Making clothing is environmentally taxing.
The process of clothing production requires a lot of energy and water. Most of the energy used in this process comes from burning fossil fuels, which emits harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases have contributed to climate change by trapping heat in our planet’s atmosphere. The fashion industry uses more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
A lot of textile waste ends up in landfills.
But why is it so important?
For starters, let’s look at the effect of garment production. According to a 2016 research article from The Guardian, "[T]he fashion industry alone produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply and pollutes rivers and streams with a range of chemicals and dyes." In addition, according to a 2018 article from The New York Times, "A lot of textile waste ends up in landfills. In 2015 alone, Americans threw away 16 million tons of clothing — or roughly 80 pounds per person."
If you think about it, this is pretty crazy considering that we’re just humans living on planet Earth. This planet sustains us through its resources: water to drink and bathe in; air to breathe; food; shelter...
But even after fulfilling our basic needs through these resources, we continue to consume more than we need by producing wasteful products (i.e., fast fashion) that harm our planet. And in order to live on this planet for as long as possible (as well as sustain other creatures), we have to take care of it by making conscious decisions when shopping and by supporting companies who are making changes toward sustainability.
Many developing countries are negatively affected by fashion production.
You may already know that the fashion industry has a huge environmental impact. The industry is the second most polluting industry (after oil). It contributes to climate change and uses a lot of water, which can be toxic if the treatment processes are inadequate. Often, these toxins make their way into our drinking water, causing illnesses and deaths in communities where this occurs. Fur production also causes significant environmental harm as well as immense cruelty to animals, but that is another story for another time.
One of the reasons why the fashion industry is so wasteful is because it requires a lot of resources to produce clothes at such rapid speed. In fact, fast-fashion retailers now release new clothing collections every couple weeks instead of every season like they used to. This means that clothes are being produced at an alarming rate so that they can be sold while they're still relevant or trendy. Most items get sold quickly and end up in landfills within a year!
There is a growing market for upcycled and recycled apparel.
You might be wondering what exactly upcycled fashion is, though. Upcycled clothing is made from existing materials that have been transformed into something new—and it's especially great for the environment. The process of upcycling means that no new materials are used to create clothing and less waste ends up in landfills, so your closet can become more sustainable without sacrificing style.
Upcycled fashion is not necessarily recycled clothing, but they share a similar goal of reducing the use of resources while creating something new. By definition, if you recycle clothing it's turned back into material fibers to create a whole new piece of clothing, rather than being refashioned into something else entirely. Both techniques can be considered slow fashion practices as they take more time to produce than fast fashion brands can offer, which has helped lead to their rise in popularity.
Sustainable brands are often more transparent about their processes.
While researching the benefits of sustainable fashion, I came across this inspiring quote from Marie Kondo: "The true purpose of a piece of clothing is to be worn. If you're not wearing it, but it's taking up space in your home, then it doesn't spark joy."
Kondo makes an excellent point here, and one that we should all keep in mind as we build our wardrobes. When you buy clothes made by sustainable brands, you can be confident that the items in your wardrobe are providing the highest possible value. Instead of stocking your closet with pieces made by fast fashion houses that produce cheaply-made products that may fall apart after only a handful of wears, consider investing in more sustainable pieces from companies like Reformation and Everlane (just two examples among many).
The slow fashion movement encourages consumers to buy fewer, higher-quality pieces.
Slow fashion is an approach that encourages consumers to reconsider how they build their wardrobe. While fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M prioritize low prices and trends, slow fashion moves away from disposable, cheap apparel in favor of high-quality pieces built to last for years.
The foundation of slow fashion is quality over quantity. Instead of filling your closet with dozens of cheaply made garments, you’re encouraged to choose a few high-quality items that are both beautiful and long-lasting—the type you’re excited to wear again and again. By reducing the number of pieces you own, you reduce your wardrobe’s environmental footprint (and also make it easier for yourself to get dressed in the morning).
Brands like Everlane, Pangaia, Boyish Jeans and Amour Vert are great options for sustainable basics that can be staples in any closet. Additionally, there are many options for more luxe sustainable clothing as well. Brands like Stella McCartney specialize in higher-end garments made using cruelty-free fabrics that have less impact on the environment than traditional materials.
Buy from brands that are focused on sustainability and transparency!
You need to buy from brands that are focused on sustainability, and ideally transparency. If you can’t find out how a product was made, it’s likely that the manufacturer has something to hide. The more transparent a company is about their products and processes, the more you know where your money is going, and what you are supporting.
Fast fashion is one of the most unsustainable industries in the world right now. With fast fashion brands like H&M or Zara producing thousands of pieces at a time, all with extremely low-quality fabrics and prices that undercut even thrift shops – they are contributing to an overwhelming amount of clothes ending up in landfills. Not only that but they also contribute to unsafe working conditions for those making these clothes, paying them less than even minimum wage in some cases. By doing this they create stress on our environment and our people, which results in complete lack of transparency as there is no way for us to trace back where exactly these products come from or who makes them.
By shopping slow and sustainably we are showing respect for both our planet and the people living on it.