Considering Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

By Ilaria Ravazzolo, GLOBUS correspondant

Why is sustainability in the fashion industry important to consider?  

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world – its contribution to climate change is greater than that of the shipping and aviation industries combined. The environmental issues associated with textile production range from the pollution of rivers with chemicals used in dying processes, to its excessive consumption of water (especially in cotton farming) to the mountains of clothes that go to waste in landfills. In the UK alone, every year, about 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in landfills or incinerators. The production of cotton – one third of all manufactured fibres in the world – uses up extortionate amounts of water. To produce one cotton shirt, up to 2,700 litres of water are required. There are significant social costs to consider as well. On the one hand, the garment industry is the only industry in the world which employs mostly women and could therefore be a powerful contributor to the economic empowerment of women globally. However, there are issues surrounding forced and bonded labour, child labour and prison labour in garment factories and all throughout the supply chain. What is more, the conditions in these factories are far from safe, as the collapse of Rana Plaza highlighted. 

We are currently over-consuming fashion at an alarming rate and simultaneously the lifespan of an item of clothing is decreasing. It has been estimated that over $500 billion are lost in value every year due to clothing underutilisation. The concept of fast fashion, which is based on a linear economy, has contributed significantly to this trend. Fast fashion involves producing a large number of new collections every year with quick turnarounds and often very low prices. These garments are usually of a very low quality and, in most cases, can only be worn a handful of times before they have to be thrown out. However, less than 1% of materials used in textile production are recycled. 

So how can I consume fashion more sustainably? 

You can stop buying fast fashion and buy clothes from sustainable brands only. 

Okay, but I have a limited budget. How can I make my fashion consumption more sustainable without spending a fortune? 

If you don’t have unlimited monetary resources but are keen to make your wardrobe more sustainable, don’t worry. There are ways of achieving this in a relatively inexpensive way. Given the immensely complex nature of the fashion industry and garment supply chains it’s almost impossible for a consumer to go 100% sustainable right away. However, here are a few ways in which you can make a step towards being more sustainable: 

1) Only buy clothes you like and will definitely wear 

This might seem very obvious, but only buying the clothes you like instead of buying clothes impulsively is an effective way of not just reducing the size of your wardrobe, but also making it more sustainable. By considering whether or not you’ll end up wearing them, you can avoid spending money on clothes you won’t actually use. When it comes to buying clothes you will wear, it’s also important to consider how often that’s going to be the case. There is the 30 wears rule, which states you should only buy an item of clothing if you are certain that you’re going to wear it at least 30 times. This means you have less of a need to constantly buy new clothes, which means you’re contributing less to the growth of fast fashion. However, with cheaply made clothes bought from fast fashion brands it’s not always certain the item of clothing will last you long enough for 30 wears. 

2) Check the quality of your clothes before buying them 

When you’re in a shop and you’ve decided you like an item of clothing enough to wear it 30 times, make sure to check the quality of the garment. Here are six ways of doing this: 

  1. Stitches – check for loose or missed stitches and whether the thread looks wrong. You can pull seams gently to see how well it holds together. 
  1. Pull Test – you can pull the fabric gently and then release it to see if the material remains in its original shape or if it’s altered. 
  1. Thickness – if you hold the garment up to a bright light, you can assess if the material is thick or not. Thicker material generally indicates better quality. 
  1. Zipper – YKK zippers are a sign of quality. In general, if a zipper is made of metal, it tends to be stronger than plastic ones. 
  1. Buttons – quality garments will usually have spare buttons or thread included. It’s useful to also check the quality of the buttons and whether they fit the buttonholes. 
  1. Fabric pattern – if a garment’s patterns don’t match up at the seams, this is a sign of low quality, as little effort has gone into making it. 

3) Take good care of your clothes 

Once you’ve bought them, taking good care of your clothes is key to slowing down your consumption of fast fashion. Starting with checking the labels and following the care instructions is a good way of doing this. You can also learn some easy tricks to mend or repair your garments at home and there are loads of tutorials and tips available online for this. I also recommend reading Lauren Bravo’s book ‘How to Break Up with Fast Fashion’, where she offers quick and easy solutions for many fashion-related emergencies, such as removing red wine stains or sewing loose buttons back on. 

Additional resources for more information: 

Header image by Becca McHaffie via Unplash 

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