Illustration by Megan Hannigan
In recent years, the impacts of climate change and pollution have been brought to popular attention by the media. Subsequently popular opinion has shifted and people are slowly becoming more environmentally conscious, as it is now practically impossible to ignore the impact humans are having on the earth and its eco-system. The fashion industry itself is a huge problem, being the second biggest pollutant overtaken only by oil. Although the general public may be getting on board with recycling and public transport, removing fast fashion from an everyday consumers life is a stretch for most, but unfortunately equates to a large proportion of our carbon footprint.
So as consumers with our wardrobes bursting, we need to acknowledge and act before our ignorance is irreversible. Looking first at our role as a consumer and our treatment of clothes, there are some small and easy changes we can make to help us reduce our environmental impact.
One of these changes is the temperature at which we wash our clothes. Each time you wash your clothes, you are slicing away at its lifecycle as fibres fall away and pollute the water, causing the majority of items to have more of a negative impact once in our hands than during production. The impact can be minimised with couple of simple changes in habit. Firstly, it’s better not to wash your clothes at nuclear level, 40/50 C will do just fine. Hang drying your washing also reduces fibre loss and saves electricity - with an added bonus of being cute and Parisian anyway.
The volume of what you’re purchasing and the items you choose are equally as important. Greenwashing – a clever marketing ploy that frames a product as environmentally friendly, however untrue this may be – is used by a lot of high street retailers (inside scoop: if you’re paying £5 for a shirt it isn’t ethical OR in any way sustainable). While this makes it even harder to source clothes ethically, there are alternative and more honest answers to the high street. Second-hand shops are screaming to be rooted through and bursting with hidden gems you would never find in mainstream stores. If the price tag is out of your budget, look towards Depop and charity shops, the hunt is a little harder but it’s definitely worth it.
A main point to keep in mind while purchasing any kind of fashion is what will you re-wear and re-style for years to come. A study has shown that each item will only spend around three and a half years in your wardrobe and a fraction of that actually being worn, meaning that those items you ‘just need to have’ really weren’t that necessary and should have stayed on the rail. Older generations and their relationship to fashion is both inspiring to look at and sustainable. Think of that one suit your Grandad wears to every function, probably older than you right? Well, it has lived a great life, has so much sentiment and dozens of stories to tell. We would be wise to invest in an emotional attachment to our clothes and take inspiration. Of course modern consumer culture is a far cry from that of the past, but if we began to care for our items and treat them with a similar reverence the amount of clothing in landfill would be greatly reduced.
Unfortunately, we don’t have control over big brands and their sustainability status; but every penny we spend on the companies exploiting our resources is allowing them to continue this practice and funding a negative impact. Look into independent business striving towards change - making small changes and educating yourself is the first step to preserving our beautiful world.