Sustainable fashion 101
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
If I'm honest, I have been avoiding this subject for a little while now. I knew that fashion was a huge issue when it came to climate change. I knew that if I delved into this topic any more that I would feel conviction and I knew that there would be no going back.
Isn't it funny that when you try to avoid something you suddenly see it everywhere? Well that happened. A friend asked me about fast fashion. Extinction Rebellion (they were responsible for all those climate protests) asked supporters to boycott the fashion industry by not buying clothes for a year. Deliciously Ella did a podcast with Livia Firth about sustainable fashion. The True Cost film (co-produced by Livia Firth) was on Netflix. Eventually I listened to the podcast, watched the film and now here I am.
Now, just a little disclaimer, this is a MASSIVE topic and one blog post isn't going to cut it. So this is post number 1.
The Fashion Industry
Some facts to set the scene and get us all on the same page.
In the UK alone, the fashion industry is worth £66 billion (Fashion United) and, globally, clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years (Extinction Rebellion). In fact, "the world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago" (The True Cost Film).
This increase in production has come with a move towards outsourcing labour overseas. The True Cost website states that 97% of our clothes are made in other countries (more on what that means further down).
It has also come with a greater environmental impact.
What it means, and why we need it.
You know above I mentioned that we outsource our labour? Well, ethical fashion is mainly concerned with that. "There are roughly 40 million garment workers in the world today; many of whom do not share the same rights or protections that many people in the West do. They are some of the lowest paid workers in the world and roughly 85% of all garment workers are women. The human factor of the garment industry is too big to ignore; as we consistently see the exploitation of cheap labor and the violation of workers’, women’s, and human rights in many developing countries across the world" (The True Cost Film). We've all heard about the human cost of fashion, but hardly ever do we really think about it.
Ethical fashion is really about who made our clothes, how they were treated and whether they were paid fairly for their work.
What it means, and why we need it.
The textiles industry produces 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That is more than the combined emissions from all international flights and maritime shipping (Extinction Rebellion). In 2018, the dyeing of textiles was the second largest polluter of clean water in the world (The Independent).
Furthermore, textiles is the "largest source of both primary and secondary microplastics, accounting for 34.8% of global microplastic pollution" (Extinction Rebellion). This is because a lot of our clothes are made from polyester fibres and when we wash these clothes, tiny microfibres are shed (The Independent). These tiny particles are too small to be filtered out by our sewage systems, and often end up in the ocean where they are hugely detrimental to sea life.
So, a lot of pollution. Water, plastic, and air pollution.
The problem is that there is no 'real' definition for sustainable fashion, which means it's up for debate. However, in a nut shell, sustainable fashion refers to the environmental impact of our clothes. It encompasses everything from the growth and development of fibres (i.e. cotton or polyester) to the water and chemicals used to dye the fabrics, to the life-span of our clothes.
However, there is something else about the fashion industry that is arguably worse...
Remember how I said we now buy 400% more than we did two decades ago? Well, that's fast fashion - we buy more and we throw more away. Fashion has become cheaper and more disposable.
Livia Firth (co-producer of the True Cost Film, advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion, and creator of the Green Carpet Challenge) said that the disposable nature of fashion has led to a decrease in the worth of clothes. We don't value our clothes in the same way that our parents and grandparents once did, because they don't cost as much. The low cost of high-street fashion makes us feel rich, because we can buy more, but has the paradoxical effect of making us poorer, because we spend way more on clothes than we used to. The result of this is that we are poorer, those who make our clothes are poorer, the earth is poorer. The only ones getting rich are those few at the top of the fashion industry. They are the ones who benefit from our consumerist mentality and feed our desire for more - our desire for new.
An argument often used when sustainability is being discussed, is that sustainable options cost more. In the case of fashion that is certainly true. Of course it is. Because if we aren't paying for it, then someone, somewhere else, is. Lucy Siegle (a journalist and author) puts it like this: “Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.”
Livia Firth (you can tell I really like her) argues that buying sustainably won't make us poorer. She speaks of growing up in a low income family, in a time where fashion was much more expensive, and claims that because clothes cost more she bought less, but she bought better. She loved the clothes she had, and wore them much longer. The truth is that if we truly believe in sustainable fashion (and ethical fashion too), we can't consume fashion like we are used to. It isn't just about the sustainable fashion brands, it's really about slow fashion (AKA the opposite of fast fashion).
In the Deliciously Ella podcast (which I would highly recommend), Livia Firth gave some helpful tips on how to start buying more sustainably and I loved them! I am sharing one of them here (Livia or Ella, if you ever read this post I hope you don't mind me sharing, I'm just a huge fan 🤓). Livia Firth said that every time you want to buy something you should ask yourself the following question: "Will I wear it at least 30 times?" Simple right? But the more I think about it it's the perfect question. I can think of several things in my wardrobe that I bought on impulse, usually on sale, that I wouldn't have bought had I asked myself this question first.
Could you start doing that? It's a simple tip but it could make a huge difference.
Maybe the next time there's a big sale you'll walk past (eyes closed and head turned away). Maybe you'll only buy what you need.
However, you might be up for more of a challenge 👀. Extinction Rebellion are calling on supporters to stop buying new clothes for a year. Yup. One. Whole. Year. When I saw this I felt incredibly uncomfortable, I can't lie. I wanted to pretend I hadn't seen it so that I wouldn't have to confront the fact that I didn't believe I could do it... However, as I said at the start, when you avoid something it follows you. And I felt really convicted that I wasn't able to put into practice something that I really believed. So guys, I'm going to try. But just to lay down some ground rules (who said loop holes?), if I need to buy an item of clothing I will, but I will buy it from a sustainable brand and will try to shop second hand if possible. And if neither of those options is viable, then I will ask "do I need this, will I wear it 30 times?"It's a journey, right.
So this post is only the first of (hopefully) many posts on this subject. Post a comment below to tell me what you want me to cover next! I'm thinking second hand shopping (gonna get my girl Sarah on that one cause she's a pro 💁🏾♀️), up-cycling, sustainable brands, making your own clothes, worst high street stores... Let me know what you want first!