Fashion trends come and go, and the rise of online shopping has led to more clothes in our wardrobe than we could ever wear. This has become a big thing in the UK, as we buy more new clothes than any other European nation, according to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. Needless to say, this also means more discarded clothes. It was revealed that “three in five garments end up in incinerators and landfills within a year.”
The fashion industry doesn’t like airing its ‘dirty laundry’, but news about their practices have led to agitation. Last July, The Metro reported that the clothing giant Burberry was accused of burning £28.6 million worth of unsold clothes and accessories in 2017. In Bangladesh, a garment factory collapsed in 2013 leading to 1,134 casualties. Many Western fashion brands manufacture their products in the country, and some of the other factories were shut down in the aftermath of the industrial disaster. News of the incident spread around the world, resulting in a number of high profile investigations into the industry’s ethical and environmental issues.
A stronger push for sustainable clothing emerged as a fitting response to these dilemmas.
One term that’s usually used when talking about the modern fashion industry is ‘fast fashion’. Popularised by big retailers such as Zara, H&M, Topshop, and many others, fast fashion refers to the practice of churning out relatively cheap clothing based on the current fashion trends. The fast fashion supply chain is usually optimised to be as quick and inexpensive as possible, which leads to a host of issues. These include overproduction, low quality and product longevity, and even labour issues, as most retailers outsource their supply to Third World countries to gain leverage.
Sustainable clothing puts a break on fast fashion and forces the industry to slow down. It refers to products and practices that minimise the environmental impact of clothing production. The emphasis is on eco-friendly resources and recyclable textiles.
To counter fast fashion’s manic overproduction, sustainable clothing advocates producing high-quality products that last longer. Most sustainable clothing manufacturers use alternative fibres such as organic and naturally coloured cotton, soy, hemp, bamboo, and PET plastic materials from recycled bottles.
Sustainable clothing demands not only a wardrobe change. It requires, above all, a paradigm shift. Fast fashion has made us feel guilty about wearing the same clothes, giving us the impulse to shop endlessly. On the other hand, sustainable clothing pushes us to be more reasonable with our spending habits and choices.
New clothes, fresh perspectives
Thankfully, the growing awareness has led to new initiatives to address the issue. In the UK, charities play a major role in recycling clothes that have been donated. Most of the donated clothing is sold at a discounted price to consumer markets or to textile recycling enterprises. These initiatives can educate consumers on how they can have a real impact on the environment. One recent example is Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day initiative which aims to spread awareness on sustainable clothing by highlighting seasonal sweaters. A lot of these are still made by hand and typically last for many years – two factors which are important for sustainability. In addition to developing circular economies and utilising sustainable resources, changing consumer habits and their resulting lifestyle is a priority among these growing initiatives.
Technology is now also lending a hand in reducing waste. The London-based company Unmade has developed a tool that provides new manufacturing methods to fashion brands, allowing them to only create products that have a good chance of being sold. It also lets customers personalise certain items and commission them, allowing a sustainable made-to-order model.
Even the smallest things can have a huge impact, as illustrated in this previous Thinking Country post. Sustainable clothing should be part of a holistic effort towards sustainable living. The benefits are just too many to pass on – fewer clothes being thrown in the bin, means more money in your pocket, and less carbon in the air.
About the guest author:
Thomas Crabbe is an environmental advocate, writer, and father of two adorable children. Blessed with a green thumb, he also gives talks on gardening.
Featured image: sourced from Pexels.com