it, buying pre-loved clothes is one of the best ways to be sustainable in your fashion choices, and shopping in this way is making a serious splash into mainstream fashion mindset. What’s not to love about second hand shopping. Once you break your mind free from its addiction to the new, the real joy is to be found in the mystery, the variety, the history and the surprises in shopping pre-loved. Every city and most towns are brimming with places to shop in this sustainable way. We love the gorgeous variety seen all over Ireland and our online landscape as seen with Nine Crows, Spice Vintage, Siopaella and so many other great shops around Ireland. But wherever you are, a cursory internet search will bring up your local second hand retailers, and it’s a happy sustainably stylish Instagram hole you can find yourself in looking at pre-loved clothes!
6. Educate yourself
We’ve spent our whole lives thinking what we need is a brand-new-shiny everything, ignorant to the effects of the fashion and textiles on the environment. While it’s not our fault it’s gotten to this point, now that we know, it’s our responsibility to learn how to make a difference. Follow sustainable fashion trailblazers online, search for advice and ways to be more sustainable in style, trawl instagram, sign up to newsletters, create an echo-chamber of the right advice to make a difference while staying well-dressed. It’s not that hard, we just need to be savvy, aware and hungry for a new way.
Everyday, we have a choice to make. We can look into our wardrobes and see the same clothes, be dissatisfied with what we have, be bored, and decide to shop for new ones. Or we can see beyond the bare threads in front of our eyes, and our jaded destructive habits, to how we can change things for the better.
To take an amendment on a quote by fashion designer Anne Klein “Clothes aren’t going to change the world, but the people who wear them will.”