THE FASHION FOOTPRINT

Fashion is one of the biggest industries worldwide but it's also the second most polluting industry in the world after oil. It may be one of the most overlooked environmental issues facing the world today.

Scroll down to the 'Recap: What Can We Do?' section at the bottom if you just want a brief summary of the actions you can take to help solve the problem.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

Every item of clothing has its environmental impact; the water, energy, land, chemicals and other resources needed to make the item and then the transportation, packaging and resources to sell the item. Washing, drying and ironing the clothing then uses more water, energy and resources. When we’re finished with our clothing most of it can’t be recycled, as most clothing isn't even designed to be recycled. Worldwide, four-fifths of unwanted clothing is incinerated or goes to landfill. Pollution is created at each stage of the fashion chain creating big problems. The fashion industry is the worst retail culprit when it comes to climate change; it contributes to a shocking 10% of greenhouse gas emissions!

 

Lots of the popular materials used for our clothing have a big environmental impact to produce. Did you know it takes 2700 litres of water to make one cotton t-shirt? This doesn’t just come from rainwater, much of it is taken from freshwater sources. This creates problems particularly in water scarce countries where much of our clothing is made.

 

Leather may also be one of the worst materials; amongst many issues it causes deforestation in places like the Amazon, driving global warming and causing wildlife loss.

With all this in mind the big problem is our relationship with clothing. Fast fashion has become a norm for much of the world. There has been a vast increase in how much clothing we buy and a decrease in how long we keep our clothes for. Much of this clothing is not made to last and it's become normal to regularly replace things due to the low cost. Whilst clothing may have become cheap to buy it's certainly come at the expense of the environment.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Avoiding fast fashion is a good start. Opting for items which will last years instead of just a season is a great way to be greener and spending a bit more on good quality clothing can save you money in the long run. 

 

Try to not buy items which you don’t think you’ll use, ask yourself if you really need it before purchasing. Avoiding the idea of clothing being ‘in fashion’ is a also great thing to do. Being a bit more carefree with our fashion can be healthier for the environment and our mentality; it’s much better to have clothes to last which we’re happy to wear whatever the year. 

Being mindful of what new fashion you buy is a great way to be more eco-friendly. Often people sell or give away clothing which is still in great condition. Opting for second-hand clothing is much more sustainable then buying new and can save you money too. 

When you do feel you need to buy something new then there are materials to look out for which are better for the planet such as organic cotton, hemp, tencel and our favourite, bamboo. Take a look at our sustainable fashion page to find brands that use these eco-friendly alternatives.

Avoiding plastic clothing such as synthetic sportswear and polyester fleeces is a good way to be greener. The microfibers that this clothing is made of go down the drain when washed. These can’t be filtered out of our sewage and often end up in the ocean, adding to the plastic pollution problem. If you use this type of clothing you could buy a special wash bag made to catch these fibres which can be put in the bin afterwards, this way protecting the ocean from harmful microplastics. 

There are plenty of sustainable vegan leather alternatives for clothing, shoes, bags and accessories to choose from now. Opting for these is a simple way to prevent environmental destruction and animal cruelty.

There are more eco-friendly shoes, bags and accessories to opt for too, from bamboo sunglasses to rucksacks made of recycled plastic. 

We can also be mindful of how we shop. Shopping on the high street can be better than shopping online as there should be less impact with packaging and transport emissions.

 

In contradiction to this, eco-friendly materials are becoming more readily available online first, as the demand for these greener products doesn't seem to have hit the high street yet. In some instances, choosing an online eco-friendly brand may actually be better for the environment at the moment than shopping on the high street with an unsustainable brand. For example, if shopping on the high street it's good to be aware that the item you pick off the clothes stand has more than likely been packaged in unrecyclable single-use plastic in order to get to that shop. An eco-friendly online business is much more likely to have chosen materials and packaging much better for the environment. They may also be taking initiatives to offset the carbon from their transport emissions. At the moment it's difficult to say what the greener choice is. Our hope is that one day all high street shops will be eco-friendly businesses however we have got a long way to go before we get there.

When high street shopping, being mindful of ways to reduce unnecessary waste is a great way to be greener. Taking your own bag and refusing the single-use one offered is a good example. Some high street shops now offer email copies of receipts instead of printing paper copies. Did you know it takes 10 million trees and 21 billion gallons of water every year to make paper receipts?! Opting for email receipts is a brilliant way to help prevent climate change.

If you're an online shopper you could express your thoughts to the company you buy from. For example, many companies send their items in non-recyclable plastic packaging. It's a great idea to give some feedback and challenge unsustainable norms like this. After all the consumer is always right and if companies are aware of what their customers want they will make changes in time.

We can also be greener in the way we wash clothes. Most washing machines are set to 40 degrees but washing at 30 is much more eco-friendly. Your detergent will still clean your clothes at a lower temperature and it's even better if you’re using an eco-friendly washing detergent. Waiting until you’ve got a full load is also a great way to be kinder to the planet.

When it comes to washing detergent and fabric softener have you considered refilling them at your local zero waste shop? This is a great way to cut down on unnecessary packaging waste and also use products which are kinder to the planet when they are washed down the drain. Find your nearest zero waste shop here.

 

When it comes to drying clothes, air-drying is much better for the planet than using a tumble drier. Many of us also have a tendency of over-washing clothes when often they’d be fine just being aired out. This is more practical in the summer when clothes can dry outside but if you have the space in your house you could even invest in an airing cupboard. 

There are ways to be more eco-friendly when ironing too. Only filling your iron with the water required and not leaving it on longer than needed saves wasted energy. Making sure your household gets its electricity from a green energy supplier is the best way to be greener with ironing. Do all your clothes even need ironing? Many can probably get away with being air dried and hung straight in the wardrobe!

Extending the life of your clothing is also a great way to be greener. Learning how to sew is a handy skill as sewing up holes is a simple way to give your clothes a longer life. Dying clothes which have faded is another great way to extend the life of items in your wardrobe.

You could even give some clothes a new life. Jeans can be made into shorts when they go at the knee and old underwear makes for great household cleaning rags!

 

When your clothes have served all purposes they can for you then where they go next is very important. Ideally avoiding landfill at all costs is best. Can they be passed onto family or friends? Are they in good enough condition to be sold or go to a charity shop? If not clothing banks accept most items and can be found at most large supermarkets.

RECAP: WHAT CAN WE DO?

Avoid fast fashion. Try choosing items which are made to last and that you’re not bothered about going ‘out of fashion’. 

Buy second-hand clothing. 

When buying new, opt for sustainable fashion which uses more eco-friendly materials such as bamboo.

Avoid fashion which contains conventional cotton, plastic fibres and leather.

Opt for vegan leather alternatives and more eco-friendly shoes, bags and accessories.

Wash synthetic clothing in a special wash bag to catch the plastic fibres.

Go greener with high street shopping - take your own bag and opt for email receipts.

Give feedback and express concerns when shopping online - Could the item be packaged more sustainably?

Wash clothes at 30 degrees or hand wash. Air-dry clothes when possible.

Use zero waste shops to refill washing detergent and fabric softener to avoid packaging waste and products which are harmful to the environment.

Iron less, don't keep your iron on longer than needed and switch to a green energy supplier.

Extend the life of your clothes - sew up holes, dye clothes which have faded, turn jeans which have gone at the knee into shorts and use old underwear as cleaning rags. 

Dispose of clothes properly when finished with - pass them onto others, take them to a charity shop, sell them or put them in a clothing recycling facility. 

Polluted Water