Many of us are aware of the Rana plaza collapse in 2013 which killed nearly 1,134 people and brought the working conditions in ‘fast fashion’ factories to the attention of the global media.
The wages and working conditions for the people making our clothes is one of the biggest motivating factors to shop more ethically, but one of the other hidden ethical issues we need to consider is the environmental impact of our garments.
When we think about our carbon footprint we often think about our cars, the air miles we clock up going on holiday or travelling for work and even our household recycling.
But what we choose to wear is having one of the biggest impacts on the environment and the fashion industry is one of the largest polluters in the world.
Fashion is complicated. There are long and varied supply chains of raw material, production, manufacturing, shipping and retail just to get your clothes to you.
There is massive variety from one garment to the next, so determining the exact carbon footprint is almost impossible – but the environmental impact of the fashion industry is hard to ignore.
Even organic cotton, which is often viewed as a more ethical choice, can use more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture a t-shirt and pair of jeans.
Synthetic fibres are less water-intensive, but cause pollution during the manufacturing process. Across the entire textiles industry, manufacturing and dyeing fabrics is chemically intensive.
Globalization also means that your clothes have likely travelled across the world on a ship powered by fossil fuels and when you purchase them there’s also the environmental impact of washing and eventually disposing of them to consider.
Designer Eileen Fisher stunned audiences at an awards event last year when she announced “the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world…second only to oil”.
It’s impossible to measure whether or not that’s true, but it is clear that the clothes we wear are having a negative impact on the planet.
Fast fashion is making clothing more disposable. Making catwalk trends available at affordable prices, it creates increasing demand, churns out cheap clothes and accelerates carbon emissions, global warming and textile waste in landfills.
In the UK alone around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill each year and the average person only wears two thirds of what’s in their wardrobe.
Many slow fashion brands are making ethical clothes more affordable and although the fashion industry won’t change overnight, we can all play our part.
Did you know that extending the average lifespan of clothes by just 3 months of active use would lead to a 5-10% reduction in carbon, waste and water footprints!
There are small changes you can make, and it’s easier than you think. Educating yourself on the issues behind the fashion industry is the first step to shopping more consciously.
The three key principles also apply – reduce, re-use, recycle.
Fast fashion encourages us to buy in bulk, but you’ll often find that shopping with more expensive ethical brands means you need less because it’s better quality so it’ll last longer.
Before you hit the high street, dig around in the back of the wardrobe to see if you’ve got any hidden gems you could re-use, and when you are ready to part ways with a garment see if you can donate it to a charity shop or recycle it, rather than sending it to landfill.
Remember, any small effort against the fast fashion trends makes a positive impact on the environment!
This post originally appeared as a guest article we wrote for Trusted Clothes. Read this, and other stories, on their website.
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