Our planet’s natural resources are becoming more and more scarce while what we have already taken is ending up as waste and pollution rather than getting regenerated. Fabric and textile waste has increased significantly in the past few decades due to the fast fashion industry and our culture of overconsumption. We are buying more than ever and throwing out clothes even faster. The average person now buys 60% more garments and keeps them for about half as long compared to 15 years ago. Globally, we create around 92 million tonnes of textile waste each year, which is equivalent to one garbage truck full of clothes ending up in landfills every second.
The environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, particularly fast fashion, in our current linear economy model is putting us and our entire planet at risk. Without taking into consideration every stage – before, during, and post consumer use – of a garment’s life, resources and materials are more than likely to end up as waste as they were not designed to be reused and repurposed.
As companies continue to extract natural resources without regard for how they can be recycled and upcycled for future use, we continue to exacerbate the problems with climate change and global warming. The fashion industry specifically is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Textile production alone releases roughly 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, and also accounts for 20% of global water waste. We as consumers are purchasing way more than necessary; the average American throws away around 37kg of clothes every year, and globally, only around 12% of materials actually get recycled at their end-of-life.
“Globally, around 56 million tonnes of clothing are bought each year, and this is expected to rise to 93 million tonnes by 2030 and 160 million tonnes by 2050.” – BBC
This is why our individual choices as consumers really matter, and how we approach shopping can really make a difference once we make the collective effort to be more eco-conscious. Figuring out your “why” is a crucial first step. Knowing which issues are important to you, whether it be climate change, fair treatment and wages for garment workers, wildlife protection, and so on, is a great place to start.
We have compiled a list of 7 tips to help you get started on your journey to becoming a more conscious consumer and shopping more sustainably.
1. Avoid impulse purchases, buy only what you need
Do I really need to buy this, or am I just bored? Sometimes we just feel the itch to buy something – anything – and spend money “just because”, and these are usually the times when we end up buying things we don’t actually need or like that much. Most of the time, we don’t end up wearing those clothes much, which leads to them ending up as waste. If we consume less, we also dispose less. Before purchasing a new item, check if you already own something similar. Make sure what you buy is what you really need, rather than an impulse purchase.
2. Choose quality over quantity
Invest in durable, quality pieces that will last you a long time (hopefully even a lifetime) over cheap, disposable pieces that lose their shape and get worn out quickly. Fast fashion brands push out new styles every few weeks, encouraging consumers to keep buying in order to stay on trend. However, in order for these brands to mass-produce their clothes and keep prices low, clothing quality will also be low. Buying higher quality, timeless pieces that last will save you time and money in the long run while reducing textile waste.
3. Avoid excess packaging, bring your own bag
Most packaging is only used once and ends up as trash right after, unable to be recycled. When shopping, try to avoid items that have an unnecessary amount of packaging, choose ones with recycled packaging or even better, no packaging. Always remember to bring your own reusable bags so that you don’t have to buy single-use plastic bags.
4. Shop vintage, second-hand, upcycled
Extracting new resources and making virgin materials require more water and energy, create more carbon emissions, and lead to more pollution overall as compared to using recycled material. Shopping vintage, second-hand, or upcycled clothing is better for the environment as we save these clothes from ending up in landfills, incinerators, and the natural environment as waste, and instead give them more value and a new life.
5. Extend the life of your clothes
If we take good care of our clothes by storing and washing them properly, we can help them last longer. Before throwing clothes away, ask yourself if they can be repaired, made into something else, recycled, given to someone else, and sold to or exchanged with others.
"Just increasing the lifespan of our clothes reduces all of their environmental impacts; for greenhouse gases “doubling the useful life of clothing from one year to two years reduces emissions over the year by 24%”, as does buying second hand clothes." – Greenpeace's "Fact Sheet Timeout for Fast Fashion
6. Do a closet cleanup
We tend to reach for the same few sets of clothes and forget about other pieces that sit in our closet. Some of these clothes haven’t been worn in months or even years as they get forgotten, shoved away somewhere. By keeping your closet as organized as possible, you will have a better idea of what you own and be less likely to accidentally buy something you already have. Clearing out the clothes you no longer need (donate, trade, sell, etc.) can declutter your space and make room for your wardrobe essentials.
7. Research and get to know the brand
What causes do they support? What are they doing to help the environment? Are they transparent about their manufacturing processes? Do your research on the brands you are buying from to learn more about their values, mission, and efforts in sustainability – find out how and where they source their materials, whether they are fair when it comes to their workers, working environment, wages, etc., if their manufacturing process and materials meet certified standards, how their waste is being handled, and so on. Shopping from brands that do good for the planet ensures that you are purchasing products that are eco-friendly and sustainable while also letting these companies know that you support their mission and values.
“Buy less, choose well. Make it last.”
– Vivienne Westwood