When I first launched The Eco Society, I talked about the importance of ethical fashion. But, when it comes to fashion (and anything else for that matter) it’s not only important for us to shop ethically, but to shop sustainably as well. Ethical fashion is concerned with looking after the people making the material and the clothes we buy, while sustainable fashion is concerned with looking after the planet through the type of clothes we buy.
So, why do we need to talk about sustainable fashion? Well, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil. The ‘fast fashion’ industry ensures that next hottest thing is easily accessible and cheap but has some dire consequences for the environment – whether we realise it or not, by fuelling this industry we’re guilty of contributing to the pollution of our waterways, while also adding to the millions of so-called “unwearable clothing” to landfills, which can take hundreds of years to ‘degrade’, just like a plastic.
Photo Credit Twenty20 @kmaleelert
There are many issues to this side of the clothing industry, one being the toxic chemicals used in the dying process. These toxins end up being washed into rivers and out to sea and contributing to our growing water pollution issues. This damages the ecosystems and can make even our own drinking water unsafe. The chemicals in the dyes have also been linked to serious health issues in those working with the dyes.
My personal pet peeve is synthetic fabrics! Most of the clothes on the market these days are synthetic, like polyester. To me, wearing polyester is basically like wearing a plastic bag, because it is plastic. The scariest issue that many people are still unaware of is that these synthetic fabrics are also damaging our environment in much the same way as plastic bags, bottles and straws. Every time a synthetic clothes item is washed, tiny little fibres known as microplastics are released into the water, and because our washing machines cant capture these tiny fibres in their filters, they end up in our waterways and in the ocean.
As I discussed in my post “Why I hate Plastic”, these microplastics are consumed by marine life, ending up in the seafood we eat and are now also being found in our table salt and drinking water! So, how can you stop microplastics from our synthetic clothes getting into our waterways? Well, other than stopping buying synthetic clothing, you could use “GUPPYFRIEND”. GUPPYFRIEND is a washing bag which captures the microplastics shed from your clothes during the washing process before they get washed down the drain. I will do a full review once I have used mine a few more times.
There is also the issue of quality when it comes to fast fashion. Because of the throwaway nature of the fast fashion industry, the clothes tend not to last very long. I read somewhere that on average we wear these items of clothing 7 times. After a few wears and washes, we can see the clothes looking worn and ripped or twisted. However, we don’t really mind right, because it’s not on trend anymore and we can just go buy the next big trend to replace it.
What happens to these worn ‘non-trendy’ outfits? They are in no state to be resold and charity shops often won’t take them, so we throw them out, straight into the landfill with all the other clothes we have thrown out because they are worn and not-trendy anymore. Just like plastic in landfill, these clothes take hundreds of years to break down leaving behind nasty toxins from the synthetic fabrics and contributing to greenhouse gases.
Photo credit Twenty20 @alexandrahraskova
Lucky for us, there are many fashion designers out there making it easier for us to shop sustainably. They are using natural materials, some organic, natural dyes and making quality clothing that lasts. With a background in fashion, I have always appreciated quality clothing and natural fabrics, which I am rather grateful for today. A lot of my wardrobe is made up of quality items that I have had for years, and this lines up perfectly with my new-found values.
For me, it’s important to shop responsibly - ethically AND sustainably, quality over quantity. If I really need a new item of clothing I don’t just go out and buy it, I think about it. I do some research on what brands align with my values, who is ethical, who is sustainable, what is it made from and will I wear it for years to come. Making a wise decision to ensure I am doing my part and spending my money wisely, rather than condemning it to landfill after 7 wears.
So, next time you really need a new item of clothing or an accessory, stop and think about it. Do you really need it, do you already own something similar and will I still wear next season? And if yes, shop smart, shop consciously and as Vivienne Westwood said, “buy less, choose well and make it last”.