Where do we even start to reduce our fashion carbon footprint?
We begin by knowing the impact of our habits. By adjusting our choices, we can make a greater difference.
And without any further ado, here they are.
The top 10 sustainable fashion habits in order of their positive impact:
1. Wear what you have
It’s not as dull and boring as it sounds—honest!
The most sustainable clothes are absolutely those already in our wardrobes. There is no better way to keep our impact on the planet down. The only resources that get used on them are electricity, water, and detergent to wash them. (Provided we air-dry them of course.)
Rewearing what we already have, by combining them in new ways, keeps our look fresh and new—and that is the feel-good factor we ultimately want.
Confession: I get a smug contentedness when I wear something that is from many a year gone by that still feels good. It’s sustainable style gold.
2. Alter what you have
Take it in, let it out, add to the waistline, shorten the sleeves, change the length—longer not just shorter, embellish or decorate.
Alterations are in a class of their own these days and will only become more important in the coming years as we realise the value and beauty of those pieces we have already spent time collecting. Our wardrobes are an extension of our personalities and life experiences. Even those things that might no longer fit physically or perhaps aesthetically with the lifestyle we now lead, they can be altered to suit our present-day needs.
There is an energy requirement and possible addition of new resources to alter existing garments, but on average, these garments will have greater longevity than a mended or repaired garment. Therefore, altering earns its number two place in this scale of fashion sustainability.
3. Mend and repair what you have
It’s possibly lost its full appeal but there’s still plenty of life left in it yet, so repairing what we have is a great habit to adopt. And sometimes, the repairs can actually elevate a garment and make us fall in love with it all over again.
My blue cashmere cardigan springs to mind which jumps up to a category one garment now with its custom contrast elbow patches. I can’t wait to wear it on repeat in new ways and old, now that it feels like a whole new piece of clothing.
Energy and new resources are required to fix and repair damaged goods, but if you’re a dab hand with a needle and thread and don’t need fancy machines to fix something—I applaud you.
4. Buy second-hand from a charity
Second-hand can be through an online charity such as Thrift+ or your local charity physical store. Not only does it mean no new clothes are made and the associated footprint of manufacturing, even if it is from a sustainable source, it also supports employment and volunteers—as well as the charitable cause itself. The third sector economy does vital work both in local communities and for the causes they support, so it’s a bit of a winning combination all-around. Hence, buying second hand’s number four ranking.
5. Buying second hand via a resale site
There is an abundance of options and resale is a huge growing market. Online businesses include eBay, Depop, or Vestaire Collective (best for designer pieces).
Obtaining something from a clothing swap also counts in this category. We might think all second-hand is the same, but buying or swapping from a resale site or even friends doesn’t earn quite as high an all-around “doing good” ranking as clothes sold or swapped via a charity.
6. Buy from a sustainable brand
It’s hard to quantify this as the variations within a brand and their range of products is vast but generally spending your money on the most sustainable version we can find of the item we need. (Note: I said need!) This is a vote for brands to continue to make and develop sustainable products.
Fashion has often dictated to the customer what they should buy. If we shunned everything that is unsustainable and only bought what is, it would start to turn the tables, giving customers some power and influence over future products. Try using the app, Good On You, to help.
This sounds like a good option but only if it is going to reduce the overall amount of new clothes made on the planet.
Rental doesn’t reduce consumption significantly; it just shifts it from ownership to non-ownership, to ease the guilt of the consumer. The subscription service such as Nuuly sounds very appealing where we get six items to try each month, but that’s 72 new items a year.
Most clothing enters the rental market brand new; occasionally vintage or second-hand pieces do appear too. The math does not stack up. Even if half of the 72 pieces offered to me had already been rented out a few times, there’s the shipping back and forth, laundering, and it may only have been worn a few hours.
8. Buy nonsustainable—knowing it will help us wear what we already have
That missing link piece actually helps you to wear your existing wardrobe more. Some items of clothing do genuinely wear out or we just can’t fit into them and the one that matches your needs isn’t available with sustainable credentials. Things will hopefully change in the future on that front.
The items of clothes that are not repairable or in a condition to donate to charity are not finished just yet! They can be upcycled into products we need around the house from decorative, cushions, throws, chair covers, soft toys to less glamorous items such as a replacement for kitchen paper, dishcloths, pot scrubbers, and for the really battered items, cleaning rags.
Another growing trend is businesses requesting donations of their used and worn products such as ripped tights and jeans, which are made into new versions of the same product. This obviously still has an energy requirement and chemical processes to turn them into new again. Yet, it is much better than simply throwing damaged items in the bin to go to landfill and reduces the demand for new, virgin fibres.
Also, any offcuts from home crafting clothing can still be donated to a charity’s bins if we bag them and mark them as rags they will be downcycled into packaging materials or possibly incinerated but at least the energy produced is harnessed and returns to the grid as opposed to being dumped in a landfill for toxic chemicals to leach out over time.
If stuck for ideas for what beloved old items could potentially be made into, the wonderful world of Pinterest has a host of creative uses to upcycle items, and check out more tips here on Elephant Journal.
When it comes to clothing there is virtually zero that we should be discarding into our waste bins.