‘Waste isn’t waste until we waste it’ – Will.I.Am
Love Island UK has been hitting the headlines this year for a rather different reason to normal – its decision to dress the contestants in second-hand clothing from eBay to make the new series more ‘eco-friendly’. It’s an interesting idea and one I like, partly because it gives the message that second hand clothing is perfectly acceptable and that fast fashion is not a good thing.
‘It isn’t enough just looking for the quality in the products we buy, we must ensure that there is quality in the lives of the people who make them’ – Orsola de Castro
‘Fast fashion’ refers to the quick turnover of fashionable clothing, largely mass-produced (in countries which are known for their poor treatment and pay of textile workers) and often poor quality. The aim is to make and sell as many clothes as possible, quickly and cheaply. These clothing brands encourage their customers to buy regularly by continually bringing out new ranges at low prices. Previously, programmes like Love Island, sponsored by fashion brands, have helped perpetuate this quick turnover and throwaway culture.
‘Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth’ – Environmental Audit Committee
To be honest, whilst I knew that fast fashion isn’t good and that we throw away mountains (11 million items per week going to landfill in the UK alone according to Oxfam research – read that stat again!) of hardly worn clothing every year, I didn’t fully realise the environmental impact. Of course, like anything manufactured, producing clothes uses natural resources and creates greenhouse gases which are released into the air and which cause climate change. However, I was surprised to learn that the fashion industry is responsible for somewhere between 8 to 10% of global emissions, more than aviation and shipping combined. Plus this figure is expected to rise by 50% by 2030 unless we change our buying habits.
Most of the impact comes from the raw materials used to make clothes. For example synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and acrylic require around 342 million barrels of oil each year, whilst cotton used in clothing uses around 2.5% of the world’s farmland.
A third of microplastic pollution in our oceans is as a result of the microfibers released when we wash and wear clothes made of synthetic materials (which are basically made from plastic). Each time we do a wash load of largely synthetic clothing, up to 9 million non-degradable microfibres are released into the waste water. Our water treatment plants cannot filter them and the tiny pieces end up in the ocean. Just as concerning is the fact that these microfibres are released into the air when we wear these clothes so we are breathing them in. Research hasn’t yet established whether this is damaging our lungs and, if it is, by how much.
In terms of water usage, the figures are just as dramatic. To make one cotton T-shirt it takes 2,700 litres of water (that’s 5,400 standard 500 ml drinking bottles or enough water for one person for 900 days). Jeans are even worse with one pair needing up to 7,600 litres. Even a pair of cotton socks takes 600 ml (or 1,200 bottles). On top of this, almost 20% of the world’s wastewater is produced by the fashion industry.
Then there is the impact on our mental health. Fast fashion creates a panic buying culture, particularly amongst teenagers who may feel that they have to get the item that everyone else is wearing before it sells out and must keep up with the latest trends in order to ‘fit in’. The constant pressure to buy more can leave us stressed, overwhelmed and anxious. It also impacts our finances with 38% of UK teenagers feeling stressed about the amount of money they spend on clothes and huge numbers of adults putting their purchases on credit cards that they are unable to pay off.
‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’ – Vivienne Westwood
So what can we do? Well, buying less is the key. Wearing an item you already own is the most sustainable thing you can do. No longer do we live in a society where you cannot be seen wearing the same thing twice! Royalty and environmentally conscious celebrities are wearing the same outfit or hiring for red carpet events. Research shows that if every person in the world limited their purchases of new clothing to a maximum of 8 things each year, it would reduce the fashion industries emissions by 37%.
When we do need to buy something new, we should try to find natural materials, such as cotton, silk or wool, that have been sustainably sourced where possible. But although ‘eco-friendly’ clothing helps, it isn’t the answer as they still require the use of natural resources. It’s also important to look properly at the green credentials as some are no more than ‘greenwashing’. Some companies are beginning to offer fewer pieces each season, designed to last and with a lower environmental impact but the price is often higher than many are prepared or able to pay.
Buying second hand clothing from charity shops, ebay and Facebook Marketplace is better than buying new but it’s unlikely to ever replace new sales. Although research from eBay UK shows that UK shoppers are becoming increasingly conscious of fast fashion with a fifth of people saying they buy and wear more second hand clothing now than they did two years ago. Interestingly the 18-34 demographic is the group most likely to buy second hand clothing.
We could also think about repairing or revamping clothes we already own. YouTube have some great instructional videos if you’re not sure how or need some inspiration. Or how about hiring something to wear for that wedding or party, rather than buying something that will probably never be worn again?
Finally, when an item of clothing no longer fits or you no longer want it, it’s so important to donate it to a charity shop, sell it or pass it on to someone else. If it’s really not in good enough condition or it’s underwear that you wouldn’t pass on, there are clothing collection banks which ensure your item won’t end up in landfill. This really is something every single one of us must do.
‘Care for your clothes like the good friends they are’ – Joan Crawford
Thinking about the microfibres which are released when we wash our clothes, I learnt a few ideas to help! Firstly, only wash clothes when necessary; always wait until you have a full load, as this results in less friction between your clothes, therefore releasing fewer fibres; use a liquid rather than a powder; add fabric conditioner; always wash at the lowest possible temperature; and avoid long wash cycles. Of course, most of these tips also help us to use less water and electricity which, with rapidly rising costs, is definitely a good thing!
So the tiny tweak this week is to think twice next time you’re tempted to buy a new item of clothing. Do you really need it? Could you adapt something you already have? If you really do need to buy something, could you buy second hand? If not, make sure it is good quality that you can wear again and again and try to buy from a brand which makes clothes locally, ethically and sustainably. Next time I’m tempted to buy something, I’m going to have a good sort out of my wardrobe first and see what clothes I find that I haven’t worn for a while – I’m fairly sure I’ll end up not needing to buy anything!
Until next time xx
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Great post! The rise of social media and influencer culture really led to a massive growth in fast fashion over the past decade (eg: Shein). It’s so important to take a step back and slow down on the wear and throw culture. Having moved to a more sustainable lifestyle… Every 6 months I check my wardrobe for what I haven’t used and pass it on to my mum or sister or best friend…and they do the same with me. This way we get new clothes in our wardrobe, reuse our existing clothes and save money as well.
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Thank you! I love that idea of going through your wardrobe every six months and swapping things. I’m going to think about who might be up for that in my circle!
Wow thank you so much for this Cathy! Like you said, I knew fast fashion was bad – but it was an eye opener to hear the proper effects of it! I’ll definitely take what you said on board – another thing I try to do is once a year clean out my clothes and give some to charity instead of letting them go to waste!
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Yes I was stunned by some of the things I discovered, no wonder our planet is in such a mess! Every little thing we can do is going to make a difference and going through your wardrobe regularly is definitely a good idea!
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Really interesting you don’t realise what else is out the polluting the planet 😳
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Absolutely right. It’s a scary thought but it’s good to know that there are things we can all do.