Many of us are concerned by the events we've seen in the UK over the summer... wildfires, flash-floods and drought - but how can buying sustainable clothing help the planet?
Clothing is one of the most commonly consumed - and disposed of - items in modern society. And with the rise in concern about climate change, more people are looking for ways to reduce their impact - including buying clothes that won't damage the environment.
So, how does it all fit together... how can sustainable clothing help the planet?
How the Textile Industry affects our Planet
The textile industry has a significant impact on our planet. In addition to the large amounts of water and energy required to grow and process raw materials, the manufacturing of textiles also results in vast amounts of harmful emissions.
According to the European Parliamentary Research Service, 10% of global emissions are caused by clothing and footwear production - more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The fertilisers and pesticides used to grow conventional cotton contribute to climate change on a large scale. But it also has a massive impact on a local level, polluting the land it’s grown on and nearby waterways, damaging local ecosystems.
Analysis by the Textile Exchange suggests 62% less energy is used in the production of organic cotton and the total global warming potential is almost half (46%) that of conventional cotton.
Fabric production also relies on synthetic dyes, which releases toxic chemicals into waterways decimating animal populations. The treatment of fabrics with harsh chemicals also leads to air pollution.
And it’s not just the wildlife, the health of the farmers and garment workers who have to handle these toxic chemicals is profoundly impacted too. It's thought approximately 250,000 people die each year from pesticide poisoning alone.
In the UK, we are one of the biggest consumers of fast fashion globally. Some estimates put our per head consumption second only behind the USA.
The growing demand for fast fashion has resulted in increased clothing waste, as consumers dispose of garments that are no longer in style.
The constant take-make-waste formula amounts to a staggering 10,000 items of clothing being sent to landfill every five minutes - the equivalent to £140 million in value every year, according to estimates from the North London Waste Authority.
When dealing with these types of numbers it can be hard to fathom what they actually mean, so to give it some context the kid’s fashion brand Five Of Us created a visualisation of the sheer amount of clothing waste sent to landfill in a year.
In their illustration, they found that a stack of clothing the height of Mount Everest is thrown away globally every seven minutes. In six hours, the pile would reach the moon.
A year’s worth of waste would reach far beyond the moon into outer space.
Plastic is not Fantastic
Not only this, but clothes are a major contributor to the problem of plastic in the ocean.
Academic research suggests 35% of primary microplastics (pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm) entering the ocean are released through the washing of synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic.
While the textile industry is an important part of the global economy, it's important to be aware of its environmental impact and take steps to reduce its footprint.
What is a Sustainable Fashion Brand - and how do they Help the Planet?
Sustainable fashion brands play an important role in the world of fashion. They provide an alternative to mainstream brands and promote a more eco-friendly approach to clothing design and production.
Sustainable clothing brands can help the planet because they typically utilise sustainable materials in their products - such as organic cotton or hemp - and are careful to avoid chemicals and processes that are harmful to the environment, such as pesticide use.
They may design their products to have minimal fabric offcuts; re-use fabric waste; or use high-tech fabrics with a lower carbon footprint eg. those made from recycled materials.
Additionally, sustainable fashion brands often work with manufacturers guaranteeing ethical labour conditions. It's important to guarantee workers fair pay and safe working conditions. Anything else cannot be considered sustainable or ethical practice.
By promoting these practices, sustainable fashion brands can help raise awareness about the importance of ethical consumption and contribute to making the fashion industry more environmentally friendly overall.
Ultimately, we can all benefit from this type of sustainable practice.
Pros and Cons of Sustainable Clothing
One of the benefits of sustainable clothing is that it is often more comfortable than synthetic fabrics such as polyester. Sustainable fabrics are also less likely to cause skin irritation since no harmful synthetic chemicals are used in their production.
Another benefit of sustainable clothing is that it has a lower impact.
Organic cotton uses up to 91% less water than conventional cotton farming. In what is becoming an increasingly water-stressed world, this will become more and more important.
One of the drawbacks of sustainable clothing is that it can seem more expensive than mainstream clothing.
This is because the processes involved cost more, and the workers earn a fair wage. However, organic cotton is a more durable fibre than conventional cotton and will last longer. So you may end up saving money in the long run.
A pair of organic cotton children’s leggings should last a whole winter, rather than getting holes after a few wears and a subsequent pair bought.
Another drawback of sustainable clothing is that it can be difficult to find and difficult to decipher which brands are acting more ethically.
Many stores do not carry sustainable brands, and you may have to shop online to find what you're looking for.
That’s where My Little Green Wardrobe comes in. We want to make it super easy for shoppers to buy sustainable kids' clothing that can help the planet.
It can be hard to tell which brands are acting more sustainably, so we've done the hard work for you.
We make it easy for you to buy well: we only stock baby and kids' clothing brands that are more ethical and sustainable.
We even allow you to filter clothing according to the factors most important to you, to give you ultimate agency over how you spend your money. We want to help you support the brands that align with your own ethos.
Overall, sustainable clothing has many benefits that make it worth considering for your next purchase.
5 Ways to Switch to Sustainable Clothing and Help the Planet
Making the switch to sustainable clothing can seem daunting, but there are a few simple steps that everyone can take. Here's how to switch to a more sustainable approach to clothing and help the planet:
- Did you know we wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time? Take stock of your wardrobe and donate or sell any items that you no longer wear. It could be someone else’s treasure!
- Take care of the clothing you already own and repair items instead of discarding them. There are an increasing number of alteration services popping up on high streets.
- Research brands that align with your personal values and make an effort to buy from them in the future. Look for third-party certification like GOTS or GRS.
- Only buy new items if you think they will pass the 20 wears test. Consider renting or borrowing items that might have fewer wears.
- Pass along and swap children’s clothing with friends and relatives. Good quality sustainable childrenswear should last at least three children.
By following these five steps, you can make a meaningful difference to your fashion consumption without sacrificing your personal style.
Every little counts. Even if you only make the occasional purchase of more sustainable clothing, you are still making a great contribution to the fight against climate change.
Sustainable clothing has come a long way in the past few years. The industry is growing, and people are starting to see the importance of sustainable fashion.
With more and more companies getting on board with sustainable practices, we can make a real difference to the health of our planet. We still have a long way to go, but it’s amazing how far we’ve come already.