Clothes are essential but can also be a fun, creative way to express ourselves. However, the fashion industry is now one of the most polluting industries and every year, we continue to buy more (Nature Climate Change, 2018). It’s clear we need to change, but it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here, we offer 6 tips to help you love clothes, without harming the planet…
1. Buy less!
A simple but impactful solution is if we all drastically reduce how much we buy. It can help to set ‘no buy’ challenges, for a certain number of days/months. These are great ways to break any mindless, habitual behavioural patterns and can help move us towards more conscious buying behaviours.
2. Understand Your Buying BehaviourBuying and wearing clothes can be emotive, which can make changing behaviours difficult, but change is easier if we understand our behaviour. There can be many reasons we unnecessarily buy clothes, such as; boredom, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem. Although a lovely new outfit may give some relief, it will always be short lived, often not lasting the first wear, which is why we may find ourselves buying again. This cycle leaves us with more clothes than we need, less money than we’d like and our poor Earth groaning under the strain. Awareness of this behaviour is the first step to breaking the cycle.
It can also help if we set up blocks and alternatives:
Make buying more difficult; Remove payment details on devices, delete shopping apps and unsubscribe from marketing emails.
Before we buy, take 10 deep breaths and ask; “How am I feeling?”.
Find a more helpful way to soothe/release the feeling- e.g. journaling, go for a walk, phone a friend, play with a pet.
3. Know Your Fabrics- Think Production, Care, Afterlife
Clothing is not all cut from the same cloth; some textiles have a bigger environmental impact. When we are trying to decide the most sustainable option, it helps if we consider the production, care and afterlife of clothes. The no1 offender for each of these categories is synthetic fabrics; polyester, nylon and acrylic. We have all received the memo that plastic is bad for the environment but did you know that synthetic textiles are plastic?! Synthetic fabrics are hugely damaging to the environment at their production, care and disposal. When aiming for sustainability, it helps if we can avoid synthetic textiles as much as possible.
So what textiles are sustainable? Natural fabrics are better because, as they are biodegradable and can be re-recycled, care and disposal are less of an issue. Traditionally, the production of cotton is hugely impactful on the environment, due to harsh chemicals and pesticides, as well needing a lot of water, but organic cotton is a more sustainable option. Hemp, is a great, alternative to cotton as it requires less water and chemicals to grow. Manmade natural fibres, such as lyocell/Tencel, are another excellent option as the production is more sustainable and it is biodegradable. Recycled natural fabrics, such as wool and cotton are also sustainable options and are becoming much more available. Recycled synthetic textiles are better than new, but the care and disposal of these fabrics still creates issues. As all natural fibres (cotton, wool, linen, silk, leather, hemp) are biodegradable and can re-recycled, they are fantastic options when shopping second hand and vintage.
4. Embrace Slow FashionFashion trends now move quickly, with online retailers boasting of their weekly ‘drops’, often with very low price tags. This has created a culture of fast and disposable fashion, where clothing is bought at low cost, becomes obsolete quickly and is then disposed of. With the majority of clothing bought being sent to landfill within 12 months (Nathalie, Speelman, & Swartz, 2016), this trend is a disaster for the environment.
When buying a new item, the following questions can help us steer clear of fast and disposable…
- Will I get at least 30 wears from this?
- Can I see myself wearing this in 2 years’ time?
- Is this well made, will it last?
- Can I wear this across different seasons and with other items I already own?
5. Caring for Clothes
In general, the less we wash clothes, use washing machines and tumble driers, the better. We can also make sure that the detergents we are using are kind to the environment. However, the more important environmental issue is washing synthetic fabrics. Ten years ago, it was discovered that tiny particles of clothing fibres were finding their way into the sewage, water systems, oceans, fish and finally to us humans! (Nature Climate Change, 2018). This has become known as microplastic pollution and the biggest single cause is the household washing of synthetic fabrics.
If we do own synthetic clothing, the less we wash them, and the colder we wash them, the less microplastics we release. We can reduce how much we wash clothes by spot cleaning any spillages or marks and wearing items longer before washing. It can also help to shift our perception of what ‘clean’ means, we may have got used to washing clothes after 1 or 2 wears but it can help to ask ourselves if this is necessary. And, when we do have clothing items that need frequent washing, such as underwear, ensuring these are made from natural fibres.
6. Reuse and Recycle
When we buy second hand, the production of the clothing is removed, the only environmental concerns are the items care and eventual disposal. It can also be a more affordable and enjoyable way to shop. Using alternative methods of sourcing clothes such as vintage and charity shops and sites/apps like Ebay and Depop are fantastic ways to shop sustainably. We are also seeing some clothes-swap cafes and clothing recycling centres opening in cities, which can be a way to drop off clothes you no longer wear and pick up ones you will use. A smaller version of this would be to have a clothes swap event with friends, family or colleagues.
It can also be worth considering repairing clothing, perhaps attending a basic sewing course or watching some ‘how to’ videos on YouTube, if needed. Or learning to upcycle using fabrics you already have- maybe you could do like Maria from the Sound of Music and turn (unwanted) curtains into dresses!
Applying any of these tips can help reduce your environmental impact but please remember that change is difficult and be kind to yourself in the process.
Written By Kari Deas
Shop our range of ethical hemp clothing
Save For Later:
Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017).
Nathalie, R., Speelman, E., & Swartz, S. (2016). Style That’s Sustainable: A New Fast-Fashion Formula. McKinsey & Company.
Nature Climate Change. (2018). The price of fast fashion.