Many of us spend a lot of time making more sustainable, ethical choices in our everyday lives. But, unfortunately, a large part of that is the clothes we wear, which traditionally come from an unsustainable industry that damages the environment and exploits people in less developed nations. Although more sustainable apparel options are becoming available, such as comfortable skate shoes, there is still work to be done by both the fashion industry and us.
The mere fact that you are reading this article shows that you are willing to make the changes necessary to support ethical fashion. You might be thinking that it’s an impossible task, but read on to find out what you can do to help.
Rising demands and increasing consumerism have led to what is known as fast fashion, which is the current situation of the clothing industry. Clothes are produced quickly and disposed of by consumers at a rapid rate. Companies might release a few collections a year in the past, but now some issue over twenty per annum! Partly this is due to social media, on which consumers can see new trends all the time. The Internet has made it possible to buy cheap clothes from anywhere in the world at any time. While there are undoubtedly positive elements to this social media consumerism, it also has its downsides. For example:
- The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; by current trends, this will hit 26% by 2050;
- 60% of clothing ends up in the landfills within a year of it being purchased;
- It is estimated that 20% of the clothes in our closets are never worn (what a waste!); and
- It takes around 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt; that’s equivalent to the amount an adult human drinks over 3.5 years.
There are also impacts on the people who make these clothes, such as:
- In India, 100 million people lack access to clean drinking water, while 85% of the country’s water is used for cotton farming;
- In China, the dyes from clothing manufacturers have intoxicated water supplies, rendering almost 80% of Chinese groundwater unsuitable for human consumption;
- between 2000 and 2014, the number of people working in the fashion industry more than quadrupled to 85 million; while it’s good to be providing jobs, a large proportion of these people work in unsafe and unhygienic conditions.
How YOU can Make a Difference
While it may seem impossible for any individual to make a positive contribution towards ethical fashion, there are lots of things that you can do. Millennials and Gen Z are paving the way, but we can all try the following:
- Make use of the pre-loved market by buying second-hand or from thrift stores.
- Be responsible when disposing of clothing by utilizing clothing recycling banks.
- Learn some basic sewing skills so that you can repair your clothes instead of throwing them out.
- Don’t be influenced by other people; buy clothes that suit your style, because then you’re more likely to continue wearing them.
- Go for quality over quantity; one $80 t-shirt will last a lot longer than four $20 ones and will still be in good condition for years.
- Take the fight to the corporations by asking about environmental policies, for example, through DMs on Instagram or Twitter.
Keep your wardrobe updated by swapping out one outfit for another weekly.
When done with friends and family, this can have a much more significant effect, creating a movement within your social circle towards ethical fashion choices. By having an established ‘uniform,’ you can reduce your wardrobe considerably. Buy second-hand clothing from charity stores or swap with friends.
Look out for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label when shopping, which will ensure that no child labor was involved in harvesting or manufacturing the fabric. It is something to look for when shopping on the high street and at vintage and thrift shops, where it will mean that all clothing items were produced using environmentally friendly practices.
Search out clothing that is ‘fair trade’ or 100% organic cotton.
While this may be more expensive, it only needs to be replaced every few years instead of every season. If you can afford to, please do your research and support brands that use sustainable practices.
Not only should your clothing reflect your style, but it should also not harm the planet or its inhabitants. It means making sure all materials are organic, recycled, natural fabrics and working towards a state of zero waste.
Love your clothes and take care of them. It includes hand washing or dry-cleaning when necessary.
Hand washing rarely wears clothing out, as is widely assumed. It cleans the fibers better than using a machine at 50 degrees Celsius. It may sound crazy, but look out for natural cleaning products that are environmentally friendly and try using soap nuts, a natural alternative to laundry detergent.
Remember that ethical fashion doesn’t just mean recycled clothing and organic fabrics. There are many ways you can reduce your impact on the environment through your wardrobe choices. Look out for brands that use sustainable practices, buy second-hand from charity stores, or swap with friends.
As mentioned earlier, if you need inspiration, look out for the GOTS label to ensure no child labor is involved in harvesting or manufacturing fabrics. Also, keep up-to-date with your wardrobe by swapping out old outfits every week to contribute towards ethical fashion.
Give your old clothes to a charity or sell them in a thrift store.
It is not only helpful for someone who may need clothing, but it also decreases the amount of clothing we put into landfills and provides people with an alternative to buying new clothes when you no longer want yours.
By donating clothing to a charity or vintage/thrift store, you are essentially creating a ‘closed loop’ approach where clothes that you previously used are being recycled over and over again instead of being needlessly sent to the landfill.
Recycle your synthetic materials.
Many apparel companies are now recycling synthetic materials. Look for companies taking the initiative to create this sustainable product cycle to support them when shopping.
Make a positive contribution towards ethical fashion by updating your wardrobe weekly, buying second-hand clothing, and paying attention to the GOTS label. Love your clothes and look out for brands that use sustainable practices or buy recycled items.
Use clothing labels in your purchase decisions.
Many consumers do not consider where their clothing comes from or how labels make it. However, there are ethical fashion labels readily available, so make an informed decision about your purchase. If you do not know about the story behind the clothing, ask!
Doing these things can make a very positive contribution towards ethical fashion. And, if everyone does their part, we can leave this world much better than when we entered it!
As technology continues to advance, there are new developments in fashion every year. We can all play our part in upholding ethical practices within these advances by considering what we buy, where we buy it, and what the producers of these items make.
As consumers, we can demand ethical fashion from brands by giving them feedback on social media channels. If you want more influence like this at your fingertips, get involved with community projects such as Ethical Consumer, which provides resources for people who want to work towards ethical fashion practices in their daily lives.
The future of fashion lies in our hands, but it is reassuring to know that we can all play a positive role ethically!